WASHINGTON (Oct. 14, 2015) -- From training hundreds of highly specialized cyber Soldiers, to delivering wireless networking for command posts, to revamping communications infrastructure in Europe and Korea, the Army is moving out to execute its network modernization plans, senior leaders said.

"It's all about ensuring the Army has an agile, expeditionary and globally responsive force," said Lt. Gen. Robert S. Ferrell, Army Chief Information Officer/G-6. "The network is clearly nested in the Army Operating Concept and the Army's vision."

Ferrell and other leaders spoke during a media roundtable at the Association of the U.S. Army's Annual Meeting and Exposition, highlighting significant progress the service has made on upgrading, integrating and securing the technologies Soldiers use to communicate from home station through deployment.

These changes are driven by the Army Operating Concept's emphasis on joint and expeditionary operations - and by the operational reality that U.S. forces deploying to hotspots around the world can no longer expect to fall in on large forward operating bases with sophisticated communications infrastructure. Taking months to build and deploy specific network capabilities for each theater, the leaders said, is also a thing of the past.

"It's forcing us to act differently," said Maj. Gen. John B. Morrison, commanding general of the Network Enterprise Technology Command. "We are on a journey that's going to take us to a single, inherently joint network."

At home station, that means continued modernization through the deployment of Joint Regional Security Stacks, which provide a single security architecture that prioritizes and streamlines data flow for faster and smoother collaboration in support of the Joint Information Environment. Working with the Air Force and Defense Information Systems Agency, the Army has deployed the new architecture to more than 50,000 users at Fort Hood, Texas, and Joint Base San Antonio.

This fiscal year, the Army will complete the upgrades for all Army installations in the southern United States, and begin migration of installations in Europe and Southwest Asia, Morrison said.

For the tactical network, the Army is prioritizing leaner, more mobile command posts by weaving together evolving technologies such as secure 4G/Wi-Fi, virtualized hardware, web-based mission command applications and intelligent power. Combined with improvements in home station mission command, these capabilities will enable the Army to deploy smaller teams forward with a lighter footprint, while retaining reachback connectivity to headquarters forces in the United States, the leaders said.

To further enable expeditionary communications, 20 percent of the force has been fielded with Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 2, which enables Soldiers to connect to the Army's digital backbone while on the move in austere environments. Now that the system is in full rate production, several brigades per year will continue to receive the capability, along with networking radios that provide voice and data connectivity down to the individual Soldier, said Gary Martin, program executive officer for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical.

Acting on Soldier feedback, the Army has streamlined WIN-T Increment 2 and other key capabilities so they are simpler to operate, "allowing users to very quickly provision and configure their systems" to meet changing missions, which was not possible in the past, Martin said.

Underlying all of these improvements is the imperative to keep information secure from cyber threats. The Army is attacking that "critical challenge" through a combination of technology, training and personnel, Ferrell said.

The service is ramping up its cyber branch by commissioning new officers, creating a cyber officer leadership course and training hundreds of Soldiers for two new military occupational specialties focused on network defense. As the number of trained cyber Soldiers increases, the Army will be able to have organic cyber expertise down at the Brigade Combat Team level, said Col. Thomas Pugh, Commandant of the Army's Signal School and Chief of Signal.

To support these cyber Soldiers with the tools they require, the Army has established rapid acquisition methods to support evolving needs, said Kevin Fahey, executive director of the System of Systems Engineering and Integration directorate, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology. The approach includes creating a Cyber Acquisition Requirements and Resourcing working group to prioritize funding for cyber solutions on an annual basis; using the "Information Technology Box" construct to obtain quick acquisition decisions on emerging cyberspace requirements; and executing a Cyber Innovation Challenge aimed at attracting ideas from small businesses and other non-traditional defense contractors.

The initial Innovation Challenge - which focused on prototype deployable kits for Cyber Protection Teams - proved the concept works by progressing from solicitation to procurement of two vendor solutions in under four months, Fahey said.

"The Department of Defense can be responsive within the processes we've got," he said. "You just have to align the resources with the requirements and the acquisition programs, and we're working hard to do that."