Art of the Possible: Modernizing the Network While Addressing Gaps
The Army is committed to delivering a tactical network that will guarantee preparedness and victory over any adversary. However, ensuring success has required significant institutional and cultural change in how the service modernizes its network.
Over the past two years, the Army has revolutionized its process for developing and delivering tactical network capability. With state-of-the-art network technology available, our community has developed better business practices, leveraged soldier-driven experimentation, aligned resources and Army science and technology efforts, and is shaping and influencing industry research and development while capitalizing on advancements in technology.
Teaming with key stakeholders across the Army and joint communities, the Network Cross-Functional Team and Program Executive Office Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T) developed a capability set process to insert emerging network technology into Army formations on a two-year basis. As one capability set is fielded, development of the next is underway, and the Army science and technology community is looking even further into the future by focusing on emerging threats and technology trends and mapping future technology transfer opportunities to existing programs or defining new requirements.
This iterative capability set process allows the Army to deliver significant enhancements across infantry, Stryker and armor formations, while also enhancing signal units and ensuring U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard formations receive systems to improve connectivity with capability set formations in support of large-scale combat operations. Each capability set design is informed by operational unit experimentation and direct soldier and leader feedback, which is critical to delivering solutions soldiers need to achieve overmatch. The first delivery will be in Capability Set 21 (CS 21).
As the Army transforms from a legacy acquisition and technology development process to a technology-driven, soldier-informed capability set process, it is able to capitalize on available technologies and develop road maps to ensure technology fits into the network design to enable Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2). This new model is giving industry the opportunity to show what technology is available to map to capability set plans. Then, through a deliberate set of repetitive experimentation opportunities with soldiers, informed by leaders, we bring that technology into the network design and show how it integrates.
One consistent theme prevails: The Army will not lock into a one-technology, one-vendor solution, and incumbents must continually innovate to retain their partnership with the Army. If a capability is not yet ready for the current capability set, the Army will work with industry partners to see how their technology may fit into future plans as part of an iterative development process.
The Army will field 15 brigade combat teams and nine signal battalions with significantly enhanced capability between fiscal 2021 and fiscal 2023. CS 21 consists of new data radios, Mission Command applications and hardware, and more expeditionary satellite communications terminals and associated hardware.
To achieve CS 21’s target of “expeditionary and intuitive” technologies, the Army’s primary focus has been on developing the Integrated Tactical Network. The Integrated Tactical Network fills critical communications gaps at battalion and below echelons, including providing commanders with multiple communications options and the ability to share information more easily with mission partners through a secure but unclassified environment.
The Integrated Tactical Network incorporates the Army’s current tactical network (applications, devices, gateways and network transport) with commercial off-the-shelf components and transport capabilities to enable communications in disconnected, intermittent and limited bandwidth environments. It is a combination of program of record Mission Command systems with commercial off-the-shelf and midtier acquisition systems.
Soldier Feedback Sought
Today, we are using soldier feedback from operational assessments with the 82nd Airborne Division and other units to help inform final capability set and Integrated Tactical Network design decisions. In April, stakeholders from across the Army were to conduct a critical design review to finalize CS 21 basis of issue and components. The program office will then begin contracting actions to deliver systems for fiscal 2021 fielding. Some CS 21 capability began fielding this year, such as enhanced communication abilities for Expeditionary Signal Battalion-Enhanced formations, converged Mission Command systems, and improved command post mobility and survivability technologies.
Additional CS 21 efforts include integrating network enhancements into the Integrated Visual Augmentation System effort. Network enhancements, through single channel radios and integrated platoon-level edge computing and gateway technology, will enable the Integrated Visual Augmentation System to perform multiple situational awareness functions, including simulated training environments and language translation for enhanced situational awareness. The network is boosting this capability by ensuring communications flow both to and from the soldier in any combat environment.
Building upon CS 21’s capabilities, the team is developing CS 23, which calls for “capacity, resiliency and convergence.” In other words, the Army is seeking options to increase network bandwidth, continue to enhance the ability for soldiers to access multiple network pathways, and continue to converge hardware and software of multiple Mission Command systems. CS 23 will also begin to integrate on-the-move communications capability into armor formations.
To empower commanders with multiple communication options and bring on-the-move communications to armor formations, the Army will leverage emerging commercial satellite constellations. Commercial medium and low Earth orbit capability will decrease network latency while expanding network capacity to enable data convergence of Mission Command, fires, sustainment and intelligence data to further enable JADC2.
Currently, the majority of Army network transport relies on military satellite communications augmented by some commercial satellite communications, which operate at geosynchronous orbit. As part of CS 23 development, Army science and technology partners are forming cooperative research agreements with commercial industry to analyze emerging threats and capitalize on existing industry medium Earth orbit solutions and to begin ground terminal integration for low Earth orbit capability that is rapidly coming online.
With the help of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command C5ISR (Command, Control, Computers, Communications, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, the Army is already prototyping with medium Earth orbit and posturing for low Earth orbit solutions for CS 23, including antennas and baseband systems integration.
This year, CS 23 begins with targeted experimentation efforts. In November, the Network Cross-Functional Team held a technical exchange meeting in Austin, Texas, with 672 industry participants to discuss critical network design components and related integration requirements for CS 23. Feedback from the meeting led to a January call for industry white papers based on six technology topics. This spring, Army developers and integrators conducted a Shark Tank-style meeting and demonstration with selected industry vendors to help determine capability readiness for prototype procurement and experimentation.
Vendors who successfully exited the demonstration will compete through an Other Transactional Agreement process for prototype contract awards, which will support experimentation to inform CS 23 preliminary design in April 2021 and a final CS 23 network design decision by April 2022.
Not lost on CS 23 development efforts is the need to link sensor-to-shooter data and communications, which is the critical component of the joint situational awareness and fires aspects of JADC2. Recently, the Joint Staff established a Joint Cross-Functional Team to develop, integrate and architect JADC2. The Network Cross-Functional Team and PEO C3T are involved in this effort. JADC2 is fundamental to the Army’s Multi-Domain Operations concept and, as such, is a major focus of the Network Cross-Functional Team and associated programs to ensure the Army is positioned to benefit from and integrate unique ground domain needs for large-scale combat operations of a combined land force into the JADC2 construct.
No single converged sensor-to-shooter data material solution is available to meet every service’s need; however, as part of capability set development, we are striving to develop common design components to enable JADC2 while also ensuring capabilities still meet the unique service needs of the Army. The Joint Staff is working on joint JADC2 architecture, and the Army is contributing to the concept by bringing integrated network (transport and Mission Command) solutions tailored to meet the distinctive requirements of the ground force.
We are helping inform JADC2 initiatives to increase synchronization and resources, which include funding, experimentation, demonstrations and technology maturation, and to develop a collaborative road map for experimentation and demonstrations. Focus areas include sensor integration, data fabric, application/effects development and connectivity.
This year marks key milestones in the Army’s network modernization journey. While finalizing CS 21 design and procuring systems, the Army also is applying resources for experimentation and demonstrations to inform CS 23.
The Army’s tactical network is dynamic, with each iteration requiring robust capacity and resilient capabilities. The systematic, yet aggressive, capability set process is proving that the Army can reach forward and look at the art of the possible to modernize its tactical network while delivering immediate capability to address gaps. These efforts mark a significant milestone in turning the Army’s tactical network vision into an executable plan that is delivering critical capability to our formations that need it the most.
Throughout this journey, the Army is committed to engaging with industry in order to capitalize on its innovative designs; however, throughout the process, the true authority required to ensure the Army does not field yesterday’s technology tomorrow will always be the soldier in the fight.