Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa. (November 18, 2014) -- Whether serving as first responders for domestic emergencies or deploying to hot spots around the world, the citizen-Soldiers of the Army National Guard must be able to communicate.
To ensure they're equipped with the latest in integrated gear, the Army utilizes a process known as Unit Set Fielding (USF). Built as a one-stop-shop for planning and executing the delivery of these digital communications capabilities, USF facilitates force readiness.
Through USF, the Army continues to deliver modernized mission command network capabilities so both regular Army and Army National Guard units can keep pace with technological advances and communicate with each other when called upon. The real-time information provided through these capabilities is essential to a smaller, highly capable Army that will face adaptive enemies and adversaries in complex environments. Current plans call for 75 Active Component and National Guard units to receive tactical network upgrades through USF in Fiscal Year 2015.
"We're the only Stryker brigade in the Army National Guard so it's extremely important for us to remain relevant and on par with the active duty Stryker brigades," said Maj. Kevin Potts, the S6, or communications officer, for the 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 28th Infantry Division. "It's imperative that we remain on the forefront of getting the latest and greatest software, hardware and training."
Potts, who took part in one of the first USF planning meetings of this fiscal year, held Nov. 4-6 at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa. said the communications hardware and updated software is instrumental to his unit being able to perform its mission. That equipment includes the Army's situational awareness capabilities, data products, intelligence software and mission command capability upgrades.
"One of the biggest challenges we face is making sure all our digital systems are in synch and that we're able to operate with big Army, and this is our opportunity to do that," said Capt. Conrad Hollomon, the S6 for the Massachusetts based 1st Battalion, 181st Infantry Regiment, who also took part in the USF planning meeting. "If we're on one system and big Army is on a different system, that's not going to fly. This is a big deal for our whole state - we're getting this equipment in case there's a state emergency."
Implemented in 2006 by the Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T), USF has expanded as an approach to fielding a vast range of technology that spans beyond Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) capabilities. The process also supports delivery of the Army's integrated Capability Sets, advanced packages of tactical communications gear providing voice and data connectivity across the brigade combat team down to the dismounted Soldier.
Maj. Joseph McNamara, with the New Jersey-based 50th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, said the capabilities National Guard personnel receive through this process will assist as they conduct unified land operations with various mission partners.
"The idea is to build a common operating picture, so it's crucial to keep your systems current," McNamara said. "It's important we all have good visibility on what the upgrades are."
Closely aligned with Army Force Generation (ARFORGEN), the core process for building trained and ready forces, USF has steadily equipped around 100 units a year with state-of-the-art-capabilities. As capabilities are modernized, units go back through the process to receive the latest gear and software upgrades. To date, USF has supported fielding to 96 percent of the Active Army, 97 percent of the Army National Guard and 88 percent of the Army Reserves.
"For units, the USF process synchronizes training and support," said Rick Stoverink, with PEO C3T's USF plans and operations division. "Representatives from each project manager office are on hand. If the unit has questions, they provide the answers. It alleviates much of the burden from the units."
Prior to USF, units were responsible for organizing the training and fielding for C4ISR equipment with each individual project manager, an inefficient approach that resulted in only a few brigades per year being fully fielded. For the Army Reserve and National Guard, where citizen-Soldiers must also balance full time jobs and school, coordinating training and fielding becomes even more of a hurdle. USF is synchronized with units' long range training calendars, reset and support.
"Our training window is so short," said Sgt. 1st Class Paul Morrissette, assistant operations sergeant with the Massachusetts-based 182nd Infantry Regiment. "We don't want to overcomplicate it -- not everyone can take off work, off school. But we can't operate a TOC (tactical operations center) without these capabilities. This is a great networking tool. You get the support you need from the project managers."
USF will continue to assist in equipping the force with robust communications capabilities that enable an expeditionary, globally responsive Army.
"Today we're receiving modernized mission command systems. Having the units' communications planners here and their communications subject matter experts integrated with the operations planners and the supply experts, ensures the events are coordinated and resources are set," said Capt. Jason Hoffman, Force Integration Readiness Officer for the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. "Having that coordination done in advance to make sure the Soldiers are available is a critical challenge for the National Guard, and this process helps put pull it together."