News: Networking On-the-Move goes afloat
Story by Wil Williams
CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - Enhancing the commandant’s efforts to move the Marine Corps back to its expeditionary amphibious roots, Marine Corps Systems Command has successfully tested a robust mobile command-and-control capability integrated onto the Assault Amphibious Vehicle, or AAV, platform. This amphibious tactical command-and-control capability is one that neither the Corps nor Navy had previously possessed.
Known as Networking On-the-Move, NOTM is now fielded on two other Marine Corps platforms—the HMMWV and Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicle. NOTM is an evolutionary system, based upon the capabilities of the Mobile Modular Command and Control systems successfully employed in Afghanistan since 2009.
Now—after successfully completing more than seven weeks of rigorous amphibious testing conducted at Camp Pendleton, Calif., by the Marine Corps Tactical Systems Support Activity and Amphibious Vehicle Test Branch—NOTM is destined for fielding on the AAV.
“This gives the Marine Corps an amphibious command-and-control enabling capability that we never had before, particularly a network on the move, on the water,” said Chris Wagner, NOTM lead engineer. “Existing amphibious command-and-control units don’t work on-the-move in terms of the network. This new capability allows them to keep moving—ship-to-shore. They do this while still being connected to the networks and their unmanned aerial vehicles, getting downlink feeds from the sky and doing command and control while going onto shore, and, of course, maintaining connectivity to the follow-on objective.”
To test this new amphibious capability, mission scenario data—developed from Marine Corps experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan—were distributed via secure wireless local area networks to commanders and staff aboard an amphibious staff vehicle from the point-of-presence amphibious vehicle, or POP-V, which also contains the wideband-Ku satellite communications system. The system also allows full-motion video from UAVs operating over a landing beach to be pulled down to the POP-V. The video is then transmitted in real time to staff amphibious vehicles and network, allowing everyone to see what’s on the beach.
“The success of NOTM is going to allow us to further develop expeditionary maneuver warfighting capabilities, not being reliant upon the capabilities that only exist thus far at the stationary Combat Operations Center,” said Maj. Keith Kovats, NOTM project officer. “We’re allowing the commanders to push the fight at a significantly higher tempo.”
All the NOTM-equipped AAV testing was conducted within a realistic, operational framework. In addition to testing for shock, vibrations and pressure issues arising from transitioning the vehicle in and out of surf, travelling extended distances in differing sea states and terrain surfaces, the AAV testing included the boarding and disembarking from the USS Anchorage, an amphibious transport dock ship.
“We needed to put the AAV into an operational context,” Kovats said. “Swimming through the surf, coming to and going away from the beach, driving through and operating at the halt in the training areas at Camp Pendleton, together with the Anchorage demonstration, serve to simulate as best as possible the operational mission profile of an AAV.”
The MCTSSA tests, conducted at the Amphibious Vehicle Test Branch, were not a retest of the NOTM system itself; rather it entailed testing of the core NOTM functions mounted on the AAV. To eliminate potential operator errors, MCTSSA introduced automated scripts to provide continuous data such as email, tactical chat and other transmissions that would normally come from operators. Likewise, to eliminate connectivity issues created by vibration and shock common to a tracked vehicle, the system’s satellite communications antenna was ruggedized.
“We’ve been planning the NOTM [AAV variant] testing from the summer of last year,” said Scot Hoesly, a MCTSSA technical support officer and lead NOTM tester. “For the execution testing, which lasted seven weeks, we did six tests, some of which were conducted multiple times, plus four special requirement event tests. Additionally we ran AAV 12-hour, 30-minute mission profile testing—a series of test segments that puts the AAV through what an AAV is expected to do.”
This extensive range of oceangoing testing by MCTSSA successfully demonstrated that the NOTM system could maintain connectivity in a variety of terrains, land-to-sea movements and ocean conditions.
“We weren’t sure how it was going to work on the water, because communications on the water tend to be very iffy,” Wagner said. “For one test, we went out of the harbor, and we were looking up at the waves. It wasn't an issue; the system continued to run in that sea condition, maintaining connectivity with the command vehicle.”
Besides having a crew of professional developmental testers and engineers doing the evaluating—coupled with a virtualized Command Operations Center broadcasting from one of MCTSSA’s labs—the NOTM testing also included Marine AAV crewmen, NOTM operators, and command-and-control systems operators. These Marines operated the NOTM and C2 systems throughout the operational relevant scenarios.
“We had 26 Marines from the 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion and one corpsman participate, and they have been essential to this entire event,” Wagner said. “They have operated the vehicles across a rigorous schedule. The Marines start at 6 a.m., prepping the vehicles, then come safety and mission briefs, followed by the launch, often returning at 3 p.m. or later. We put 40 land miles on a vehicle one day, and the next day we would go out in the water, and the next day 20 more miles.”
For each day’s real-world testing scenario executed during the field user evaluation, the Marines provided feedback of their thoughts, reactions and experiences with system.
Besides providing a new command-and-control capability, equipping the AAV with the NOTM system will help sustain the current Marine Corps capability to conduct amphibious forcible entry operations in uncertain or hostile environments.