ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Jan. 29, 2018) -- The U.S. Army is beginning a long-term initiative to significantly upgrade its key situational awareness network Blue Force Tracking, commonly known as BFT.

In use since 2002, BFT provides friendly force tracking information and is integrated on more than 98,000 platforms across the Army and joint services. The next-generation BFT modernization effort, termed BFT 3, will employ several new and enhanced features, including increased network capacity to transfer data, advanced resiliency to electronic warfare attacks and improved means of moving data from source to destination in different operating environments.

ESTABLISHING R&D AGREEMENTS

Because of the technical expertise required in this project, Project Manager Mission Command, which manages the BFT effort, began working in 2016 with the Army research and development community to help scope the effort.

"This capability improvement is necessary as the United States faces increased cyber and electronic warfare threats from near-peer adversaries," said Lt. Col. Shane Sims, product manager for Joint Battle Command-Platform, assigned to PM Mission Command.

The program office is partnering with subject-matter experts from the Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, or CERDEC, to help scope BFT 3 modernization needs.

CERDEC is an Army applied research center that works with the Department of Defense and national labs to inform research investments and to adopt, adapt and mature relevant scientific in C4ISR breakthroughs. CERDEC scientists and engineers are able to foresee trends and opportunities, rapidly leverage technological breakthroughs and shape future capabilities that support Army Modernization priorities.

CERDEC is leveraging these partnerships to establish cooperative research and development agreements with industry and academia that will inform aspects of the BFT 3 upgrades.

Information leveraged from these agreements will be shared with the Army Training and Doctrine Command, or TRADOC, to help scope BFT modernization requirements. Goals of the CRADAs include sharing lessons learned and insights into technology trends, providing a forum to review stakeholders' concerns, and enabling a common understanding of the BFT's future architecture, said Peter Bach, a CERDEC electrical engineer who is helping lead the effort.

"The Army is bringing in the best minds from industry and academia through CRADAs to support this upgrade," Bach said. "The CRADAs will allow us to work collectively among our stakeholders to solve this problem from a modernization perspective. We're aligning all efforts to ensure we have a strong industrial base."

FUTURE NEEDS OF BFT

To influence the requirements for the CRADAs and better comprehend the capabilities and limitations of the current BFT iterations, CERDEC and program offices conducted four concurrent studies: traffic, cyber, network and transport. Army experts in technical domains such as systems engineering, satellite communications engineering, electrical engineering and computer science participated in the BFT studies that lasted three to six months.

"We're focused on determining what additional capabilities we'd like to include," said Ifeanyi Igwulu, future initiatives project officer for JBC-P, regarding the network study. "What would that future network need to look like? The end state is to build a network that is resilient to future threats."

The traffic study determined current BFT network usage and capacity at the Mission Command Support Center locations. It identified what components within the system generate and receive data, the quantity and type of data, and requirements for moving that data successfully. This allowed engineers to understand the network's capabilities and limitations and shape requirements for the future BFT.

For the cyber and electronic warfare study, subject-matter experts worked to define the current threat environment and what emerging technology is necessary to stay ahead of adversaries. Assured positioning, navigation and timing, known as PNT, for Soldiers in GPS-denied environments was the primary goal in this study.

These advanced hybrid energy storage systems will also power all-electric systems and platforms, including electric vehicles, ships and aircraft.

Because Soldiers are deployed worldwide in a myriad of operating conditions, the next-generation BFT must have agility to meet the needs encountered in these rapidly changing conditions. The network study examined the future need for how to move data effectively from source to destination, how to manage the system and the requirements to do this successfully.

The transport study focused on the physical mechanisms -- radios, satellites and antennas -- that move the data over the air. The Army is specifically interested in how to build redundancy into the transport layer by using different celestial and terrestrial radios in different frequency bands.

PATH FORWARD FOR BFT

The next stage of this long-term initiative occurred in January 2018 when the Army issued a Request for Information, or RFI, to begin discussions with industry. The RFI will allow the Army to understand industry's current technological capabilities and what could be available in the coming years.

CERDEC and PM Mission Command's technical interchange meeting at APG to cover the overall acquisition strategy for modernizing BFT is scheduled for February 2018. The Army expects to release a request for proposal in early 2020, with anticipated incremental fielding of BFT 3 by 2025.

"The goal of the next-generation BFT 3 is to reduce the cognitive burden on Soldiers by creating a simple and intuitive network," Sims said. "The network has to be smart and fast enough to support these future missions."