FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- The Army is piloting a modular, scalable, more agile version of its Expeditionary Signal Battalions, or ESBs, to enable uninterrupted mission command and the ability to rapidly deploy and maneuver across the battlefield.
The 50th ESB, 35th Theater Tactical Signal Brigade, is serving as this ESB-Enhanced, or ESB-E, pilot unit. The Army is fielding the ESB-E with a new network equipment package that is much lighter and easier to deploy compared to that of traditional ESBs. The Army will use Soldier feedback from the pilot to inform the Army's ESB network capability design decisions.
"Any time you change the way a unit is manned, equipped and trained, and you make that organization more deployable with less people and less equipment, it potentially creates opportunities on the battlefield," said Col. Christopher O'Connor, commander of the 35th Theater Tactical Signal Brigade. "It causes mission planners to go back and say, 'I may have had a capability gap before, but now we can satisfy that with smaller teams and new equipment that is faster, lighter, more deployable and easier to set up.'"
The role of ESBs is to provide tactical network communications support to other units. The 50th ESB-E supports the XVIII Airborne Corps, including the Army's Global Response Force, which can be tasked with forcible-entry parachute assault into hostile, high-threat areas. The 50th ESB-E's new prototype equipment package is tailored, flexible and adaptable to support every stage of operations. The end state capability package will enable ESBs to support commanders and paratroopers en route in an aircraft and on small team-sized units in initial entry operations, and can scale-up to support mature operations as supporting forces continue to grow on the ground.
"The XVIII Airborne Corps is a contingency corps, so they are activated, with short or no notice, and this new capability enhancement gives us the opportunity to meet those warfighting requirements," said Lt. Col. Ronald Iammartino, 50th ESB-E commander. "Unlike past signal capabilities that presently reside in ESBs and earlier variations of signal battalions, now we truly have a scalable package that can be first in the door and that can scale all the way up to a Joint Task Force and beyond. The flexibility, the speed of deployment, and our ability to train in a truly MOS [Military Occupational Specialty]-converged environment is absolutely what makes this different than past capability."
Project Manager Tactical Network, assigned to Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical, or PEO C3T, is fielding the network equipment to the 50th ESB-E and is working closely with the Army's Network-Cross Functional Team on the pilot effort. This team-of-teams is using experimentation and Soldier feedback in a developmental operations construct to deliver the right capability to the Army.
"They are leveraging existing programs of record and proven commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technologies to the greatest extent possible, ensuring that capabilities are fully interoperable with existing tactical network transport equipment and provide the unit with the capability it needs to be successful," said Col. Greg Coile, project manager for Tactical Network.
The currently selected ESB-E pilot modular equipment package includes a variety of expeditionary network communications capabilities that include:
• Small, medium and large expeditionary satellite dishes and network baseband equipment packages;
• The new Terrestrial Line Of Sight, or TRILOS, Radio, which provides a 12-fold increase in bandwidth and five-fold increase in range in a significantly smaller package versus the current High Capacity Line Of Sight, or HCLOS, Radio used by ESBs;
• Secure Wi-Fi, which compared with wiring a command post, enables the network to come up in minutes instead of hours following site relocation;
• And a complete Network Operations package that can support team-sized elements up to corps and task force headquarters, and enable units to plan, monitor, manage and secure the network.
A traditional ESB has a headquarters element, and A, B, and C companies -- but the 50th ESB-E will also have a fourth D Company, which will operate and provide network communications support via Enroute Mission Command, or EMC, although it is not part of the prototype equipment package. EMC provides critical in-flight mission command, plane-to-plane and plane-to-ground communications, and situational awareness so commanders can monitor changing battlespace conditions en route to their mission.
Unlike past wars and contingencies where units set up enormous static, cabled command posts, current and future contingencies will find units constantly on the move. This new capability package gives the 50th ESB-E the ability to keep up with the pace of battle and provide critical communication capability when it's needed most, said 50th ESB Command Sgt. Maj. Wendle Marshall.
"It is going to give us greater flexibility in our support, and it's going to make us more mobile, more agile, and definitely a lot quicker," Marshall said. "We will be able to get to the location with the unit and rapidly set up communications. When it is time for the unit to jump, we can move with them. We will be able to keep up with the warfighter, no matter where they need to go."
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The U.S. Army Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical develops, acquires, fields and supports the Army's mission command network to ensure force readiness. This critical Army modernization priority delivers tactical communications so commanders and Soldiers can stay connected and informed at all times, even in the most austere and hostile environments. PEO C3T is delivering the network to regions around the globe, enabling high-speed, high-capacity voice, data and video communications to a user base that includes the Army's joint, coalition and other mission partners.