ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- The Army Futures Command, or AFC, is using field-based experimentation early in the Research and Development, or R&D, cycle to assess whether the emerging network technologies in its Science and Technology, or S&T, portfolio are on track to address the threats the Army believes it could face.
"You never want to be that Soldier or Platoon Leader, who hits the Push-to-Talk on a radio, sends a message and doesn't get a response. You feel very isolated, and it's not a very good place to be," explained Sgt. 1st Class David Worthington, senior enlisted advisor with the Combat Capabilities Development Command's center for Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance -- or C5ISR.
In the near future, the Army may be facing adversaries with Anti-Access/Area Denial capabilities. If Warfighters are relying on an unprotected network, "they're are going to have a really bad time," Worthington noted.
To combat this, the C5ISR Center is supporting the Army's future Integrated Tactical Network by developing communications capabilities that are more resilient, better understand the electromagnetic spectrum and enable an automated intelligent network that can respond quickly to the enemy's actions.
This includes building an automated framework of mitigation techniques that can be implemented into an automated primary, alternate, contingency and emergency, or PACE, plan that would seamlessly counter interference and electronic attacks at operational speeds -- thus allowing the Soldier to focus on warfighting.
"We can develop technologies that fill current and future gaps, but to ensure that these investments are on track, we need to take the comprehensive network system-of-systems into the field to experiment and learn," said Dr. Michael Brownfield, chief of the C5ISR Center's Future Capabilities Office.
AFC is holding its R&D community accountable, calling for it to experiment with new technologies early and often in order to get valuable technical and operational feedback early in the development lifecycle, according to Michael Monteleone, director of the C5ISR Center's Space and Terrestrial Communications Directorate, or S&TCD.
"The National Defense Strategy and senior Army leadership explicitly calls for our community to foster a culture of experimentation and learning to shape and achieve modernization objectives," said Monteleone, whose directorate has established an annual experimentation event called the Network Modernization Experiment, or NetModX.
Now in its second year, the experiment enables the Army and industry to evaluate the maturity of their technologies early and in the relevant, threat-based environment of the C5ISR Center's Ground Activity facilities on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.
Designed to align with the Army's Multi-Domain Task Force pilot, this year's experimentation theme, Resilient Fires, focused on the Network Transport capabilities needed while conducting Army precision fires in support of Multi‐Domain Operations.
"Calling for fires is a dynamic process that is executed across time and space, so you need communications to bring everything together. If you can't talk to each other, how do you know where to shoot?" said Brownfield.
Using the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System to run fires threads, engineers placed nearly a dozen unique Research and Development technologies into a simulated fires mission command network environment to assess their ability to support the end-to-end execution of Army precision fires while being electronically attacked up and down the network "kill chain."
The technologies -- which were evaluated for their ability to provide layered resiliency through low probability of interception/detection, interference cancellation, anti-jam, defensive cyber, and spectrum monitoring -- were selected based on S&T projects at varying technology readiness levels that could improve or replace portions of the network baseline.
These projects included line-of-sight radios, protected satellite communication to support beyond-line-of-sight communications, spectrum monitoring and cyber awareness capabilities.
"I am proud of our team because they are getting early versions of their technologies out of our laboratories and into the field environment -- and many of these efforts just received their initial funding this past October. It will help us to ensure that our S&T investments are maturing and getting after the Army's Modernization Priorities," Monteleone said.
The engineers noted that the relevant field environment helped them to better gauge whether the network technologies would be able to perform in a contested and congested operational environment and what needed to be accomplished to make the systems interoperable.
"We can sit in the lab all day, and we can run these things on a virtual network and get a number off of them, but it's very hard to reproduce the conditions that you will see out here," said James Plastine, an S&TCD cybersecurity engineer. "It was a great experience to make sure that what we are developing is feasible and will work in the environment for which we are building it."
Brownfield noted that the C5ISR Center plans to feed the metrics back into its modeling and simulation databases to study the various mitigation techniques before informing the Army and Industry.
The data from the Resilient Fires experiment will be correlated, analyzed and compiled in a final NetModX 2019 report which will document the interoperability and potential alignment of each of the participating technologies to the Army's Modernization Priority for Long Range Precision Fires.
"The data will also provide a frame of reference that will help the Army establish baseline knowledge in understanding the resiliency and spectral footprint of current and potential future communications systems," said Adam McCauley, NetModX project lead.
"The experiment provided us with an early benchmarking opportunity to see how the network technologies in our S&T portfolio integrate with other network systems. It's crucial that we do this type of work early -- not just for ourselves, but for the Soldiers who could potentially be using these in the future."
The report is scheduled to be completed by the fourth quarter of the 2019 fiscal year.
The C5ISR Center is the Army's applied research and advanced technology development center for C5ISR capabilities. As the Army's primary integrator of C5ISR technologies and systems, the center develops and matures capabilities that support all six Army modernization priorities, enabling information dominance and tactical overmatch for the joint warfighter.
The C5ISR Center is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command. Through collaboration across the command's core technical competencies, CCDC leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more lethal to win our nation's wars and come home safely. CCDC is a major subordinate command of the U. S. Army Futures Command.