Sky Soldier Communication Gets A Boost
by U.S. Army Maj. Chris Bradley
July 9, 2018
It appears that the days of simple radio communication are over for Sky Soldiers. In its place comes a sophisticated yet intuitive communication system that allows leaders at the squad level and higher to rapidly share information across the military network.
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 Sky Soldiers’ safety and situational awareness.
U.S. Army 1st. Lt. Michael Austin, platoon leader for Attack Co., 1-503rd Inf. Regt., 173rd Airborne Brigade, uses the 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. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joshua Cofield)
“Besides each of us having access to the mission graphics, we will be able to battle track each other,” said Army 1st. Lieutenant Michael Austin, a platoon leader in Attack Company, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 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 the Paratroopers 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.
The equipment was fielded to the battalion two days prior to executing company-level, combined arms live-fire exercises in Grafenwoehr, Germany, 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,” continued Austin. “Our scouts were able to take photos directly from their hide site, so we had eyes on the objective in real-time.
The new system uses equipment that soldiers are already very familiar with, including the multi band inter/intra team radio (MBITR) radio to project the data, and a modern smartphone for the actual interface.
“This system is simple to field and use,” said Capt. Michael Belina, Signals Officer for 1st. Bn, 503rd Inf. “We were able to learn it at the RTO level in one day. The software is really intuitive since most Soldiers know how to use smart phones, as a second nature, there’s no issue with them picking up the features and figuring it out.”
Currently, only platoon leaders, fire support officers and company commanders have the devices. But the brigade will continue to field the new equipment and soon the squad leaders will also have the same devices.
U.S. Army Paratroopers with the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade fire down range during a night exercise at the 7th Army Training Command's Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, May 2, 2018. Exercise Fury is a combined arms live fire exercise that tests day and night live fire capabilities across multiple military specialties. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Elliott Banks)
“When the platform is fully implemented, Paratroopers will have an additional quality radio, and access to the same common operating picture as their leadership,” said Belina. “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.”
Another benefit of the new equipment is that it simplifies the communications package for the Paratrooper on the ground.
“It makes it so you don’t have to have a truck with a JCR (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 Retransmission Team NCO in the 1-503rd Inf. Communications section.
On a less tangible level, this system empowers junior leaders to know their mission, and react quickly as the situation on the ground changes.
“As an airborne unit, we already do a good job of going down to the lowest level to ensure everyone knows the plan,” said Austin. “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 Paratrooper lethality on the battlefield, this new system shows just how Sky Soldiers continue to lead the force not just as fighters, but also as modern, adaptable communicators on today's battlefield.
The 173rd Airborne Brigade is U.S. Army Europe’s Contingency Response Force, capable of projecting forces to conduct the full range of military operations across the United States European, Central and African Command areas of responsibility.