WSMR gears up for big network test

Jacob Lara, a test engineer with the Materiel Test Directorate, clears a tunnel under White Sands Missile Range’s Launch Complex 38 while preparing for the Network Integration Evaluation beginning this week. LC 38’s tunnels and connected buildings will be used to represent caves and tunnels used by insurgents in Afghanistan and other locations. (Photo by Drew Hamilton, WSMR Public Affairs Office)

Missile range simulates conditions in Afghanistan

White Sands Missile Range

White Sands Missile Range is geared up for a large scale test that began this week by preparing existing facilities and building new ones.

Another Network Integration Evaluation is under way, this time requiring even more test capabilities than before. The NIE is a series of large scale tests of a wide reaching dynamic network, along with a number of related systems.

“There will be 3,500 soldiers from the 2-1 Armored Division down at Fort Bliss and these solders will be the ones operating the equipment and others will be serving as their own opposing force,” said Jay Hayden, branch chief of the systems of systems branch of the Material Test Directorate.

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WSMR can expect to see more than just a larger number of soldiers as the NIE will also require hundreds of government employees and contractors to conduct the test and troubleshoot the test equipment.

For the NIEs testing operation WSMR is to provide extensive support to all levels of the test.

Radio communications, both those undergoing testing and those used to track and record test data, are being scheduled to ensure that they don’t interfere with any other communications or tests.

Airspace has been cleared and coordinated with other tests so that the air layer of NIE can proceed without conflicting with missile tests going on at the same time. Generators have been positioned to provide power to the test locations. Even the sanitation requirements of the soldiers are being supported by WSMR.

The network is expected to perform like a kind of wireless Internet for the soldiers, allowing them to connect to each other and their command like never before. The network will not only allow soldiers to use conventional voice communications, but also allow them to use texting and chat, pass data — like video and images — to each other, view and share navigational and targeting information, and control various network connected devices and unmanned systems like UAVs and sensor stations.

“The objective is that that foot soldiers on the ground — that sergeant, that corporal, that private — can communicate all the way up to his company commander, battalion commander and brigade commander and vice versa. So information can be shared from the lowest soldier to the highest soldier,” Hayden said.

Other important devices and systems also will be tested, including counter IED systems, logistics systems for use by support battalions, and air assets to include balloons, airplanes, helicopters, and unmanned aircraft.

Testing these systems requires a realistic operational environment that is as much like the conditions that a soldier is expected to see in combat as possible, and for that reason White Sands Missile Range was selected as the test location.

With its combination of both open and mountainous terrain, along with its extreme weather and dusty conditions, White Sands Missile Range provides testers with a secure test environment that also replicates conditions like those in Afghanistan.

“We have many unique geographical features that replicate Afghanistan fairly well. So they will be operating within mountains both here in the southern part of the range and in the northern part on an excursion,” Hayden said.

To support this fall’s Network Integration Evaluation at White Sands Missile Range, additional villages like this one had to be built. (Photo by Drew Hamilton, WSMR Public Affairs Office)

To prepare for this test WSMR technicians have been clearing old facilities and areas for use by the soldiers of the 2-1 Armored Division, the unit conducting the test. A missile test site at Launch Complex 38 and several sites around WSMR have been cleared for use because they have tunnels, mines and cave complexes that will be used to simulate the tunnels and caves used by insurgents.

Other locations being prepared that have been used before include Yucca Village and Mountain Village. These two facilities in the southern part of the missile range are built to represent the small villages and towns like those found in Afghanistan.

Unlike past NIEs, this test will expand the testing of new technologies in the reduced urban environments of the villages, and requires more facilities like them.

To accommodate this need, WSMR has built several new smaller villages throughout the range. Like a movie set,  these small villages have the outward appearance of small brick-and-plaster buildings, even though they are actually constructed from metal frames and easily molded foam.

These facilities will act as objectives, target areas in which the soldiers will conduct simulated combat operations while using the equipment they are testing.

“The opposing force will camp out here and they are supposed to simulate the Taliban, the folks in Afghanistan, and then the Blue Force (soldiers using test equipment) will come through here and set up maneuvers and raids, scenarios just like they would in Afghanistan,” said Jacob Lara, a test engineer with the Material Test Directorate.

Combined with the terrain, these facilities not only provide tactical challenges to the soldiers conducting the test operations, but also technical challenges that will have to be overcome. The villages are spread out over the range, with mountains and other obstructions blocking the path between them and other NIE locations requiring the network to find ways to maintain the connection.

The NIE is scheduled to go until Nov. 19 with operations and test support activities taking place throughout that time.

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