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By Kris Osborn

Soldiers from the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division flew through the sky as part of a forced entry air assault jump into hostile territory before setting up a perimeter, securing their forced landing and unleashing full-scale combat operations upon battle enemies – all as part of an ongoing Army exercise at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.

The Army is finishing up a massive mock-combat drill in the desert designed to assess next-generation technologies, refine doctrine, advance communication with NATO allies and prepare soldiers for the warfare of tomorrow, service officials said.

While the Army’s Network Integration Evaluations have been going on for years, this year marks the first time NATO allies are participating in a large-scale fashion, Army spokesman Paul Mehney told Scout Warrior. This marks a change in the way the Army is using these type of events he explained. “This NIE marks an important change, it serves as a proof of concept for yearly large scale Army Warfighter Assessments. These assessments will help assess technology and the doctrine behind how the Army fights in an effort to inform future Army modernization efforts.”

The exercise includes more than 9,000 U.S. and coalition soldiers from 14 different NATO countries, supported by 3,000 civilians, he added.

 ”We are looking at what technological and doctrinal lessons we can learn as we stand up coalition networks. We are also enabling British soldiers to get on some American equipment and operate side by side with American Army units.” Mehney explained.

British soldiers have been driving U.S. Army Stryker vehicles as part of a broader effort to enhance communications technologies and interoperability among NATO forces.

The combat drills now underway include forced-entry operations, cyber defense, stability operations with local populations, defensive combat operations, perimeter protection and weapons of mass destruction detection and neutralization, among other things.

As part of the mock-combat battlefield scenarios, participating forces are also assessing the latest in high-tech gear such as radios, satellite networks, mobile communications gear and upgraded platforms such as Stryker vehicles.

Much of the technological focus of the exercise is aimed toward increasing interoperability with U.S. and NATO forces, allowing them to share combat-relevant information in real-time while on the move.  Mehney explained that assessing smaller, more mobile command posts was a key focus of the NIE.  The NIE is currently assessing more than 20 mobile command posts.

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Along these lines, assessing emerging mobile communications technologies is a large part of the calculus for the NIE, Mehney added. For instance, soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division made use of a new airborne networking technology while enroute to their destination.

Mehney explained how they used Enroute Mission Command Capability, or EMC 2, an airborne satellite system which allows paratroopers to communication with voice, video and data while flying toward their mission. The Army hopes the technology will be ready for deployment by 2017. The Army is currently fielding the capability to the Global Response Force at Fort Bragg, NC..

The idea with EMC 2 is to give Army paratroopers key, combat-relevant tactical and strategic information about their combat destination while in transit. For instance, EMC 2 can give soldiers an ability to view digital maps, battlefield assessments and intelligence information while traveling to a location instead of needing to wait until they arrive.

The mobile, airborne satellite network is a new extension of the Army’s Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, or WIN-T – a ground-based, high-speed radio and satcom network allowing commanders to chat, view digital maps and exchange data between forward bases and while on-the-move in vehicles.

During recent demonstrations, EMC 2 has brought the capability into the cargo section of a C-17 using commercial satellite connections, bringing paratroopers on the move the ability to monitor developments while in transit. The EMC 2 technology uses modified Air Force C-17s engineered to operate with AN/PRC-152 wideband networking radio, commercial satellites and the ANW2 waveform

“We are interested in helping the Army learn how it will make use of capabilities to support scalable expeditionary operations in a range of environments,” Mehney explained.

Also, Cyber-attacks and defenses have been a large part of the exercise in order to help forces adapt to fast-changing, high-tech computer threats, Mehney explained

“We are using a robust cyber enemy to try to exploit the Army’s networks and learn where our weaknesses are. We also want to learn where our detections are strong. We want to hardened our network and train our cyber-protection forces and our network operators,” he said.

The Army’s 101st Airborne Division, 1st Armored Brigade and elements of the National Guard are also involved with this years’ NIE.

While Army officials did not say the NATO solidarity and inter-operability exercises were aimed toward ongoing tensions with Russia regarding Ukraine, emphasizing NATO collaboration is entirely consistent with current partnership training among NATO allies in Europe.