WASHINGTON (October 23, 2019) -- A new approach is proving to be the right mix of agility and discipline for developing and fielding the Army's tactical network.
Army leaders charged with modernizing the tactical network, and the applications that run on it, presented their progress during a Warrior's Corner at last week's AUSA 2019 conference.
They provided a detailed overview of how they will deliver the network using a two-year, incremental capability sets (CS) process -- with each successive capability set informed by experimentation, demonstration and direct feedback from operational units and Soldiers -- beginning in CS21, with a goal to achieve network modernization by 2028.
"In the past, we spent a few years trying to get our requirements right, describe what the future technology might be and then establish contracts with delivery timelines," said Maj. Gen. David Bassett, Program Executive Officer (PEO) for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (C3T). "Unfortunately, we have since discovered that we would often shoot behind the target."
The Army ultimately decided to lead with experimentation and to look at the art of the possible in technology, but with the caveat that it must instill discipline and rigor to guarantee all of the technologies work together on the battlefield, Bassett said.
PEO C3T is teamed with the Network-Cross Functional Team (N-CFT) to deliver a tactical network that addresses today's threat-based environment. The N-CFT narrows network capability through user experimentation, assessments and technical demonstrations, with the outcomes transitioning into PEO C3T, who provides the structure, workforce and acquisition expertise to deliver solutions.
Together, they are ensuring Soldiers will operate on a network that is more resilient in contested and congested environments, more expeditionary and easier to use.
The Army is narrowing down its decisions for CS 21, which includes fielding the Integrated Tactical Network (ITN) to four infantry brigade combat teams (IBCTs). The ITN is an approach that injects new commercial components and network transport capabilities into the Army's tactical network environment.
Over the past year and a half, Soldiers of the 82nd Division have been experimenting with the ITN and providing invaluable feedback to ensure it meets the requirement to provide smaller, lighter, faster and more flexible communications systems in threat-based environments.
"Preliminary design reviews show that we have a good sense of what we want to deliver with the ITN -- we're talking about new radios, new waveforms, servers, satellite capabilities, new Network Operations functions, and new mission command applications, all being delivered and integrated together to make sure that it works for our Soldiers to deliver in the CS 21 timeframe," Bassett said.
With its sights now aimed at CS 23, the Army, led by the N-CFT, is leading the design strategy to build upon CS 21's capabilities.
"We will continue to enhance ITN using the feedback from CS21 experiments, which will allow us to expand capabilities to Stryker and Armored BCTs and to figure out how to optimize for speed and distance in CS 23," said Maj. Gen. Peter Gallagher, N-CFT Director.
Where CS 21 is making the network simpler, intuitive and expeditionary, efforts for CS 23 are primarily focused to significantly improving network transport capacity and resiliency. Low-earth and mid-earth orbit (LEO/MEO) commercial satellite constellations will play a critical role in network resiliency, Gallagher said.
"We wish to determine how LEO and MEO will fit into the network backbone design to provide high capacity and low latency throughput, which would enable the Army to leverage cloud and edge computing," Gallagher said. "We're also looking for capabilities in the areas of enhanced anti-jam, mission command improved hardware and software, wearables, integrated visual augmentation systems."
CS 23 will also build upon initial CS 21 Common Operating Environment (COE) assessments. COE is allowing the Army to deliver mission command apps to converge and ride on top of the network, as part of the Hand-held and Command Post Computing Environments (CPCE). Industry partners will converge mission command apps on top of the CPCE framework at this spring's Defender 20 exercise in Germany.
"This idea of convergence is about less is more; we have hardware and software that are converging from as many as 15 battle command systems that we have all grown up with and that many of you have helped our Army design and implement over the last 20 years," said Maj. Gen. Douglas Crissman, Director of the Mission Command Center of Excellence (McCOE) in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
As the lead organization for the Mission Command Warfighting Function, the MCCoE is critical to the network modernization efforts, specifically aligned to the COE effort.
In addition, delivering incremental capability sets into the network allows the Army to achieve greater efficiencies with interoperability, Crissman said.
"As you can imagine, with many of our allies and joint partners it is difficult for all to be able to hear, see and interoperate with us with 15 different battle command systems," Crissman said. "If our allies and partners are all operating in the same COE then they are far more able to train and fight with us -- we are not going to fight alone today or in the future."
In the CS23 timeframe, the Army will make converged mission command systems smarter by leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning to bring in meaningful tactical cloud capabilities where applicable given bandwidth restraints, Bassett said.
"We don't want mission command systems to be reliant on the cloud, but be enabled by the cloud," he said.
Gallagher and Bassett stressed to vendors throughout the presentation that with on-ramps and off-ramps every two years, it will not be business as usual moving forward.
"Bring the solutions you think will be ready for us to start prototyping in 21 and 22 to get into our network design," Gallagher said. "Once that happens, we are on a path to start experimentation."