US Army 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, 503rd Infantry Regiment, test Integrated Tactical Network, Grafenwoeher, Germany (US Army, 2018)

US Army Fields Integrated Tactical Network

173rd Airborne Tests Next Gen Battlefield Communications in Grafenwöhr

The US Army’s new Integrated Tactical Network means that the days of simple battlefield radio communication, reports Major Chris Bradley of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. The Integrated Tactical Network, a sophisticated yet intuitive communication system, allows leaders at the platoon level and above to rapidly share information across the military network. And the 173rd Airborne have been putting it through its paces at Grafenwöhr, Germany.

The Integrated tactical network has been developed by the US Army’s Project Manager (PM) Tactical Network (previously called PM Warfighting Information Network-Tactical) as part of the US Army’s vision to operate under “one tactical network.”

The 173rd Airborne Brigade is the US Army’s Contingency Response Force in Europe. Nicknamed the Sky Soldiers, the 173rd provides rapid forces to the United States European, Africa and Central Commands areas of responsibilities. Forward-based in Italy and Germany, the Brigade routinely trains alongside NATO allies and partners to build interoperability and strengthen the Alliance. The 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, recently took part in the multi-national Joint Warfighting Assessment at the Grafenwöhr training Area, Germany, before moving on to conduct Company Live Fire, May 1-5, during the scheduled Eagle Wrath Rotation.

Comms Platform Increases Lethality and Safety

This new platform, called the Integrated Tactical Network, revolutionizes the way tactical leaders are able to communicate, improving the lethality of small units, while at the same time increasing safety and situational awareness for soldiers.

“Besides each of us having access to the mission graphics, we will be able to battle track each other,” said US Army 1st Lieutenant Michael Austin, a platoon leader in Attack Company, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment. “If we’re in a movement to contact and we take chance contact, we can use this to very accurately shift fires, and have more fires on the enemy while being very safe because we know our exact front-line trace.”

The benefits for soldiers in the field are extensive. With the platform, leaders are able to track the positions of the units all around the battlefield, as well as share text messages, voice communication and even pictures.

Network Delivers Crystal-Clear Communications

The equipment was fielded to the battalion two days prior to executing company-level combined arms live-fire exercises here May 1-5. After a one-day class, the radio telephone operators and the platoon leaders understood the process for using the devices and were able to use them for the actual exercise.

“We had crystal-clear communications the entire time and that’s the first time we’ve had that,” Austin said. “Our scouts were able to take photos directly from their hide site, so we had eyes on the objective in real-time.

Integrated Tactical Network Simplifies Communications

This system is simple to field and use.
– US Army Captain Michael Belina

The new system uses equipment that soldiers are already very familiar with, including the multi-band inter/intra team radio radio to project data, and a modern smartphone for the actual interface.

“This system is simple to field and use,” said US Army Captain Michael Belina, the signals officer for 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment. “We were able to learn it at the [operator] level in one day. The software is really intuitive since most soldiers know how to use smart phones as a second nature, [so] there’s no issue with them picking up the features and figuring it out.”

Another benefit of the new equipment is that it simplifies the communications package for the soldier on the ground.

“It makes it so you don’t have to have a truck with a [Joint Capabilities Release] on it, with a vehicle and power to it. It takes away all that equipment and simplifies it,” said Army Sgt. Alex Jones, a re-transmission team non-commissioned officer with the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment’s communications section.

Network Empowers Junior Leaders

On a less tangible level, this system empowers junior leaders to know their mission and react quickly as the situation on the ground changes.

Platoon leaders, fire support officers and company commanders have the devices now, but squad leaders will have the same devices soon.

“When the platform is fully implemented, paratroopers will have an additional quality radio and access to the same common operating picture as their leadership,” Belina said. “The common soldier will have a better idea of what’s going on around him, and it will basically cut out some of the talk that is required to build that picture. It will be more immediate.”

“As an airborne unit, we already do a good job of going down to the lowest level to ensure everyone knows the plan,” Austin said. “But it’s typically just the platoon leaders and platoon sergeants and up that have the finer details. This ensures even lower levels know the plan.”

By improving communication across the formation, empowering junior leaders and ensuring soldier lethality on the battlefield, this new system shows just how the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team soldiers continue to lead the force not just as fighters but also as modern, adaptable communicators on today’s battlefield.

Image: US Army 1st Lt Michael Austin, a platoon leader for Attack Co., 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, uses an end user device to report information to his company commander through the Integrated Tactical Network during a live-fire exercise in Grafenwoehr, Germany, May 2, 2018. US Army photo by Spc. Joshua Cofield.