Networking the Future Warrior
May 12, 2014
- "As the Army continues to retrograde from Afghanistan and transition to leaner, more agile future Force 2025, we now have the opportunity to change."
Army Technology Magazine
- May/June 2014 Focus: Soldier of the Future
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (May 12, 2014) -- Today, the Army has a tactical network that provides commanders and Soldiers with information down to the lowest echelons of the battlefield -- but that is held together with the digital equivalent of duct tape and chewing gum.
After a remarkable effort over the past 12 years to rapidly deliver the communications technologies our forces needed in Iraq and Afghanistan, we now have a multitude of sophisticated systems that work well but were not built to work together, requiring significant integration and configuration efforts. Not only did this borne-of-necessity approach lead to increased size, weight and power requirements on our vehicle platforms, it also introduced a great deal of complexity in how Soldiers interact with the network. System startup and shutdown can be difficult. Users are required to memorize and enter multiple passwords and commands. Put it this way: a Soldier expecting the seamless, intuitive user interface of a commercial smartphone or tablet would be sorely disappointed.
As the Army continues to retrograde from Afghanistan and transition to leaner, more agile future Force 2025, we now have the opportunity to change. Our goal is to provide a simplified, integrated network that is robust, versatile and rapidly deployable so we are ready for the next fight. Building on what we learned from previous conflicts, the Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical, known as PEO C3T, and the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, known as CERDEC have created a Network Modernization Roadmap that will help guide research and development efforts and smartly direct our limited modernization resources to technologies that will have the greatest short-, mid- and long-term impact on the end user. The roadmap unfolds in three interconnected phases that act as building blocks: Network 2.0 (fiscal 2014 to 2015), Simplified Tactical Army Reliable Network, known as STARNet (fiscal 2016 to 2020) and the Network After Next, known as NaN (2020 and beyond).
Executing this plan will take a total Army effort across the Army acquisition, requirements and test communities, as well as collaboration with partners from industry and academia. Thankfully, the Army Science and Technology community has done its job -- looked into the future and given us a head start. With the resident expertise and skill sets, laboratory resources and ability to tap into cutting-edge technology initiatives both within and outside the military, CERDEC is already developing many of the capabilities and standards that lay the foundation for STARNet, NaN and beyond. By aligning these S&T initiatives not just with current programs of record but also with the Army's broader modernization vision, we will drive innovation to support the future force.
Convergence and Versatility
We use "Network" as a holistic term -- including not just the communications solutions that get information from one place to another, but also everything that rides on that transport pipeline (mission command applications) and enables it to function (cryptographic devices, power sources, command posts). Reflecting this approach, the roadmap is divided into several focus areas: mission command; advantaged services transport, which refers to enhanced capabilities when large communications bandwidth is available; basic services transport, which refers to the assured capabilities of voice, position location, and messaging; cybersecurity and network operations; and physical, which encompasses power and platform requirements and command post footprint.
Our priorities in each of these technology areas are synchronized with the Army's current and future operational imperatives. Take the area of Radio Frequency convergence. As we work to meet the rising demand for data, we know we can't just continue to add more separate radio "boxes," each with their own antennas and other accompanying hardware, and bolt them on to our tactical vehicles. The vision instead is to migrate to an open architecture and vehicle chassis that supports a plug-and-play environment for different functionalities. Cards could be designed and inserted that provide a host for the software necessary for a particular function, while using common transmitters, RF receivers and digital signal processing architecture. The concept applies not only to radios, but also for Electronic Warfare systems, radar and other capabilities that today perform individual functions and create hardware overlap. Creating greater convergence and commonality will enhance versatility, allowing the Army and industry to rapidly develop and insert needed software applications without requiring separate hardware development and installation. It could also result in significant savings over the lifetime of Army platforms by reducing the logistics footprint, simplifying upgrades and providing common training.
The future network will also increase operational versatility by adapting NetOps and Unit Task Reorganization -- two areas that multiplied in complexity during the push to digitize. NetOps tools are used by signal soldiers to manage and monitor the network, while UTR is the process by which units adjust their network architectures due to operational changes. As the Army transitions to more expeditionary operations with Regionally Aligned Forces around the globe, Network 2.0 and STARNet aim to make UTR much more automated and flexible. For NetOps, the goal is to converge dozens of current upper and lower tactical Internet tools into a single NetOps tool set that provides total network visibility, overlaid with the common operating picture, for faster response on a complex battlefield.
