Army Experiments to Bring Increased Network Connectivity to the Soldier

Dec 15, 2009, 14:00 ET from U.S. Army PM FCS

WHITE SANDS, N.M., Dec. 15 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Army recently completed networked operational tests of the first pairing of its developmental Common Controller device with equipment presently used by Soldiers in theater from the Land Warrior effort. This mobile capability of integrated and networked systems could offer an increased level of soldier situational awareness in near real-time. This network capability will prove critical in rural areas where vehicles cannot traverse, and during the period of time when the brigade network is being established. Termed the Common Controller & Man packable Network Interoperability and Network Evaluation Experiment, the effort represents the first connection of the Army's Common Controller with equipment from the Land Warrior effort.

"With this experiment we were able to link the existing Soldier network made possible through the Land Warrior effort to the future network being developed through the Program Executive Office Integration," said Lieutenant Colonel James McNulty, product manager for the Common Controller team. "In doing so we proved three very important things. First, we were able to push data and imagery collected by networked sensors down to small unit leaders at the company and below level. Second, we connected platoons and companies together and finally we were able to send data and real time information up into the network."

Individual Soldier battlefield awareness was enhanced as sensor data was successfully passed from sensor assets like the Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle to small Land Warrior equipped units. From there, because of the Land Warrior gear, the information was able to pass from one small Land Warrior unit to another. Further, the critical information passed in real time from the small unit to the battalion and above level as well as the reverse.

"This network evaluation demonstrated both horizontal, or small unit sharing abilities as well as vertical or company and above sharing capabilities," Lieutenant Colonel McNulty said.

The Common Controller used in the experiment is under development to serve as a controller for many different Brigade Combat Team unmanned, networked systems. Today, the Army does not have a networked central control device for various unmanned platforms and sensors within the Brigade Combat Team construct so several different remote controls are necessary. The Common Controller controls the Class I Unmanned Aerial System (UAS), the Multifunctional Utility/Logistics Equipment vehicle (MULE), the Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle (SUGV), and Urban Unattended Ground Sensors (U-UGS). These unmanned, networked assets are designed to provide unprecedented battlefield situational awareness at the Company level by sending imagery, video and data to a networked vehicle for analysis. From there, an operator can send the data and imagery to a remote Tactical Operations Center where company commanders can analyze and act. Currently this kind of networked communication for sensor assets exists at the battalion and above levels only. "Here we went beyond passing information from networked vehicles to the tactical operations centers and we were able to significantly reduce the process of information transfer that typically takes place when you want to link an individual Soldier into what's happening on the ground, said Lieutenant Colonel McNulty. "By linking the abilities of the Common Controller with a Land Warrior-equipped platoon you can really give Soldiers a full sense of what's happening on the battlefield."

Land Warrior is a battle-proven, modular fighting system that currently provides Soldiers of the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division in Afghanistan with essential battlefield network connectivity. Land Warrior is composed of computer, communications and global positioning technologies that digitally link individual Soldiers on the battlefield with each other. It is integrated with the Soldier's body armor and has a helmet-mounted display that shows where friendly and enemy forces are located. As a surrogate to the Ground Soldier System, Land Warrior will continue to provide individual Soldiers in critical operational areas with battlefield network access until the highly capable Ground Soldier System is fielded.

In the experiment, a Common Controller operator deployed a robot to perform reconnaissance around a building. Through the small robot's video camera the operator observed a man exit a vehicle that appeared to be loaded with explosives. The operator captured the suspect's image and sent it, along with a text report to a Land Warrior equipped platoon who in turn set up a road block and captured the suspects. "This successful effort is illustrative of several Program Executive Offices and TRADOC Capabilities Managers working together to build a single, integrated high performing network for the Army," said Colonel Ken Carrick, Project Manager - Network Systems Integration.