FORT HOOD, Texas (March 6, 2019) -- Using rapid acquisition processes, the Army fielded new expeditionary commercial-off-the-shelf coalition network enclaves to the first units, just six months from receipt of funding.
Fielded in response to an operational needs statement from theater, these tactical network enclaves, known as Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange (CENTRIX) Network Extension Packages, or CX NEPs, enable the exchange of data between U.S. Joint and coalition force networks to support a Mission Partner Environment during military and stability operations, counter-insurgency missions, or disaster/humanitarian contingencies.
"The CX NEP is designed to support coalition partners across the spectrum of operations and can be tailored to support the Five Eyes community [Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States], NATO, partners in the Middle East and elsewhere," said Maj. Steven Barnes, executive officer (XO) for the 57th Expeditionary Signal Battalion (ESB), 11th Theater Tactical Signal Brigade, one of the first units fielded with CX NEP. "This enclave will enhance our ability to share information and a common operating picture with coalition combatant commanders and synchronize information across time and space."
As part of this rapid fielding effort, the Army's Project Manager (PM) Tactical Network delivered approximately 90 CX NEPs in January 2019 to 11 units at Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington; Fort Hood, Texas; and Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. On the current fielding plan, the service is fielding over 400 systems to a total of 50 units by late spring, roughly 100 systems per month.
"As the Army faces potential peer adversaries, we are always looking for solutions to stay ahead of the technology race, to reduce traditionally long acquisition timelines and modernize the Army's tactical network more expeditiously," said Mr. Matthew Maier, Army product manager for Network Modernization (NetMod), PM Tactical Network.
The CX enclaves are filling a critical gap in coalition mission command capability and the ability to "fight tonight." PM Tactical Network used rapid acquisition processes to get the system to field much faster than the traditional acquisition processes would have allowed. Just one month after receiving the funding from the Army, the PM leveraged the existing Common Hardware Systems (CHS) 5th Generation contract and awarded the delivery of over CX NEPs for fielding in fiscal year 2019.
The CX NEPs have the same look and feel as the Army's unclassified and classified network enclaves, and they are easy to train, operate and maintain. To further improve ease of use and readiness, PM Tactical Network also developed and delivered a CX NEP Quick Reference Guide to support units receiving the systems.
"As part of the CX NEP rapid acquisition process, we are paying close attention to Soldier feedback as units train on and employ the systems during upcoming multinational exercises," Maier said. "That feedback will not only help us improve the system and the way it is used, but it will also inform the larger Army as it works to streamline and standardize the Mission Partner Environment and the equipment used to support it."
Army units, including the 57th ESB, will use their CX NEPs during two large scale joint and multinational exercises this spring -- Warfighter Exercise 19-4 at Fort Hood and Fort Riley, Kansas; and Fort Bragg, North Carolina; and Joint Warfighting Assessment (JWA) 19, at Joint Base Lewis McCord. During these exercises, the U.S. Army and its allied partners will baseline and validate new communications network technologies and the Mission Partner Environment.
Before the fielding of new coalition enclaves, to support different mission partner networks, the Army used multiple versions of the legacy CENTRIX network stack, which was first fielded to support early contingencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. "It was more of an ad hoc network that had been patched together on [various] coalition requirements," Barnes said.
Now, new tailorable coalition enclaves are helping the Army to standardize the Mission Partner Environment and improve coalition interoperability.
"The U.S. will always go to war as a member of the coalition," Barnes said. "It is critical that we have a secure network that we can bring to bear with coalition partners to synchronize effects against near peer adversaries. A common operating picture is imperative…and it's important that coalition commanders have the same picture as American commanders…to drive operations and exercise disciplined initiative."
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The U.S. Army Project Manager Tactical Network is assigned to Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical, which 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.