ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- The team behind plans to evolve the Army network engaged with industry partners this week in an effort to tap into emerging technology that could give Soldiers a tactical edge in communications on the battlefield.
The current Army network is not where it needs to be. It is far too complex, with multiple systems, and it's too fragile to counter electronic warfare attacks from a peer adversary, said Maj. Gen. Peter Gallagher, director of the Network Cross-Functional Team.
"We need a flat network," he said Tuesday, during the kick-off of a two-day technical industry forum here. "We don't want stovepipes at echelon that box us in and limit flexibility."
The Army must converge many disparate networks, he added, and flatten the architecture in a way where it's more dynamic, intuitive and self-healing.
Gallagher's team is part of an Army-wide mission to reduce the time it takes to procure and field new equipment for Soldiers. His team and others were created in October to align with Army Secretary Mark T. Esper's six modernization priorities, which also include long-range precision fires, next-generation combat vehicle, future vertical lift, air and missile defense, and Soldier lethality.
All of those priorities, Gallagher pointed out, depend on the network and its systems.
The Army's undersecretary and vice chief of staff currently oversee the teams, which are pilot programs, while the U.S. Army Futures Command task force studies their potential relationship with the new command.
The teams are designed to bring end users together with experts from science and technology, acquisition, requirements, test and evaluation, resourcing, and other specialties in the Army to quickly deliver effective capabilities.
A major goal for the Network CFT is to work across the capability management, research and development, and program communities to drive toward a unified mission command network, which would allow Soldiers to easily communicate and ward off jamming attacks as they maneuver semi-autonomously on a fluid, complex battlefield, Gallagher said.
Ideally, that network would operate seamlessly in any environment around the world and combine warfighting functions onto a common integrated tactical network. It would also serve as an extension of the Department of Defense Information Network.
"What we're really looking for is assured network transport and an integrated tactical internet to take the burden off the Soldier," Gallagher said.
To get there, the Network CFT is executing the Army's "halt, fix, pivot" network modernization strategy.
In it, the Army would "halt" programs that do not address operational requirements; "fix" existing efforts that are necessary to fulfill the most critical operational shortfalls; and "pivot" to a new acquisition and requirements methodology.
The approach will leverage commercial systems not specifically designed to exact military-grade standards, use various acquisition strategies to field systems faster to Soldiers and look at ways to reduce their long-term cost, according to the Army's Program Executive Office Command Control Communications-Tactical.
Slowed by bureaucracy and constrained budgets, the current acquisition process has forced the Army to wait and deliver some equipment to units over decades-long periods.
"That's why we end up with programs that last for 30 years," said Maj. Gen. David Bassett, director of PEO C3T, which serves as the acquisition arm for the network team. "By the time you're done, you're fielding yesterday's technology tomorrow and that's not something anybody is interested in."
The Army is trying to change the acquisition culture, he said, and may now field a portion of a development program to gain experimentation insight to inform final requirement definition.
"That's an aspirational requirement," he said. "It provides a guidepost for us to evolve towards."
Members of the Network CFT plan to spend next week doing a "deep dive" on science and technology projects by the Army's Research, Development and Engineering Command and to also review what engineers are doing across the Defense Department.
"We're trying to figure out who else is doing what in the network space to make sure we're not all doing the same thing," Gallagher said.
While the initial days of his team has been "unpacking" what's out there, he said, the coming weeks will be about building a program objective memorandum for 2020 to 2024 -- a planning document that allocates funding to a program -- to set the stage for a new network.
"We don't want to get held hostage by the current acquisition processes," he said of the network strategy. "We want to use freedom of action, other transaction authorities and different opportunities to move a little bit faster."
As part of the "fix" stage, the Army may implement off-the-shelf capabilities and proven solutions already employed by special operations forces or another service to see if it can be used on a larger scale.
"We don't want to reinvent the wheel if it's going to meet a need and make us better than we were yesterday," Gallagher said. "Let's adapt and buy it and get it into the hands of our Soldiers."
ART OF THE POSSIBLE
The network team is on a two-pronged course as it charts the future state of the network, while at the same time pushing immediate capabilities out to enhance today's operations.
"Our goal is to find some quick wins over the next couple of years and determine what's in the art of the possible going forward," Gallagher said.
Industry partners will be crucial to both of those efforts, which is why Army leaders plan to better involve them in the process as they hone in on specific needs.
"Although we want to go fast, we also have to go together and that's going to require trust and it's going to require constant communication between the key stakeholders and industry as we look to evolve these kinds of systems," Bassett said.
One such effort the Army has moved forward on is Common Operating Environment, which enables a unified set of mission command applications. It is intended to replace current "stovepiped" systems that fail to create a complete common operating picture.
The Army expects to field an initial version of the COE -- the Command Post Computing Environment -- in fiscal year 2019, according to PEO C3T officials. Success with that system involved leveraging commercial software solutions and adapting them for broader-based use.
The 25th Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team also recently became the first brigade to field a smaller, lighter version of the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical program, according to officials. The Increment 2 version provides on-the-move communications capability, a step-up from WIN-T Increment 1 that only works at-the-halt.
The Army developed the WIN-T program in 2004 to be the backbone of a tactical communications network that would enable mission command and secure reliable voice, video and data communications.
While the Army will not roll out a new WIN-T version to armored brigade combat teams or Army National Guard units -- which will retain Increment 1 capabilities -- the program may continue to see a role in the network strategy.
"The pivot we're talking about is not just what replaces WIN-T," Gallagher said. "Maybe we modernize, augment and continue to improve this entire network ecosystem. But it's about the ecosystem -- simplifying the ecosystem and delivering that capability."
As for future equipment, Soldiers have asked for an intuitive smartphone-like capability that is simple and easy to use with a familiar faceplate, Gallagher said.
"The part we really got to figure out is how you do that with assured transport against an electronic warfare threat?" he asked.
That's where industry can come in with its technology that supports the network strategy, Gallagher said.
"What are we pivoting to? We're going to figure that out. We're going to experiment, we're going to demonstrate, we're going to adapt and buy solutions that are already proven," he said. "But we also need industry's help in defining what's in the art of the possible for us to fight and win against a peer adversary in a contested battlespace."