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The battlefield of the future will integrate all elements into one networked force, enabling communication among soldiers and commanders on the land, at sea, in the air, and at fixed command posts. Developed by a team led by General Dynamics C4 Systems and Lockheed Martin, the Warfighter Information Network - Tactical (WIN-T) project is the tactical communications backbone for the warfighter, both today and for the future. WIN-T supports voice, video, and data applications, enabling the soldier to stay connected anytime and anywhere by providing mobility and reliable bandwidth. Leveraging communications technologies such as cellular, wireless LAN, satellite, and VoiceOver IP, WIN-T links weapons, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, while remaining mobile, scalable, modular, and secure.

Defense Tech Briefs spoke with Bill Weiss, Vice President for Tactical Networks at General Dynamics C4 Systems to discuss how WIN-T can help protect soldiers by ensuring they have constant, reliable, and mobile communications, with network connections that work on the move.

Bill Weiss, Vice President for Tactical Networks at General Dynamics C4 Systems

Defense Tech Briefs: How and why was WIN-T developed?

Bill Weiss: One of the weaknesses of the current tactical battlefield network is that a broadband, high-capacity information transport ability just doesn't exist on the move. It can keep static command posts linked together, but a mobile commander today largely relies on voice with limited data communications to keep track of what's going on. The idea behind WIN-T is to push that broadband Internet capability — that same kind of high-speed Internet you have in your house — to mobile platforms so the commanders have access to the information they need when they need it. The "Run to Baghdad" at the outset of Operation Iraqi Freedom reinforced the need for WIN-T because the Army's existing tactical networks couldn't keep up with the rapidly moving forces. WINT provides the network automation and the broadband radio and satellite network communication systems that are needed to keep highly mobile and highly dispersed forces connected together. The idea of WIN-T is that in a dynamic battlefield environment where the forces are widely dispersed and highly mobile, the broadband, high-capacity WIN-T network keeps up with those forces and is able to transport necessary information in a timely fashion. For example, for situational awareness, there may be images that could be sent from a reconnaissance vehicle into a processing area. That information can then get back out to commanders when they need it and where they need it so they can have a current view of what the battlefield situation is — where all the good guys are and where all the bad guys are — and it's all in real time.

DTB: What new technologies or innovations are used in WIN-T?

Weiss: I'd start with the advances in satellite communications on the move. We're applying the basic technology of satellite communications and adding an important element: the ability to keep a small satellite antenna pointed at its target while mounted on Stryker, Bradley, or Humvee vehicles, even while traveling across rugged terrain. That's a key innovation. We can keep a commander on the move in his command vehicle not only so he can communicate with the people he needs to communicate with, but also to provide that broadband communications pipe that is necessary to run the applications in his vehicle on the move that he normally would be running in a static command post. If you look at a commander's vehicle, you might see several rugged laptop computers to run battlefield management applications and keep track of what's going on. But without that broadband communications pipe coming in and out of that vehicle while it's on the move, it's not necessarily able to keep pace and keep those applications up to date. Again, commanders frequently rely on strictly voice communications, but they still need that broadband pipe to keep their data-intensive battlefield management applications current, and the network connections linked. In conjunction with that, we also have traditional line-of-sight radio capabilities, but with a networking capability — we have smart antennas that figure out where they need to be pointed without the need for a signal soldier to intervene. When you have this capability on a brigade or battalion commander's vehicle, he doesn't have a signal soldier around to figure out how to keep his communications network up at any given time. Things have to happen automatically. There is a degree of network automation that needs to exist to keep this network glued together where the elements of the network themselves are mobile and on the move. This is part of the WIN-T program.

DTB: What roles do your partners play in the project?

Weiss: Our industry team is matched to those challenges, led by General Dynamics, with Lockheed Martin as our principal partner. The team also includes BAE Systems, Harris, and L3 Communications. We cover the domain of necessary expertise from networking, mobile communications, systems integration, and support points of view, and we've got all of that covered with this industry team. We're in the systems design phase right now, and we've prototyped many of the key technologies, and we completed the initial development test on the program in November 2005. We've demonstrated both line-of-sight satellite communications on the move, plus an initial spin of the network management and network automation software that's necessary and optimized for mobile networking. BAE, Harris, and L3 are focused on the radio, the satcom, and the antennas, and Lockheed Martin leads that transmission IPT to which Harris, BAE, and L3 report. We're the overall systems integrator, and we also focus on the network automation and management software.

DTB: Does WIN-T incorporate the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS)?

Weiss: Yes. When JTRS is ready and available, we can use it to implement the legacy waveforms that will form part of the network connectivity for WIN-T. Part of the focus of the WIN-T program is on the broadband networked satcom on the move, and the broadband networked line-of-site radio waveforms that are not being addressed by WIN-T. So we are developing those mobile networking satcom and radio capabilities on the WIN-T program. WIN-T is in the middle of the Future Combat System (FCS) as the network provider. Having said that, what we're doing with WIN-T certainly has applications to the current modular force as well, and we're supporting the Army as it evaluates courses of action to take advantage of the progress we've already made to try to get some of these high-benefit and mature networking and communications technologies fielded to the current modular force in the relative near term.

DTB: You mentioned that WIN-T completed initial development tests in 2005. When do you expect WIN-T to be operational?

Weiss: We could start to roll out some of those high-benefit, mature WIN-T elements within 12 to 15 months of being turned on, to include a full, by-the-book set of developmental and operational tests. Many of the key WIN-T technologies are ready to go right now. DTB: What are some practical examples of how WIN-T can help save lives on the battlefield? Weiss: One of the emerging battlefield applications is called Command Post of the Future (CPOF). That's one of the battlefield applications that commanders use to understand what the current situation is and to plan and implement the battle. What WIN-T does is provide the network that allows that application to work, both in a static command post and on the move. A brigade commander can be in his command post, in his tent, using that CPOF, or that brigade commander can be in his Humvee using the same application. He can use it because he has that broadband pipe — the equivalent of a high-speed Internet spigot that comes out of his moving platform. That's what WIN-T enables: mobile battle command. A commander can use the same application while in his vehicle as he can when sitting in his fixed command post.

DTB: What are the near-term goals for the WIN-T program?

Weiss: One of the things that we have been able to do and will continue to do with the WIN-T program, to the extent that we can, is take advantage of commercial investment in telecommunications. We use commercial networking and computing gear quite extensively in the systems and the networks that we build. It's not a completely custom thing where we've got a long, drawn-out development process and we finally get something finished, and by the time it's fielded, it's obsolete. We've done a good job here taking advantage of what commercial industry is doing, ruggedizing items where necessary, then applying that technology to the customer's needs. Another benefit of utilizing commercial technology is that it's constantly advancing and refreshing. We, in turn, refresh and keep our products current as we roll them out, with insertion of newer technologies. The judicious use of off-the-shelf networking and computing technology keeps acquisition costs lower for the customer, keeps our products current, and reduces obsolescence. WIN-T is focused on the broadband networking and communications capabilities that are necessary to keep highly mobile and dispersed forces connected, and to enable mobile battle commands. That's the nutshell description of what WIN-T will be doing. As the network enabler for net-centric warfare, it also has application for the current modular force. We continue to work with the Army to figure out how to get some of these high-benefit capabilities to warfighters in the near term.

For more information on the WIN-T program, visit General Dynamics C4 Systems at http://info.hotims.com/10962-840.