ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (March 11, 2019) -- As the Army modernizes its tactical network capability by adding new radios that enable voice and data connectivity, Soldier feedback has indicated that they require a less complex way to network radios between different units.
Unit Task Reorganization (UTR) occurs when one unit must join another-- such as attaching a company to a different battalion -- to accomplish a specific mission. Historically this action required the units' network manager (S6) to manually configure all radios to allow for connectivity. Within the last six months, Army engineers and developers have worked to simplify the UTR process in an effort dubbed "Black Sails."
Black Sails connects software-defined radios to end-user devices (EUDs) via a network-broadcast similar to WiFi. Soldiers can then leverage the software and their EUDs to quickly configure their radios as part of UTR. Black Sails also includes an option to use QR codes, which are similar to barcodes, to join networks. When scanned, they quickly provide the critical network-to-network handshake required for unified connectivity.
"The Black Sails capability is simple enough for commanders from each unit to select the discovered network from the app or scan the QR code on their Nett Warrior EUD," said Lt. Col. Timothy Sugars, Product Manager (PdM) for Waveforms, under the U.S. Army Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T). "Within minutes, Soldiers in both units discover the common network on their own EUDs."
These software-defined radios also reduce the amount of devices that were required on the battlefield, said Vijay Jadav, Black Sails engineer for PdM Waveforms.
"Black Sails further simplifies radio technology by bringing the capability down to the palm of their hand," he said.
Black Sails evolved from the On Demand Information Network (ODIN) app, which is a government and industry-developed capability that first accelerated UTR between two software-defined radios. Before ODIN, units could not communicate unless their radios were pre-planned to do so, otherwise they would have to return to the command post to have each radio manually reconfigured, said George Senger, Black Sails lead engineer for PdM Waveforms.
"It could take the S6 anywhere from four-six hours to configure the radios to recognize the network," he said. "Black Sails can connect anywhere from 600-800 radios, a battalion's worth, in a fraction of that time."
Additional capabilities include the ability to set up a new network, such as one with different frequencies, higher bandwidth or some other configuration that isn't in the current network design enabling the warfighter to adapt the network based on changing or challenging environmental conditions. Black Sails will eventually support the Mounted Computing Environment, the Army's new vehicle-based common mission command system set to replace the Joint Battlefield Command-Platform, Senger said.
This year, PEO C3T will work with light infantry units and Security Force Assistant Brigades to pilot Black Sails, and it will use additional Soldier feedback to improve the capability and to consider it for potential fielding as part of the Integrated Tactical Network capability.
"Our goal is to simplify the network so that our commanders can fight and win against any adversary in any environment, and we believe that Black Sails is helping us to meet that challenge," Sugars said.
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.