By David Vergun, Army News ServiceMarch 6, 2018
WASHINGTON -- Currently, it takes too many hours to set up or tear down a command post, including its command and control network, and many additional hours to ensure connectivity is smooth, said the deputy commander of U.S. Army Forces Command.
In the near future, the Army hopes to develop, test and field a command post and network that can be set up in as little as 30 minutes and torn down just as quickly, said Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson, who spoke Tuesday at a conference hosted by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association.
To illustrate the difference between the current state of command posts and the kind of command post the Army envisions it must have in the future, Richardson showed a slide to those in attendance at the conference. The example of a modern day command post was huge and full of network wires; while the command post of the future was more mobile and streamlined, and used wireless connectivity.
Getting the network right, Richardson said, is so important that it has been included in the Army's top six priorities for modernization, which, along with networks, includes long range precision fires, next generation combat vehicle, future vertical lift, air and missile defense and Soldier lethality.
Last year, the Army organized two command post "huddles" at Fort Bliss, Texas, Richardson said.
The purpose of the huddles was to solicit Soldier feedback on the command post and its command and control network, she said.
That feedback informed development of prototype command post structures and networks that will be tested this year, she said, with the topline goal of getting setup/tear down time down to 30 minutes.
The testing will be from July through December and will involve Soldiers from multiple types of units at both brigade and division level, she said.
The feedback gained from that testing will be invaluable in decision-making going forward, she said, adding that the timeline from requirement to developing to testing to fielding is being compressed and a collaborative effort is taking place at the Network Cross Functional Team level, part of the soon-to-be stood up Futures Command.
Richardson added that the testing isn't just about creating a robust, expeditionary and reliable network or putting up and tearing down the command post. It's about everything that goes into the command post and network.
She provided an example. Years ago, when she was a battalion commander in Iraq supporting an infantry unit, Richardson said she recalled conducting a battlefield update over the network inside a container at an airfield.
The container, she said, was temperature-controlled by an environmental cooling system. The system worked well, but was so loud that conversations over the network became difficult and time consuming. In order to allow the battlefield update to continue, uninterrupted, the cooling system had to be shut down, she said.
Those types of considerations, she said, will be important as new systems are developed.
Another example, she said, is power generation. A smart system that uses less fuel or alternate fuels is something else that will be looked at during testing to reduce the logistical footprint.
Ease of use and training, along with an intuitive human-network interface, are other desirable qualities that will be tested, she said.
Additionally, she said, network interoperability testing must also take place to ensure Army systems are compatible with both the joint and combined force.
Richardson also elaborated on current network and command post vulnerabilities.
She said besides network being fragile and lacking agility, lines of communications are vulnerable to being cut by adversaries who are becoming incredibly tech-savvy.
Furthermore, she said, the electromagnetic signature of command posts and command and control networks is large, and the visibility of this signature makes those important assets easy targets for enemy fire, which is rapidly gaining range and precision targeting.