Wireless Tech Earns Its Stripes With the U.S. Army

By Samuel Greengard Print this article Print
U.S. Army Goes Wireless

The U.S. Army turned to a secure NSA-accredited WiFi solution that boosts agility by expediting troop mobility in fast-changing and dynamic situations.

The ability to communicate effectively is essential for every organization, but for the United States Army, it's mission-critical. To deal with increasingly sophisticated and tech-savvy opponents—both on and off the battlefield—the Army requires advanced, secure communications capabilities.

"There's a need for commanders to outmaneuver and outfox enemies," says Paul Mehney, director of public communications for the U.S. Army Program Executive Office of Command Control Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T).

As a result, the Army is charging forward with a secure National Security Agency (NSA)-accredited WiFi solution that offers advanced communication capabilities. Working with Aruba, it is introducing a new tactical communications backbone that revolves around 802.11ac wireless infrastructure.

The technology is designed to reduce the time required to install and dismantle critical communications networks from hours to minutes. This will boost agility by expediting troop mobility in fast-changing and dynamic situations, including disaster relief.

The initiative taps Aruba indoor and outdoor Gigabit WiFi access points (APs), 7000 Series Cloud Services Controllers with RFProtect, Policy Enforcement Firewall and Advanced Cryptography, and AirWave software for network management. It delivers NSA Suite B, also called Commercial Solutions for Classified, which provides a cryptographic base for unclassified and most classified information. The Aruba technology offers integrated wireless LAN (WLAN), virtual private network (VPN), wireless intrusion detection system (WIDS) and firewall capabilities, as well as scalability and flexibility across Windows and Android platforms.

Wireless Enables Fast Response to Changing Conditions

By using wireless networks rather than wired systems, Army command posts eliminate the time-intensive process of deploying CAT 5 cabling and installing specialized flooring. Setting up a network in a brigade command post typically takes hours and requires 17 boxes of 1000 feet of CAT 5 cable, which weighs 255 pounds, Mehney explains.

Wireless technology makes it possible to adapt faster to changing conditions, while virtually eliminating the need to transport equipment and supplies. In the end, Army units are highly mobile and can easily maneuver as circumstances require—whether they're engaging in battle or aiding in disaster relief situations.

"Soldiers will be able to wirelessly connect their mission command and communication systems to the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) network, the Army's tactical communications network backbone," Mehney says. The system allows a brigade or battalion Tactical Operations Center (TOC) to move to a new location while retaining its situational awareness and operational tempo.

The system achieves this by using a Tactical Command Post (TAC), which replicates the critical mission command and communication systems found in the much larger TOC. As a result, even if the main TOC is moving, the unit remains connected to the network in the TAC. Once the TOC reaches its new location, the brigade re-establishes the robust network systems found in the TOC hours faster than it could be done in the past.

Mehney reports that the initiative delivers both short-term and long-term benefits. It ties together nodes that in the past have been unable to connect effectively, while allowing the Army to build a more agile and flexible communications infrastructure at a lower cost. The system also reduces troubleshooting, as well as administrative time and resources

"By untethering the command post, wireless capability will give commanders greater ability to maintain situational awareness," Mehney explains.

This article was originally published on 2016-02-15
Samuel Greengard writes about business and technology for Baseline, CIO Insight and other publications. His most recent book is The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015).
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