FORT HOOD, Texas (April 8, 2019) -- The Army is leveraging experimentation in joint and multinational exercises to help validate network systems in a Mission Partner Environment, improving coalition interoperability and a common operating picture that stretches across the allied force.
"The United States will not go into contingencies unilaterally, so partner nation network systems need to be able to 'talk' to each other," said Staff Sgt. Paul Lammers, III Corps Signal (G6) noncommissioned officer. "With new coalition network capabilities, I now have a central common operating picture so commanders have a shared understanding of the battlespace to make more effective decisions."
During upcoming multinational exercises, the U.S. Army and its allied partners will be working to streamline coalition data sharing capabilities that enable the exchange and compilation of critical information such as logistics, terrain, fires, friendly and enemy position data. U.S. Army systems such as the Commercial Coalition Equipment (CCE) network enclave, which enables U.S. and coalition partners to securely access the shared MPE network, and the Army's Command Post Computing Environment (CP CE), central hardware and software to converge tactical warfighting applications, are enabling more integrated information sharing and a real-time coalition common operating picture.
In support of coalition interoperability, one of the Army's top network modernization priorities, the service is leveraging two large-scale exercises this month to help inform the baseline MPE network. Warfighter Exercise (WFX) 19-4, which runs through mid-April, is being conducted at Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Riley, Kansas; and Fort Bragg, North Carolina; with participants including U.S. Army III Corps and the United Kingdom (UK). The annual Joint Warfighting Assessment (JWA) 19 will be conducted late April through early May, at Joint Base Lewis McCord, and Yakima Training Center, in Washington State, with over 6,000 joint and multinational participants including the U.S. I Corps; 7th Infantry Division; 17th Fires Brigade and six partner nations.
"In a coalition fight, each country brings its own [network] domain and its own equipment. We need to be able to share operations with our partners to be more effective on the battlefield," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 James Webb, III Corps G6 network engineer. "[With these new network technologies], the United States and partner nations can now keep the information they want separate and share what they want to through a centralized hub."
Both WFX 19-4 and JWA 19 will be conducted in a MPE using a Common Services (CS) Hub to host enterprise services. The U.S. Army's Tactical Server Infrastructure (TSI) v1 will be used as the CS Hub hardware, which will be integrated with CP CE and will host additional authorized software from other Army programs of record. PM Mission Command, at the Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T), is working an updated version of TSI that will provide several new improvements, including an 800 pound weight reduction, a 50 percent reduction in setup and teardown time, and a reduction in the number of needed transit cases from nine to three for increased agility.
"Since we are using the COP on a server, not locally, operators no longer need a special computer or complex access [procedures]," Lammers added. "Everyone [with clearance and] a computer has access to the COP."
The Army's versatile CP CE framework reduces complexity and the amount of hardware in a command post, while improving capability and the common operating picture. It converges disparate mission command systems and corresponding hardware, such as Command Post of the Future (CPOF), onto a single computing environment that uses apps similar to those used on smartphones. CP CE provides a software infrastructure framework -- with common look and feel among the interface, data and services -- where current warfighter capabilities can be converged and future capabilities can be added.
"CP CE streamlines the process of data sharing," Lammers said. "In the past everything had to go through the DDS (Data Dissemination Server), but CP CE takes out a step and enables more direct data sharing. It improves interoperability."
The CCE capability package enables U.S. and partner nations to securely "connect" to the shared MPE network, so they can send and receive critical situational awareness and contribute to the real-time common operating picture across the theater of operations. This network enclave is fully interoperable with the U.S. Army's tactical network transport equipment, which transports the data within theater and around the world. CCE can be rapidly reconfigured to provide secure access for different coalition network, as well as commercial networks, in support of military or civil operations. It also provides a Radio Bridging/Voice Cross-banding (RBVC) capability that enables radios on different frequencies or with different standards, or different equipment such as radios or cell phones, to seamlessly connect to each other, which is essential in coalition operations where different countries and organizational entities bring their own equipment.
PM Tactical Network, also assigned to PEO C3T, will be fielding an updated version of CCE, with initial fielding projected for first quarter fiscal year 2020, which is considerably more capable than the previous version. It supports up to 250 users, is scalable to support different echelons and offers radio bridging over Internet Protocol capability.
"Any conflict in the future with a near peer adversary will require a partnership with our coalition allies," said Lt. Col. Clifton Schmitt, commander of the 62nd Expeditionary Signal Battalion, 11th Theater Tactical Signal Brigade (TTSB). "Training with our coalition partners and making sure they can fight on the networks that allow us to share information is essential. The CCE equipment we are being fielded allows us to have that capability and enables us to support future training events with coalition partners, [as well as potential real world conflicts]."
On-the-spot bottom-up feedback from real-time users is helping PEO C3T to continually and rapidly improve these systems and how they are used in a Mission Partner Environment. For example, during preparations for WFX 19-4, III Corps leadership realized that it needed a briefing/highlighting tool added to the CP CE, and PEO C3T quickly turned the request around and integrated the new capability on the fly to provide the tool in time for use during WFX 19-4.
"When we have a partnership on the battlefield, we need to leverage and synchronize all of the assets of that partnership across all of the warfighting functions," Schmitt said. "You can't do that if you have a fragmented network that doesn't interoperate. A common operating picture is critically important because it gives a joint task force commander the ability to see all those assets and make informed decisions."
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.