ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (August 24, 2016) - Without a reliable network, mission command and warfighting would be severely degraded.

The Army's only test laboratory that ensures system of systems interoperability is located here, at System Engineering and Integration, part of the Space and Terrestrial Communications Directorate at the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, according to Scott Newman.

Newman, the SEI program director, spoke during a media day July 28.

The lab, known as C4ISR Systems Integration Lab -- with C4ISR standing for Command, Control Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance -- tests every type of radio, computer and application that touches the tactical network, whether carried by Soldiers dismounted, mounted, command post, or even used in aircraft, he said.

Not just Army network stuff is tested, he added. Every service uses the lab to test its networks to ensure interoperability.

EFFICIENCIES REALIZED

Besides having a great team of professional testers, Newman said the other thing he is most proud of is the efficiencies they've gained for the Army.

For example, up until about three years ago, Army would send hundreds of technicians from APG to Fort Bliss, Texas, and adjacent White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, for months at a time to set up network gear used by Soldiers during Network Integration Evaluation exercises. It was hard work, operating in the dust and heat, he said.

Then in May 2012, the lab was established at APG that could replicate everything being used at NIE, he said. Since that time, Newman said he estimated a four-fold savings in cost.

Today, the lab tests both the NIE and the Army Warfighting Assessment which both take place at Fort Bliss and White Sands.

AWA assesses U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command concepts and capabilities and NIE focuses on programs of record formal testing, he said, explaining the difference.

HOW TESTING IS DONE

As of now, the lab has 300 radios of all types used by Soldiers, including the latest ones as well as the legacy ones, Newman said.

The radios are all wired on what is known as a "federated, distributed architecture that's closed and restricted, which is the case throughout the lab," he said.

The lab's network is connected to 37 other federated locations that collaborate on testing. For example, the lab is connected to:

  • Tactical System Integration Facility on APG, where the mission command lab is located
  • The Army's Test and Evaluation Center on APG
  • All of the Army Research Labs, including to their supercomputers
  • Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, where testing can be done on aircraft mockups
  • Various other installations like Forts Benning, Bliss, Gordon and so on, as well as Navy and Air Force installations
  • Sometimes, a network connection is established with a vendor as well

Using the example of Redstone Arsenal, PEO Aviation has connectivity with the lab, Newman said. "I tie into them and they actually execute a thread from the cockpit of that [mocked up] aircraft. It then goes through the Defense Research Engineering Network, then into our tactical network here. Then we debug and diagnose to ensure everything is working properly."

Again, cost savings are realized because technicians don't have to travel to the arsenal, he said.

Currently, the lab is performing testing for an AWA exercise, he added.

THREADS AND APPS

"We run around 1,600 to 1,800 applications a day," he pointed out. "In terms of applications I run, the short answer is all of them. All of the mission command stack, all of the different network management, all of the intelligence, all are running.

"From here, I can execute a thread and watch it go over the network," he continued. "I have different test schools that can analyze it and see if it works. If it doesn't work, it gets debugged and diagnosed."

Incidentally, a thread is an application getting initiated and "we watch it go over the network to make sure that the message gets to where it is supposed to go," he said." For example, "I execute a call for fire and I will watch it go over our networks and make sure that the message completes."

"That's one thread. There are many steps within a thread. Basically, we've got to validate each step is working properly," Newman said.

Once threads are executed and the network is vetted, validated configurations get passed onto the unit which they then install for their field exercise, he said. Also, a full technical report is produced after each test and that it is sent to that program of record or vendor whose capability is being evaluated.

For instance, one recent vendor failed testing at the lab, he said. The lab wrote up a full technical report for the vendor and using that report, the vendor produced a successful component that was validated to connect to the network.

SIMULATED NETWORKS

With just 300 radios, how can the lab replicate a brigade combat team or even a corps which has more? Newman explained:

The lab augments its 300 radios with a modeling simulation capability called MODESTA, a CERDEC-developed effort, he said. MODESTA allows the lab to simulate any number of radios or networks desired. We leverage ARL's high-performance computing environment (supercomputer) to run MODESTA to get the desired network scale, he added.

All of these networks and radios can also simulate an actual battlefield, he said. There are radio frequency attenuation matrices, "which gives us the ability to replicate terrain, foliage and movement. So these radios think that they are moving around in whatever scenario I want. I can have them in the desert, dense foliage, jungle, Korea, wherever I want to place them. These radios are networked and run different mobile and networking protocols."

It gets even more interesting, he said, when a simulated event causes the network to break apart or even collapse. The lab has tools to look at the network and its performance. The network itself has protocols in it that can "self-heal".

"So I can have a network break apart and create two separate islands and I want to heal them with an aircraft," he said, giving just one example. "I can actually bring in a simulated aircraft and heal those links so I once again have one big network."

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