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SOF Tactical Network Testbed Highlighted at SOFIC

It may sound a bit like another U.S. Army Network Integration Evaluation, but the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) Tactical Network Testbed (TNT) program provides a unique array of SOF-focused rotating venues for the demonstration, testing, and potential accelerated acquisition of systems and technologies to meet the specialized needs of all USSOCOM elements.

The events allow industry, academia, individuals, and U.S. government labs to submit technology experimentation nominations addressing innovative technologies leading to possible government/industry collaboration for development of USSOCOM technology capabilities. The TNTs provide the submitted technology experimentation candidates with a means of accelerating the delivery of innovative capabilities to the SOF warfighter.

Providing a TNT overview during the recent Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC) in Tampa, Fla., Gabe Lifschitz, TNT program manager for USSOCOM, summarized the technical experimentation events as “a time and a space where you get SOF and us and you together; and we try your technologies so that we can see how they can fit into SOF missions.”

FQM-151 Pointer Small Unmanned Air System

U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Derek Snyder prepares to hand-launch the FQM-151 Pointer small unmanned air system, armed with a non-lethal payload, while conducting Tactical Network Testbed experiments at Camp Roberts, Calif. U.S. Navy photo

“This venue is to rapidly assess, figure out, and see what kinds of technologies make the best sense that we can use in SOF missions that address immediate warfighter needs,” he said.

The events were originally established by the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), located in Monterey, Calif., and held about 100 miles south at Camp Roberts, Calif.

Noting that the TNT designation reflects an initial program focus on “networking” challenges and the passage of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) information in a SOF digital architecture, Lifschitz explained that the program quickly grew to encompass broader SOF issues, with the early introduction of supporting technologies like small unmanned aerial vehicles.

The events allow industry, academia, individuals, and U.S. government labs to submit technology experimentation nominations addressing innovative technologies leading to possible government/industry collaboration for development of USSOCOM technology capabilities. The TNTs provide the submitted technology experimentation candidates with a means of accelerating the delivery of innovative capabilities to the SOF warfighter.

“Then it grew into whether we could have some small weapons tried out,” he said. “Then it went into suppressors. Then it went into mobility systems. Then it went into armor.”

The expansion of TNT focus was also accompanied by a decision to move physical venue to other locations. For example, in late October and early November 2012, TNT experiments were conducted at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in Indiana, exploring emerging technology solutions for urban operations.

From there, the venue shifted to Avon Park, Fla., in late February 2013, for Tactical Network Testbed experiments exploring “emerging technology solutions and revolutionary improvements in technology for the individual Digital Soldier.” Identified focus areas for that event included:

  • situational awareness (to include combat ID and operations where GPS is not available);
  • command, control, communications, and computers to include conformable and wearable antennae and wearable computers;
  • improved size, weight, and power and energy sources, to include wireless, or management devices;
  • sensors including ISR, biomedical, physiological;
  • medicine/medical/medic technology applications;
  • human performance;
  • data integration and fusion (i.e., from the individual digital soldier to the weapon(s) system(s), the vehicle or other agnostic platform, C2 at multiple echelons, etc.);
  • individual soldier combat-ready displays, including non-visual means of information display, and potentially utilization of cognitive thoughts and the surrounding environment to display personalized information;
  • exoskeletons;
  • and industry’s ability to make revolutionary improvements in mobility, lethality, survivability, and communications.

The final TNT for fiscal year 2013 will be held June 4-13, 2013, back at Camp Roberts, where the primary theme will focus on signature reduction.

Lifschitz noted that the first two Tactical Network Testbed events of FY 2014 will focus on Preservation of Force and Family (October 2013) and Maritime Mobility/Countermobility (February or March 2014). Locations for those upcoming events remain to be determined as of this writing.

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Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...