ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Sept. 21, 2012) -- Having used legacy communications equipment during tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Sgt. 1st Class Michael Rayfield is ready to see the Army send its new mobile network to the field.

"After seeing this technology in action, I couldn't imagine going back to the way we were fighting the battle before," said Rayfield, a brigade senior signal noncommissioned officer for 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division. "Based on what I have seen and where I have been in the past, [Warfighter Information Network-Tactical] Increment 2 has reached a milestone in the ways that we can get information to our fighting forces."

Known as WIN-T, the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical is essentially the Soldier's Internet, providing high-speed, high-capacity voice, data and video communications. Increment 2, which begins fielding to two brigades of the 10th Mountain Division in October as part of the Army's Capability Set 13, is a major upgrade that introduces mission command "on-the-move," allowing Soldiers to communicate continuously inside tactical vehicles.

It also enhances network operations for network planning and monitoring, and extends satellite communications to the company level -- providing Soldiers closest to the fight with greater connectivity than ever before.

During the Army's Network Integration Evaluation, or NIE, 12.2 last spring, Rayfield and other 2/1 AD Soldiers put the new network through its paces as part of WIN-T Increment 2's rigorous Initial Operational Test and Evaluation, known as IOT&E. The operational test was the Army's largest tactical network test of its kind, involving thousands of Soldiers geographically dispersed over 2,000 miles. Units participated from White Sands Missile Range, N.M.; Fort Campbell, Ky; Fort Riley, Kan.; and Fort Gordon, Ga.

Test data and Soldier feedback verified that the WIN-T Increment 2 network met its requirements and supported every mission conducted as part of the IOT&E. Operational units successfully conducted full spectrum operations, executing various Training and Doctrine Command-developed scenarios in varying environmental conditions.

The NIE confirmed that 2/1 AD could use WIN-T to pass near real-time information across echelons, from the Brigade Tactical Operations Center to the battalion and company levels. Commanders were untied from their command posts, maintaining access to the network while on-the-move inside vehicles equipped with WIN-T Increment 2. Additionally, command post setup and teardown times were significantly reduced when the operational situation allowed for at-the-halt mission command.

"The on-the-move communications provided by WIN-T Increment 2 will allow commanders to better manage their assets, because they are able to reach back to the Global Information Grid and make decisions using real-time information," said Sgt. 1st Class Enrique Balderrama, 2/1 AD S6, Combat Net Radio. "Commanders can actually be embedded in the battle and issue commands faster and more reliably. It also allows other Army systems to integrate into the WIN-T backbone so they too can reach back into the [Global Information Grid] to receive and share critical information."

As with any testing, the Army also identified areas for improvement, and it is following up with comprehensive assessment, corrective action and re-test to ensure a more robust and capable system. These measures are being accomplished in conjunction with production, fielding and training efforts for Capability Set 13.

One WIN-T Increment 2 capability that the NIE process helped illuminate was the role of the Soldier Network Extension, or SNE, which extends the WIN-T backbone to the company level for the first time. Using its on-the-move satellite communication systems, the SNE was designed to heal and extend lower echelon tactical radio networks for geographically separated elements blocked by terrain features. During the IOT&E and numerous developmental tests preceding it, the SNE performed as designed and met its requirements.

However, the Army also took advantage of the NIE environment to evaluate and determine the optimal configuration of mission command applications on the SNE's transport capabilities. The evaluation demonstrated that the SNE bandwidth can support some mission command applications better than others. It also produced valuable Soldier feedback on the level of mission command applications required at the company echelon, as well as the system's optimal user interface.

The Army is applying its findings to the development and fielding plans for WIN-T Increment 2, beginning with CS 13. For example, in direct response to 2/1 AD feedback, the Army has added a second screen inside both SNE and Point of Presence, or PoP, vehicles for CS 13 to better meet Soldiers' functional needs while communicating on-the-move. While the SNE is used at the company level, the PoP is used at division, brigade and battalion echelons. Both configuration items offer improvements over the current backbone, WIN-T Increment 1, which provides communications to battalion and above level units "at-the-quick-halt."

Although WIN-T Increment 2 capability continues to evolve, Soldiers say the operational value of the new network is clear.

"Soldiers are going to know what is happening around them at all times, with all units and with all echelons," said Spc. Marc Harms, 2/1 AD. "We are going to become very, very aware."