WASHINGTON (Oct. 21, 2014) -- As U.S. forces deploy to West Africa to help counter the Ebola outbreak, the Army is surging tactical communications technologies to help connect Soldiers, aid workers and other mission partners across vast and undeveloped terrain.

That rapid response -- supporting an expeditionary force, performing an unpredictable mission with a unique coalition -- exemplifies the Army's goals for the network as a critical enabler for Force 2025 and Beyond, senior leaders said.

"From home station to operational areas in austere environments, the network must be capable of scaling up and down based on changing missions," said Lt. Gen. Robert S. Ferrell, Army chief information officer/G-6. "It must provide operational flexibility and it must enable mission command by enhancing a leader's situational awareness and ability to visualize, describe, direct, lead and assess operations."

Speaking at the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition Oct. 15, Ferrell and other senior leaders outlined progress toward a single, secure and simplified Army network as a fundamental enabler for the new Army Operating Concept, "Win in a Complex World."

"Communications are essential to every warfighting function that exists, from sustainment operations to maneuver forces," said Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins, director of the Capabilities Developments Directorate, Army Capabilities Integration Center. "We have not reached the full potential of what the network can provide to the Soldier at the farthest tactical edge. We're taking the network from where it exists now to a capability that is fully realized."

To close some of the remaining gaps, the Army is centering efforts on five focused "end states," outlined by Col. Mark Elliott, director of the Army G-3/5/7 LandWarNet-Mission Command Directorate.

They include:

• Fielding modernized network capabilities across formations, from infantry, Stryker and armored brigades to aviation and enabling forces
• Delivering the common operating environment to give Soldiers a familiar look and feel for their mission command applications from garrison to foxhole
• Simplifying and protecting the network to increase commanders' operational agility
• Improving tactical communications with joint, multinational and interagency partners
• Creating smaller, lighter command posts for rapid deployment

The Network Integration Evaluation, Army Warfighter Assessment and Capability Set Fielding processes will continue to drive these advances, aided by new rapid acquisition practices for cyber capabilities and a competitive marketplace for communications technologies, the leaders said.

"Everything that we do is going to be competitive -- our radio buys, our apps," said Maj. Gen. Daniel P. Hughes, program executive officer for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical. "There's a lot of opportunity there for industry. Competition is critical for us, not only to get the best price and use taxpayer dollars smartly, but also to drive innovation."

Conducting frequent competitions will allow the Army to constantly refresh the technology that is delivered to Soldiers as part of integrated network Capability Sets, making communications systems both more powerful and more intuitive for Soldiers to use, Hughes said.

Also critical to successful network acquisition is the ability to quickly procure capability to counter emerging cyber threats, said Kevin Fahey, director of System of Systems Engineering and Integration, for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology. ASA(ALT) recently stood up a Cyber Focal office that has already worked with PEOs to respond to 10 Operational Needs Statements from Army Cyber Command, Fahey said.

"Our focus in the cyber world is how do we have a rapid acquisition process so we have the resources available when the requirements are approved and we can act on them immediately," he said.

The Army is also enhancing cyber security by training cyber Soldiers, shrinking the number of network access points to reduce vulnerability, and improving visibility across the enterprise and tactical networks for a common operating picture of any intrusions, Ferrell said. That integration between the enterprise and tactical realms -- "linking one Army network together" -- will reduce the training burden and give commanders more flexibility to operate in different locations and force configurations, Hughes said.

"It's about establishing common standards across the entire network, simplifying the network and providing that much-needed data at the point of need, regardless of location," Ferrell said.

For example, as Operation United Assistance unfolds in Africa, Soldiers will likely be dispersed over a large geographic area with little communications infrastructure. It will be critical to maintain a common operating picture, and the Army is working to deliver mission command capabilities that will provide timely blue force tracking and accountability of dismounted forces and medical staff, the leaders said.

The Army is also providing both military and adapted commercial internet capability to allow units to support Doctors Without Borders, the Red Cross and other non-governmental organizations that are partners in the operation.

The dynamic situation in Africa is a perfect example of why the Army network must be flexible and scalable to support a globally responsive force that can adapt based on mission, region, partners, and other operational conditions, the leaders said.

"In Korea, in South America, in Africa, each environment offers us different challenges, so we have to make sure we can match those capabilities to the environment we're going to operate in," Elliott said. "That's why it's so important that we go from the installation all the way to our deployed forces, across the whole spectrum."