But convergence doesn't solve the challenges of limited bandwidth and spectrum. While current systems are designed to seek out a specific part of the spectrum, the next-generation waveforms CERDEC is developing for STARNet and NaN will be more dynamic and efficient, so they can identify and re-use available spectrum as required to achieve the needed bandwidth.
Another key component for future waveforms is the ability to quickly take a different communications "path" if an existing route is moved or jammed -- a difficult task today because of the routing complexity and manual configuration involved. As the Army continues to add network capabilities at the edge of the battlefield, our radios and waveforms must evolve so that they can seamlessly adapt to hostile environments without networking infrastructure -- and be as transparent to the Soldier as if he was using his own cell phone.
Simplicity and Security
That familiar experience is also our goal in the realm of mission command. Picture a Soldier with multiple personal devices that all run an Apple, Android or Windows operating system. While he or she may not have the full capabilities available on a smartphone as on a desktop computer, the applications and environment provide a consistent look and feel. STARNet aims to do the same for the tactical realm by delivering standard maps, messaging and icons that are intuitive to operate and reduce the training burden. By applying the standards and accelerating the objectives of the Army's Common Operating Environment, PEO C3T and CERDEC are driving toward a single tactical computing environment that will provide a seamless user experience from handheld devices to vehicle platforms to command posts. In the long-term NaN timeframe and beyond, the mission command applications delivered through the Tactical CE will be augmented by virtual staff capabilities that can provide the commander or operator with needed information, analyses and recommendations. Working in partnership with the Army Research Laboratory, CERDEC will study the human dimension of such interactions and processes to help determine how technology can ease the staff workload and support faster, better command decisions.
One thing we can be sure of in our next fight is that our adversaries will be more sophisticated in cyber warfare. It is critical that the Army is just as vigilant about protecting the tactical network as it is for the enterprise. CERDEC is partnering with the National Security Agency on a future cyber protection strategy for the tactical network, which not only includes imperatives such as diversified communications solutions, but also steps to protect data at rest and data in transit. The future network will also bring improved tactical capability to execute integrated offensive and defensive cyber operations, so that Soldiers can identify when they are being attacked and respond.
Finally, PEO C3T and CERDEC are making progress on reducing the network's physical and energy demands. Simplifying the Tactical Operations Center in the near- and mid-term by consolidating hardware such as computers, wires and servers, reducing power requirements and converting many hardware systems into software applications will enable units to set up and tear down their command posts more quickly and operate them more effectively. Building toward the Network after Next, we will take advantage of secure wireless technologies not just for networking the systems in the TOC, but also for transmitting the power they need to operate. At the dismounted level, CERDEC will continue to develop and deliver lightweight, portable and renewable energy solutions that lighten the Soldier's load.
The network is core to a smaller, highly capable Army that will face adaptive enemies and adversaries in complex environments. Seizing the opportunity we have today to implement the Network Modernization Roadmap will allow us to fill known capability gaps and make the fundamental improvements to network functionality that will ensure that the American Soldier remains the most discriminately lethal force on the battlefield. It will also lead to cost savings by combining hardware and other infrastructure, increasing competition among vendors, reducing software development efforts and decreasing the number of field service representatives required to train Soldiers, troubleshoot systems and sustain the tactical network. Working together, we can equip our troops with a network that is simpler to use, train, maintain and sustain, so it functions as a holistic weapon system rather than the sum of its parts.
Editor's Note: Brig. Gen. Daniel P. Hughes is the Army Program Executive Officer for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical. Dr. Paul Zablocky is the Director of the Space & Terrestrial Communications Directorate, Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center. Mr. Robert Zanzalari is the associate director of CERDEC.
ABOUT U.S. ARMY COMMUNICATIONS-ELECTRONICS RESEARCH, DEVELOPMENT AND ENGINEERING CENTER
CERDEC is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America's Soldiers.
RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army's premier provider of materiel readiness -- technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment -- to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.