ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (June 18, 2013) -- As the Army's first units prepare for deployment with an array of new communications technologies, a new breed of "super" engineers are also training to help maintain these advanced capabilities in and out of theater.
The new training approach is in response to the Army's shift from developing system-specific, stove-piped tactical communications capabilities to delivering a network that is integrated across the brigade combat team, or BCT, formation.
"They expanded the network to a point where it became critical to have the overall understanding of the architecture," said Jeff Bierman, lead Digital Systems Engineer, or DSE, for the East Regional Support Center with the Army's Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical, known as PEO C3T. "The training allowed us to see the equipment, touch the equipment and become knowledgeable."
Bierman was one of about a dozen DSEs to participate in the training offered by PEO C3T's Technical Management Division. This training was designed to prepare "super" DSEs responsible for supporting Capability Set 13, known as CS 13, an integrated communications package that spans the BCT, connecting the static tactical operations center to the commander on-the-move to the dismounted Soldier.
CS 13 is being fielded to select BCTs as they prepare for potential deployment. It provides mobile satellite and robust radio capability so commanders and Soldiers can take the network with them in vehicles and while dismounted as they conduct security assistance and other missions.
"As a DSE we kind of sit above and look at all the systems to make sure they're talking to each other and working properly," Bierman said. "If there are issues between the different systems, then we work to coordinate with different field service representatives and project managers. But this was the first time we've ever had formal training on the capabilities as a whole."
Because DSEs are often the first line of defense in troubleshooting the complex communications equipment, the systematic approach is expected to cut down on repair times.
The two-week training offered classroom instruction, research facility exercises and hands-on training with the CS 13-equipped vehicles. The vehicles offer different variants of CS 13 capabilities to correspond with the numerous unique roles within a BCT. CS 13 components include Warfighter Information Network-Tactical Increment 2, the mobile backbone of the Army's tactical communications network, as well as radios, mission command capabilities and situational awareness equipment.
"In the past, training through project managers on their individual systems was well received, but there was nothing that tied it all together," said Chad Claussen, network integration branch chief for PEO C3T Technical Management Division. "And this is really what spawned the DSE training. We looked at what do they need - what are the key pieces from a system of systems perspective -- that these DSEs would need to know."
The training included a day of hands-on training at the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center's, or CERDEC's, field laboratories at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., where the DSEs familiarized themselves with the vehicles equipped with components of CS 13 and were briefed on lessons-learned from the CS 13 Network Verification assessments performed a few months earlier.
CERDEC engineers supporting the assessment were instrumental in identifying and helping to resolve issues with the CS 13 network architecture, while providing recommendations on techniques and procedures for successful deployment and operation of CS 13 equipment.
"With any system of systems initiative, especially one of this magnitude, there will be bugs that need to be worked out," said Lt. Col. Quentin Smith, Product Director Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance & Network Modernization. "It's important to share these lessons-learned and the associated risk/reward trade-offs with those going to the field to support these systems. It's paramount that they have this knowledge so the Soldier can trust that the system works as promised."
The training was designed to provide the team of engineers with an understanding of CS 13 capabilities and architecture, a base system of systems understanding, the methodologies used in the assessments, significant findings and the way forward for continued support and resourcing for future CS fielding.
Within the next few months PEO C3T expects to put forward a formalized training Program of Instruction as more units are fielded CS 13 equipment.
"The reality now is that everything is integrated," Claussen said. "To have one person go and look at the vehicle and be able to troubleshoot it as a whole, we don't have that today. That's what we're trying to get to. We want to put them in a better position to understand how everything ties together."