Soldiers assigned to the 1-26 Infantry Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), participate in a simulated force-on-force exercise during Network Integration Evaluation 17.2 exercise at Fort Bliss, Texas, July 20, 2017. Army photo by Pfc. Joseph Friend
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Network Integration Exercise Prepares Soldiers for Future Combat
By Devon L. Suits
Army Media Production, Defense Media Activity
FORT BLISS, Texas, Aug. 3, 2017 — As potential adversaries continue to develop their ability to engage with U.S. forces across multiple domains, the Army’s future operating environment will be highly contested, congested, and lethal.
That’s why exercises such as the Network Integration Evaluation are vital for building an agile and adaptive Army by integrating and testing new network equipment that will be used in the field.
Along with testing new equipment, Network Integration Evaluation 17.2 creates an opportunity for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), and other participating units to increase their readiness through realistic and demanding scenarios against peer or near-peer threats.
For the 2nd Brigade soldiers, preparation and training for NIE started while they conducted operations in Iraq, said Army Col. Joseph E. Escandon, the brigade commander. While deployed, they found innovative ways to use older technology — compared to the equipment being tested at NIE 17.2 — to enable mission command, he said.
“When 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne returned in January, they had a lot of combat experience in the use of mission command systems and how to maximize its effect,” he added. “They were using the network to gain a position of advantage in what they were doing.”
Tactical, Mobile, Agile
Training for NIE was in full swing in March, as the U.S. Army Joint Modernization Command established a forward presence at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, to integrate with the brigade. Under the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, JMC executes realistic and rigorous exercises to provide soldier feedback on emerging concepts and capabilities that will improve the combat effectiveness of the joint force.
“Compared to previous NIEs, [JMC] has deliberately carved out time for the brigade to increase readiness,” said Army Col. Charles Roede, the JMC deputy commander. “We want to make sure that they leave a better-trained unit and set them up for success.”
Army senior leaders have said future operations will require a need for decentralized command and control centers and disbursed formations of soldiers. To meet the needs of the warfighter, JMC has created a similar training environment.
“[NIE] helps soldiers prepare for the fight we are going to have in the future,” Escandon said. “We are not going to fly into a country and walk onto a forward operating base. Out here, we’re tactical. Soldiers are walking around in full battle rattle. We haven’t brought out any sleeping tents or cots. We are getting back to basic soldier fieldcraft and learning how to adapt to our environment.”
Throughout the exercise area of responsibility, freshly dug foxholes and a crude perimeter of razor wire appeared to be the only line of defense between 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne and the opposing forces.
“If the soldiers are uncomfortable out there while having to move while fighting, I think that is what the chief of staff of the Army envisions what the future fight is going to look like,” Roede said. “We are trying to create a combat-training-center-caliber experience for the testing unit.”
Operating in Multiple Domains
In addition to providing valuable feedback to Army senior leaders on ways they can modernize the Army’s tactical network, JMC also evaluates how a brigade operates in a dynamic battlefield.
The concept of multidomain battle is that all domains — land, air, maritime, space, cyberspace domains and the electronic spectrum — will be contested, Roede said. “The U.S. cannot assume the superiority of any given domain consistently,” he added. “Multidomain requires that the commander creates the conditions that contribute to areas of superiority across multiple domains, and exploit that temporary superiority to accomplish the mission.”
To try and replicate parts of the multidomain environment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne provided soldiers for the exercise who participated as opposition forces. After extensive training from JMC, the opposing forces directorate of Training and Doctrine Command intelligence certified these forces.
Throughout the evaluation, the opposing forces team, augmented by some local personnel, contested the ground and air domains through the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, anti-tank guided missiles, upgraded rocket propelled grenades and anti-aircraft missiles.
In addition to ground and simulated air combat, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne experienced the effects of offensive electromagnetic capabilities: jammers, sensors, radars, and other cyber capabilities in an attempt to degrade, disrupt or exploit their operations.
“From a network perspective, a congested environment is the proliferation of everyone using everything, from cell phones to garage door openers to the internet — that utilizes the electromagnetic spectrum to send and receive. On top of all that, you have the military use of that spectrum,” said Army Col. Bert Shell, JMC’s chief of the network integration division. “It is an invisible traffic jam in the sky.
“One of the benefits of doing NIE on the White Sands Missile Range is that there are limited places in the U.S. that you can do live, threat-type electronic warfare activity,” he continued. “Since White Sands controls the airspace, we are authorized, in a controlled matter, to use some of the representative threat-type jamming systems that allow the testing unit to understand the effects.”
As a unit is going through a jamming process, it provides with an opportunity to exercise their primary, alternate, contingency, and emergency communications plan, he added. “The benefits of going through that and seeing it in real time are invaluable to a unit,” Shell said.
The Way Ahead
The rise of urbanization and the growth of megacities have made the operational environment even more complex, said to Douglas L. Fletcher, the JMC chief of staff.
“Although we have historical examples we can look at, none of them are very good … when you consider operations in a city of that size,” he explained. “How do you organize for that and win, and what does ‘win’ mean?”
The focus of JMC is to stay ahead of the competition and continue to adapt and innovate.
“When you look at the ever-growing urbanization worldwide, the megacity phenomena presents a dynamic problem set for future military operations,” Shell said. “We need a communications network that is agile and can operate and enable mission command in any environment.”