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The role of COMSATCOM in Army communications and the WIN-T Increment 2

Earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to attend a “Hot Topic” event sponsored by the Association of the United States Army (AUSA). This particular event focused on Army networks, and the next generation technologies that are a priority for the Army’s senior IT leaders and decision makers.

Although the event wasn’t specifically focused on the Army’s satellite requirements and the use of SATCOM in the military, the importance of COMSATCOM to the Army was discussed, and a panel focused on acquisition shared ways in which they felt the satellite acquisition process could be improved and streamlined.

Immediately following the event, I had an opportunity to direct some additional questions to Brigadier General Randy Taylor – a senior leader with the U.S. Army, CIO/G6 – specifically about the role of SATCOM in the Army’s communications networks, the expanding role that COMSATCOM plays in the Army and the future of SATCOM in the Army and the rest of the DoD.

Here is what he had to say:

GovSat Report: What role does COMSATCOM play for the Army? When in the field, where might a Soldier see different applications, capabilities and tools enabled by SATCOM?

Brigadier General Taylor: The Army augments military SATCOM with commercial SATCOM during nearly every mission executed by the Department of Defense.  Using the mission as the starting point, Army proponents examine the ability of military SATCOM to support their networks.  When feasible, military SATCOM is always their first choice.  If they cannot use military SATCOM, they determine the most efficient and effective way to employ commercial SATCOM instead.

COMSATCOM and MILSATCOM jointly support forces deployed around the world.  All Army WIN-T SATCOM terminals are dual-band-capable and can operate in the commercial Ku band.  Satellite terminals at echelons above corps (EAC), such as the Phoenix terminal, are quad-band terminals and can access the commercial C and Ku bands.  Force XXI Battle Command, Brigade and Below (FBCB2) and Iridium are examples of commercial SATCOM that reach the Soldier directly.

WIN-T is a networking capability that makes very robust use of military and commercial satellite systems.  WIN-T is part of the Army’s transport layer and has a wide capability range, for instance, directly supporting brigade combat team and reach-back to home stations.

GovSat Report: What program(s) uses SATCOM empower the warfighter in theater? What is WIN-T Increment 2, and what will enable for the warfighter?

Brigadier General Taylor: The Army has taken a number of steps to enhance utilization of the wideband MILSATCOM architecture.  HQDA CIO/G-6 has worked with Forces Command, Network Enterprise Technology Command, PM WIN-T and Army Strategic Missile Defense Command/Army Strategic Command (the DoD wideband SSE) for more than two years to bring wideband military satellite capability across Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) to deployed and deploying forces.  We have operated across all known WIN-T configurations with WGS, and have steadily increased proficiency among our users.  We have also improved collaboration and coordination.

WIN-T is the Army’s tactical networking capability, which extends the Army network and the DoD Information Network to Army organizations.  WIN-T Increment 2 brings an on-the-move satellite communications capability to tactical formations.  The intent is to extend the network forward and provide division, brigade and battalion leaders, as well as key staff elements, real-time situational awareness, particularly at extended, beyond-line-of-sight distances from their brigade and battalion command posts.  Greater situational awareness at longer ranges will dramatically improve mission execution.

GovSat Report: Why would the Army look to commercial satellite providers to augment its own, purpose-built MILSATCOM infrastructure (WGS)?

Brigadier General Taylor: Commercial SATCOM provides an invaluable augmentation to deployed warfighting forces.  It helps to overcome bandwidth and capacity limitations of military SATCOM systems, and adds resilience by providing dual paths for highly critical communications.  Several years ago, the Army published a policy document directing that any new wideband terminal be multi-band and able to support at least one MILSATCOM band.  While there have been exceptions, generally new acquisitions meet these criteria.

Time and geography are key factors in the availability of MILSATCOM.  DoD placed WGS satellites #1 through #4 over the Pacific and Southwest Asia.  There was no WGS coverage over the central U.S. region until the activation of WGS-5 and WGS-6 in early 2013.  Accordingly, the Army employed a purely commercial wideband SATCOM architecture for training in the U.S. from 2006 to 2013.  Since 2013, the Army has employed a combination of WGS and commercial SATCOM in order to ensure that operators and planners are successful with both networks.

GovSat Report: Has the U.S. Army established a baseline satellite bandwidth requirement for WIN-T Increment 2 employment to support the Brigade Combat Teams and Expeditionary Signal Battalions?

Brigadier General Taylor: The Army has a baseline satellite bandwidth requirement for WIN-T increment 2, however, that baseline bandwidth requirement was developed at the beginning of the WIN-T program several years ago.  The Army, through the TRADOC Analysis Center, has embarked on a wideband SATCOM bandwidth study to further clarify and define the satellite bandwidth requirements for forces in 2025 and beyond.  Those requirements will be entered into the DoD wideband analysis of alternatives study scheduled to being in fall 2016.

GovSat Report: Will the employment of WIN-T Increment 2 use more WGS or will it use commercial bandwidth?  If both what is the projected allocation to WGS and commercial?

Brigadier General Taylor: The Army designed WIN-T for compatibility with WGS and to make full use of specific WGS features (in addition to traditional military and commercial SATCOM connectivity).  The Army has been migrating WIN-T requirements to WGS as WGS has reached worldwide capability. However, WGS can’t satisfy all Army requirements.  There will always be a mixture of WGS and commercial SATCOM serving Army warfighters in training and in operations.  The exact mix will depend on the scenario and the availability of military and commercial SATCOM.  All Army components comply with CJCS Instruction 6250 and other DoD references in their use of commercial SATCOM.

One area that will probably continue to employ a high level of commercial SATCOM is the acquisition and development arena.  In new-system development and testing, it is important to control as many variables as possible.  The specific configuration of military SATCOM networks typically changes from one mission to the next, whereas commercial SATCOM arrangements can remain precisely the same for extended and intermittent periods.  Even so, the development community is taking proactive steps to ensure that it certifies new terminals for both military and commercial SATCOM use.

GovSat Report: How (or in what manner) will the current WIN-T Increment 1 continue to be employed when Increment 2 is fielded?

Brigadier General Taylor: It will take many years for WIN-T Increment 2 to be fielded Army wide.  WIN-T Increment 2 is currently scheduled for fielding to divisions and brigade combat teams; all other units will continue to operate on WIN-T Increment 1.  Army forces will deploy with a mixture of WIN-T Increment 1B and Increment 2 equipment for the foreseeable future.  Signal Soldiers are continually finding ways to adapt to the doctrinal changes and paradigm shifts inherent to operating with different increments.

For additional information about the role of COMSATCOM in military communications, click on the following resources:

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