FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Dec. 17, 2018) -- The Army's new Expeditionary Signal Battalion-Enhanced, or ESB-E, pilot unit employed its agile network communications equipment package for the first time during a live training mission this month, supporting the 108th Air Defense Artillery Brigade during a field exercise, at Fort Bragg.
"Our mission is to defend any asset that the joint force commander designates, anywhere in the world, at any time," said Lt. Col. David Short, commander of the 1st Battalion, 7th Regiment, 108th ADA Brigade -- a Patriot Missile battalion. "With a near peer competitor, we have to be able to operate in any environment. We have to be able to move quickly and we need redundant communication systems, so we can switch from one to the other when electromagnetic spectrum is denied. The ESB-E's new equipment allows us to be a lot more flexible and expeditionary in nature. We can tailor defense design, and our network nodes can go wherever we need to go."
ESBs provide tactical network communications support to other units, such as ADAs, which do not have their own organic tactical network equipment or that need additional communications support. The 50th ESB-E, 35th Theater Tactical Signal Brigade (TTSB) is serving as the Army's ESB-E pilot unit. The Army is using a developmental operations (DevOps) construct to field the ESB-E with a tactical network equipment package that is much lighter and more mobile compared to traditional ESBs. It is also scalable, easier to operate, hardened and enables signal path diversity for continued operations in contested environments. The Army will use the pilot effort experimentation to help inform future ESB-E network design, formation construct and equipment basis of issue.
"The ESB-E effort is, in part, intended to deploy capabilities previously limited to Special Operations Forces-type units," said Lt. Col. Ronald Iammartino, 50th ESB-E commander. "Because these kits are designed to be light, scalable, and easily adaptable, we can now give commanders far greater flexibility in how they use signal assets to support the fight."
Project Manager Tactical Network, assigned to Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (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 prototype equipment kit. This team-of-teams is using informed experimentation and Soldier feedback in a rapid acquisition DevOps construct to deliver the right mix of capability to the Army and to inform future ESB design decisions. In just over eight months the team went from concept approval to fielding the first company (Company B), achieving the initial operating capability in early November 2018. On the current timeline, the Army will begin fielding the two remaining companies starting in calendar year 2019.
The currently selected ESB-E modular equipment package is comprised of a variety of tactical network transport capabilities that provide operational flexibility and signal pathway diversity, including:
• Small, medium and large triband satellite dishes and network baseband equipment packages, which are transit case-based for increased mobility, versus legacy trailer or vehicle mounted capability;
• The transit case-based Terrestrial Line Of Sight (TRILOS) Radio, which provides a significant increase in bandwidth and range extension in a significantly smaller package, versus the legacy vehicle-based High Capacity Line Of Sight (HCLOS) Radio;
• Secure Wi-Fi, which compared with wiring a command post, enables the network to come up in minutes instead of hours following site relocation;
• A complete Network Operations (NetOps) 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;
• The ESB-E will also leverage the Army's Global Agile Integrated Transport (GAIT) network architecture interconnects the Regional Hub Nodes -- and can also interconnect Department of Defense Teleport Sites -- to create a global network mesh that enables high-capacity data exchange from anywhere on the planet. GAIT provides more routing options, more paths and solutions for data to flow through allowing the Army to leverage the global network more efficiently and effectively.
Because of the reduced size, weight and power (SWaP) of the ESB-E's new systems, the Army was able to increase the number of network nodes fielded to the unit to enable greater diversity and capability. The ESB-E can now deploy smaller teams to more locations for more comprehensive and agile support.
"It's all about that fight tonight mentality, getting comms in, delivering it by whatever means necessary, be it by commercial airline, military railhead or in your back pack," said Cpt. Charles Beard, commander for Company B, 50th ESB-E.
Compared to the legacy ESB, the new equipment package is also more intuitive and is easier to train, operate and maintain, enabling the various systems to be Military Operational Specialty (MOS) agnostic.
"We are no longer going to say you are the baseband and you are the satellite communications operator; we expect to have two Signaleers just roll out and be able to put any of these systems up. We expect everyone to be able to go out there and do each other's job," said Sgt. Brian Cobb, Team Chief for Company B, 50th ESB-E.
The ESB-E commercial-off-the-shelf equipment package end state is to have a fully interoperable capability package that can support small team sized units in initial entry operations and can scale up to support the full scale of operations as supporting forces on the ground grow.
"We are informing the ESB of the future," said Col. Christopher O'Connor, commander of the 35th TTSB. "We don't want to make communications the longest pole in the tent when a commander is establishing the command post. We want to reduce the amount of time, get a commander on the network and able to use his mission command systems in a much quicker manner, which helps them make decisions in support of the fight. It comes down to survivability and reduced footprint, smaller electromagnetic signature, being able to move and displace with the command post more quickly so that we aren't a target. It's all critical."
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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.