By Michael. M. Novogradac, Operational Test Command Public Affairs:
MCGREGOR RANGE, N.M. – During the Network Integration Evaluation 17.2 exercise here July 11 through 30, Soldiers tested smaller, lighter communications gear they can more easily move from one battlefield location to another by sling loaded CH-47 Chinook helicopter. If fielded, this gear would increase the speed and efficiency of Soldier operations.
The Soldier-led NIE 17.2 exercise, which is the test bed for the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 2, involved more than 2,000 Soldiers assigned to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), from Fort Campbell, Ky.
The light brigade is integrating the rapidly progressing Army battlefield communications network, testing its functions and air transportability.
“Air transportability translates to mission success,” said Lt. Col. Richard E. Michael, senior test officer for WIN-T Increment 2 at the U.S. Army Operational Test Command’s Mission Command Test Directorate.
Michael explained how the larger Tactical Communications Node and Network Operations and Security Center are already fielded in heavy versions on five-ton Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles, which are big and heavy eight-wheeled vehicles – difficult to drive through small towns, unable to be sling-loaded by helicopter, and needing some disassembly for C-17 air transport.
The lighter WIN-T Increment 2 TCN-Lite and NOSC-Lite versions mount to a Humvee, which can be easily sling-loaded by helicopter for rapid mobility when a unit jumps locations on the battlefield, he said.
“Light combat brigades need the ability to transport everything they own via helicopter, so they can perform fast insertion, and fast extraction,” Michael said. “When they need to, they have to move and have their mission go now.”
Operational testing of new equipment always involves real Soldiers fighting against a real and capable opposing force.
“The battleground should never be the testing ground,” Michael said. “We have to prove the reliability, suitability and effectiveness of every system we test – including this backbone of communications – before it gets into the hands of Soldiers.
“WIN-T Increment 2 is not supposed to create a burden to them for mission execution, so the operational test puts them in an operationally realistic environment,” he continued.
“Our military leaders at the highest levels are discussing this very piece of equipment that the 101st is out here testing,” he said. “And the 101st has done a superb job.”
To that end, Army leaders need to see data that either supports or does not support systems under test. The data comes in many forms, such as Soldier interviews on what works and what does not; direct observation of Soldiers working with any new system; and instrumented data that is reduced to the “ones and zeros” digits needed to prepare a test report.
One test unit Soldier – a network operations transmission noncommissioned officer for 12 years with three deployments to Afghanistan under his belt – said he was interviewed by generals and other distinguished visitors during NIE 17.2.
“A good amount of them have asked me what I wanted to change,” said Staff Sgt. Shaun M. Lavigne, assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 39th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 2nd BCT, 101st Abn. Div.
“I felt like they took what I said to heart. If changes are made, this will be a fantastic system for Soldiers who didn’t get the chance to test it, but will get it in a few generations and will be able to use it.”
Lavigne said his NIE 17.2 experience was eye-opening.
“I wasn’t prepared for the NIE testing. I’m used to field environments,” he said, “but not the amount of tasks that we had to complete to make sure this equipment was tested.
“We had to do certain tasks every day to make sure the new equipment was tested correctly,” Lavigne continued. “Not just day-to-day operations. We had to make sure it was stressed out more than it would normally be.”