Information Warfare: Building The Battlefield Internet


August 12, 2010: The Internet is coming to the battlefield, year by year, piece by piece. The U.S. Army is spending several hundred million dollars a year building its GIG (Global Information Grid) and Win-T (Warfighter Information Network-Tactical). This effort will cost over $10 billion to build, and won't be complete until the 2020s. This wireless battlefield communications network that uses the latest civilian wireless technology, combined with heavy duty cryptography, to enable combat and support units to have access to, well, a "battlefield internet." WIN-T will allow troops to simultaneously exchange text, data, video and voice data using a new generation of radios. Personal computers and smart phones (including both off-the-shelf and "ruggedized" military models) will hook into WIN-T and use the better communications to fight faster and more effectively.

A year ago, the army ordered another 293 AN/TSC-185 satellite communications systems (a satellite dish and related electronics mounted in a two wheel trailer that can be towed by a hummer.) An AN/TSC-185 unit weighs about two tons and includes a 7.5 kilowatt generator to power the electronics for transmitting data to satellites, and cooling the electronics. The army has been receiving about 30 of the AN/TSC-185s a month, and will continue production until every field (able to operate outside a base) battalion, as well as smaller specialized units, has one. Each AN/TSC-185 costs about $300,000, and is a key component in building a battlefield Internet capability. This is the (WIN-T) project.

Companies like Harris Corporation, Cisco Systems, and QUALCOMM, which have long built such systems for corporations and government organizations, are working on WIN-T. Parts of WIN-T have already appeared on the battlefield, cobbled together (like Blue Force Tracker) and shipped out because the technology worked and the troops needed it right away. Recent examples are a militarized version of an Android smart phone (RATS). The hardware and software, before military mods, is commercial stuff, and Android apps will run on a RATS phone.

WIN-T will use satellite communications technology, although the persistent shortage of communications satellite has the army and air force looking to using UAVs and aircraft acting as the airborne equivalent of satellites to move the huge quantities of data around the battlefield, and the world. The army is also developing UAVs that can act as communications satellite substitutes, by taking nearby signals from American military radios, and passing it on to a distant ground receiver (with a satellite dish), or another UAV acting as a signal booster.

WIN-T expects to allow troops in distant combat zones to hold video conferences with troops back in the United States, or anywhere else on, or above, the planet. For support troops, this means better access to experts elsewhere on the planet. This sort of thing was used during the recent Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns, and proved very useful. While it means that people in the Pentagon and the White House can see live video of combat, it also means that the reality of the battlefield becomes immediate and real for the senior leaders far from the actual fighting. While phone connections between the White House and the battlefield were possible during the Vietnam war, this led to harmful micromanagement. But seeing live video gives the senior people back home pause, causing them to avoid interfering, and using the remote video feed to better understand the results of their orders.

Many elements of Win-T are already being used by troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.





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