December 6, 2011

The U.S. Army's assessment of Company Level network-centric capabilities

U.S. Army photo by Claire Schwerin

News Report

This blog has already covered the development of the the second Network Integration Evaluation (NIE 12.1), i.e. the second in a series of semi-annual field exercises designed to rapidly integrate and mature the U.S. Army's tactical network. NIE 12.1 involved 3,800 Soldiers of the U.S. Army's 2nd Brigade and 1st Armored Division, which evaluated dozens of systems in operational scenarios.

A recent entry in the U.S. Army's hompage provides additional details regarding one of the key areas under evaluation in the last NIE, i.e. the capability to extend the interoperability to the lowest hierarchical units of the forces that are deployed in theatre. The three-week NIE 12.1 evaluation, which ended Nov. 19, helped in fact to assess the ability of most of the examined systems to deliver communications capability to those in the lowest echelons of the Army, the Soldiers who physically execute the Army's mission "at the tactical edge".

In this framework, among the key priorities evaluated during the various NIEs, there is is the role of the Company Command Post Nodes, or CoCPs, when involved in "mission command on-the-move". Inside the CoCP, company commanders can utilize critical collaborative mission command applications that were previously only available at levels above battalion. Included among those applications is Tactical Ground Reporting, which gives Soldiers the ability to collect, share and analyze patrol data in a central database, as well as collaborative environments like the Command Post of the Future (CPOF), and plan fire support mission systems as the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System (AFATDS).
The Company Command Post provides “drop-and-deploy” capabilities at static sites, including Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) and Joint Common Operating Pictures (JCOPs). Deploying the CoCP Node across the battlefield creates a high bandwidth ad-hoc terrestrial mesh backbone network, minimizing reliance on satellite communications as the primary means for brigade and below communications.

The Company Command Post (CoCP) is also “mobile ready” and can be utilized on mobile platforms such as MRAPs, HMMWVs, or air assault via rotary wing aircraft, with the addition of an optional inertial navigation unit. Inside their Command Posts, company commanders can utilize Battle and Mission Command applications previously only available at the battalion and above levels including the ability to send and receive text messages and e-mails, utilize ground tactical data reporting systems 
One of the primary variants of the CoCP evaluated during NIE 12.1 was the Caiman mine-resistant, ambush-protected, or MRAP, tent-based CoCP. That variant provides Soldiers mission-critical command capabilities onboard the MRAP vehicle. When the mission becomes more stationary, Soldiers can employ the system's tent to maximize the CoCP capabilities.

A second variant is called the "Trailer Mounted Support System-Medium" This tent-based system is mounted in a trailer, and includes an 18-kilowatt generator and an environmental control unit. The system is integrated with critical mission command systems that take advantage of a SIPR/NIPR Access Point, or SNAP, terminal to provide satellite connectivity.

During the next evaluation, NIE 12.2, which will happen in the spring of 2012, the U.S. Army will be evaluating two new variants of the CoCP, based on solutions chosen by the U.S. Department of the Army.


"I see the company as a massive intelligence and information-gathering point," said Capt. Scott DeWitt, who previously served as a company commander with 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division. The 2/1 AD was the unit involved in the NIEs. "It is the point where you are going to disseminate your orders, and they are going to get executed at the final tip of the spear -- the squad level."

"Extending the network down to the individual Soldier is a priority in the Army," said Maj. Brian Mack, CoCP trail boss at NIE 12.1. He said the CoCP is an important part of providing Soldiers at the tactical edge the ability to both send and receive data.

"The company command post solution is evolving and 12.1 is just another iteration of that evolution," said Lt. Col. Carl Hollister, product manager for Command Post Systems and Integration. "We don't yet know what the 100-percent answer will be. But whatever the final solution may be, it is key, particularly to a company, to provide a fully-integrated command post package that is sustainable with a training package that goes along with it."

References: U.S. Army (1,2), DRASH (3)

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