One common trend we see at the National Training Center (NTC) that is an across the board trend (not just signal) is something we call integrating enablers. Within the Brigade Combat Team (BCT) there is a huge range of skillsets and specialties. With this broad range of skills, one could very possibly think that the BCT is self-sustaining. Unfortunately, they would not be correct. Enablers are a specialized capability which is not organic to the unit, but provided on an as needed basis for the unit to complete its mission. Some of the normal enablers that we see join a rotation are aviation taskforces, route clearance companies, engineer battalions, civil affairs teams and expeditionary signal battalions (ESB). When we talk about “integrating enablers” in general we are normally talking about how did we plan for, utilize, and control these specialized resources. As a common example we will see a unit that failed to integrate their civil affairs team into the plan and instead of using them to get the local population to understand the unit’s mission and aid in it, the team sits on the sidelines and the local population doesn’t provide vital intelligence to the unit (or in the worst case scenario actively works against the unit).
From a network perspective, enablers can present challenges to an inexperienced Net Tech. When we first find out about these attached units we as the net tech have some questions that we need to ask:
- What Upper T/I requirements do they need?
- What capabilities (JNN, CPN, SNAP, etc.) will they bring with them?
- How will these enablers be used across the battlefield (will they integrate with organic units, or work independently)?
The answers to these questions can often times drive how we plan the network. With the modular BCT, we are used to each BN having the equipment that is required to sustain it from an Upper T/I perspective (JNN, CPN, ect.) but this is often not true with enablers. The Combat Sustainment Support Battalion (CSSB) is a common enabler for a unit to receive while at NTC, but the battalion doesn’t come with an organic CPN to support it. With this being the case, the unit must figure out how to support the CSSB either by shuffling one of its organic nodes or more often requesting support from an ESB. An aviation BN is another example of a common enabler we see as part of a rotation however in most cases it does come with an organic CPN.
So once we have figured out their support requirements, and then decided how we will fill those requirements from an equipment perspective we need to work on integrating them into our existing network. This can often present challenges. Some things for the net tech to consider include:
- Who will submit the SAR/ASR for these units (us or their organic unit)
- Will they be integrated into our existing TDMA tunnel or operate on a separate tunnel
- Are they compatible with our configuration (1A vs 1B, Ku vs Ka, etc.)
- What other assets will they bring with them (HCLOS, 7800, SMART-T, Phoenix, etc.)
- How can we support them from a maintenance perspective
Once it’s time for the unit to receive its enablers and begin the mission, the Net Tech faces a number of challenges. One thing I always coach a unit Net Tech is that they MUST take ownership of their attached nodes. Far too often we see the Net Tech give the node a few configurations to integrate them into their TDMA tunnel and thing that their job ends there. In my opinion, this is just the beginning. For as long as those nodes are attached to the Brigade, the Net Tech has the same inherent responsibilities to them as he would to any of his organic nodes. He must work with the teams to ensure that they understand how the brigade operates and ensure that they follow suite. The Net Tech must ensure that he has full access to any and all network devices (firewalls, routers, switches, etc.) including a working username/password and SNMP access. The Net Tech should have a working copy of all of their configurations, and back them up the same way he would his units. Consider any changes that you will have to make to your organic network. Will modifications have to be made to your internal firewalls to allow your enablers access to services (SharePoint, DNS, e-mail, etc.)?
No matter what it is important to remember that enablers are there to support the BCT and should integrate themselves as best as they can with the unit. There is nothing that we as a Net Tech can do to their systems (i.e. configuration changes) that can’t be undone at the end of the mission. The one caveat to that is that it is important to ensure that you save a copy of their baseline configuration prior to making changes so that at the end of the mission you are able to restore them back to the way they were.