ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (April 21, 2015) -- Urging industry partners to look beyond current budget constraints and plan to deliver technologies Soldiers will need in the future, Army senior leaders hosted an industry feedback forum focused on modernizing tactical network and mission command capabilities for Force 2025 and Beyond.

The April 21 event, attended by approximately 200 industry and government representatives, was the first in a series of forums planned by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, or ASA (ALT). Each event will focus on a different portion of the service's equipment portfolio, and cover topics ranging from divestment of aging systems, to incremental modernization of existing capabilities and investment priorities for new breakthroughs.

"Our intent is not only to talk to you about the current set of programs, but also about science and technology investments and our focus as we look beyond five years," said Lt. Gen. Michael Williamson, principal military deputy to the ASA (ALT). "Even in this environment, where we have less funding available, the Army has to make a commitment to investment in the future."

For the network, that path forward focuses on cyber security, expeditionary operations and standardization across different systems, senior leaders said.

"As we build this integrated network and are more successful at putting the pieces together, we now have a larger attack surface for cyber threats," said Maj. Gen. Daniel P. Hughes, program executive officer for command, control and communications-tactical. "So cyber security is key to everything we do."

The Army is working to optimize requirements, acquisition and resourcing for cyber capabilities, and will partner with industry to quickly insert technologies to prevent and counter cyber threats, the leaders said. For example, ASA (ALT) is establishing a cyber industry consortium and utilizing the Army Venture Capital Initiative for market research to find companies with niche cyber capabilities that can be quickly transitioned to Army programs, said Kevin Fahey, ASA (ALT) executive director for system of systems engineering and integration.

"We don't know what we don't know, so we need a way to react quickly," said Fahey, adding that the Army is already fielding tools that recently established cyber forces have requested through operational needs statements.

"It would be like sending an infantryman out there without a rifle," he said. "That's our number one priority, followed by longer-term equipping efforts."

With the Army's end strength declining due to sequestration, the leaders also stressed the industry's role in delivering communications capabilities to support a leaner, more agile and expeditionary force. Technologies like secure command post Wi-Fi, small aperture satellite terminals, in-flight tactical networking and home station mission command will enable the Army to deploy smaller teams forward with a lighter footprint, and maintain reachback connectivity to headquarters forces in the United States, the leaders said.

"We need to be agile, we need to be flexible, and we need to provide a network that provides that mission command capability wherever the commander needs it," Hughes said. "Everything we're looking at is going to be expeditionary."

The new mindset means the Army might buy fewer of a particular system to field to a reduced number of units, but could refresh the capability by purchasing new technology more often, Williamson said.

"The technology growth that we see in commercial electronics and the thirst by Soldiers and our requirements owners to bring more capabilities in faster will cause this portfolio to do things a lot quicker and hopefully a lot smarter as we look at the next couple of years," he said.

To set the conditions for future upgrades, the Army is implementing standards that enable "plug-and-play" insertion of new capabilities on existing platforms. The creation of standards such as the common operating environment, or COE, encourages competition among a wide pool of potential competitors to lower the cost of integrated technology solutions, the leaders said.

Reaching from mobile handhelds to the tactical cloud, the COE eliminates previous system stovepipes to transform how Soldiers can access and share information on the battlefield. It provides software development kits enabling industry and other third parties to contribute new tactical applications to the standard baseline.

"We believe that the COE is fundamental for us in terms of defining an architecture that we can continuously plug in new technologies as our requirements change and as industry brings forward new and better technologies for our Soldiers," Williamson said.

In addition to the COE, the Army's science and technology community is working to shape future standards that will enable convergence of electronic hardware on Army vehicle platforms, as well as the development of a next-generation waveform for narrowband communications. John Willison, director of the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, also known as CERDEC, Space and Terrestrial Communications Directorate, encouraged vendors to participate in the development of both capabilities.

"Open frameworks allow us to innovate more quickly over time, and integrate tools that fill a need within the Army operational space," he said. "This effort will be only as good as industry adopting the standard and building capabilities to it."

Such research and development efforts constitute the "seed corn for future programs" that will support Force 2025 and Beyond, Williamson said.

"We can now connect the dots between the current programs of record and those technologies we want to invest in, so we can give you some indication of where the Army is headed," he said. "Anything we're going to fight with in 2025, if we're not doing it now, you're not going to see it in the field. But if we want to have capabilities for the 2040 timeframe, we have to make the investment in science and technology today."