ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Maryland (April 20, 2020) – The Army is making sure that Soldiers supporting local and state governments in the fight against COVID-19 are equipped with the latest situational awareness and communication systems. Army network and Soldier system modernization, development and program offices are taking rapid measures to ensure U.S. Army network communications capabilities and support needed to combat the COVID-19 virus are met with the latest commercial software and hardware capability, and a robust help desk support effort.
The Army's network and Soldier systems development and acquisition community is actively working with U.S. Northern Command and U.S Army North (ARNORTH), the Army National Guard, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to quickly provide rapid network communications capability, integration expertise and help desk services to augment and enhance current communications systems.
Network enhancements will provide personnel in such units as medical, signal and logistics with applications and communications equipment that can lead to a better understanding of regional COVID-19 impacts and assist commanders working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and local governments in their response efforts.
In March, the Army’s network modernization community — including Program Executive Officer for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T), PEO Soldier, Network-Cross Functional Team (N-CFT) and Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM) with the Army’s Chief Information Officer/G6 and G3/5/7 — proactively stood up the C5ISR COVID-19 Response Equipping Team.
The team is working to deliver capabilities and services that are already part of Army programs. It is also repurposing capability in innovative ways to support COVID-19 mission sets, and is working to rapidly procure new systems if needed. Additionally, the team is ensuring help desk functions are established to troubleshoot tactical network communication issues as they arise in the field.
“Situational awareness is critically important in responding to any contingency and this one is no different,” said Maj. Gen. David Bassett, program executive officer for C3T. “This team-of-teams is combining strengths to ensure that both front line and support elements possess the data exchange and common operational picture (COP) they need to successfully collaborate and combat the COVID-19 virus pandemic.”
To assist National Guard and ARNORTH with tactical network initialization, integration, system troubleshooting and maintenance issues, within the last week the C5ISR COVID-19 Response Equipping Team has stood up a help desk to provide 24/7 assistance. The collaborative effort between PEO Soldier, PEO C3T and CECOM leverages the existing Mission Command Support Center (MCSC), at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, which primarily assists with network management and troubleshooting of the Army’s Blue Force Tracker capability. The help desk is already serving as a single point of entry for COVID-19 response units to request technical assistance from PEO C3T and CECOM experts.
Staff at the MCSC and PEO Soldier are now responding to calls from a variety of units covering all Army tactical network devices and communications systems, whether they are still in the fielding process or have already transitioned to sustainment. Units can initiate trouble ticket response from C5ISR community subject matter experts by submitting a ticket online at https://mcsc.army.mil/login.php.
Military, government and non-government agencies, and first responders are leveraging the robust U.S. commercial network infrastructure as the primary means of enabling voice, video and data exchange in ongoing COVID-19 response efforts. Working with ARNORTH and National Guard network managers and planners, the C5ISR COVID-19 Response Equipping Team is identifying alternate, contingency and emergency communication capability, as well as assessing unit and system readiness, should the primary commercial communication infrastructure get overloaded or damaged. The team is also working across the Army’s material community to provide systems as requested by units, such as recently working to identify a source of radios for medial units assisting in New York City.
A key effort being led by PEO Soldier is adapting and delivering a civilian version of the Army’s Tactical Assault Kit (TAK) software to provide National Guard, and other agencies, up-to-date COVID-19 data on a common software application that can run off of personal devices. Using a combination of fielding new smartphones capable of using the applications and a “bring your own device” strategy, the Contingency Response Situational Awareness/Situational Understanding (SA/SU) Tactical Applications Leader Kit effort, known as CRSSTALK, is delivering a line of map-based, situational awareness software applications across multiple platforms, to provide tactical capabilities for military and federal government operations. Pilot efforts are being coordinated with ARNORTH and the National Guard. To date, more than 16 states are receiving CRSSTALK capability.
“Providing situational awareness and understanding for our dismounted Soldiers enables faster and more accurate decision making,” said Colonel Troy Denomy, Project Manager Close Combat Squad, who oversees the CRSSTALK effort. “The fight against COVID-19 is no different than a tactical operation. Getting first responders and essential personnel to the right place, at the right time, with the right information will make them more effective.”
To ensure communications between military and civilian agencies, the Army is using its existing network gateways, such as Commercial Coalition Equipment (CCE) enclaves and the Global Agile Integrated Transport (GAIT) network design, and ground satellite terminal capabilities, like Regional Hub Nodes, to securely exchange network data between commercial and military networks in support of ARNORTH and ARNG missions.
Additionally, in cases where needed, ARNG units are using their Disaster Incident Response Emergency Communications Terminal (DIRECT) tool suite, which includes CCE, to connect to commercial networks. The tool kit also enables ARNG units to provide commercial phone, internet access, Wi-Fi and 4G LTE to military, government and non-governmental first responders if needed. As part of the tool suite, DIRECT is equipped with a voice-bridging capability that interconnects various military and first responder radios, cell phones and internet telephones, to enable a seamless collaboration and synchronization across the entire team.
“The Guard is responding in cities and towns across the country to minimize the impact of this deadly disease,” said Col. Lesley Kipling, N-CFT Army National Guard liaison officer. “Its need to interoperate and communicate across federal agencies and with first responders is critical to perform sustainment, logistics and medical functions. The support being offered is essential to enabling our mission, maintaining our readiness and modernizing of our service component.”
New applications and communications equipment could also provide ARNORTH and ARNG personnel with applications and communications equipment that can lead to better understanding of regional COVID-19 impacts and enable a common operational picture for commanders and government and local agencies to collaborate more closely. For instance, units can leverage the MCSC to enable interoperability across a wide range of military and civilian devices, and to virtually train supporting units on the latest applications. Most important, the MCSC, in conjunction with Johns Hopkins University, has also constructed a dashboard to display relevant COVID-19 data on a common map, enhancing collaboration among first responders, local and national agencies and Army National Guard personnel.
C5ISR COVID-19 Equipping Team efforts will be ongoing as more units are called to support COVID-19 response and seek additional capability to enable enhanced situational awareness, better logistics data and increased connectivity.
“I’ve been extremely impressed with the collective efforts of the C5ISR teams that have aggressively and proactively sought to provide needed communications capabilities in support of the Army’s COVID-19 response, said Col. Shane Taylor, project manager for Tactical Network who leads the team’s coordination efforts. “The team stands ready to continue support to those on the front line of fighting this pandemic for the duration.”
Related Article: Global network design unifies Army modernization efforts
PEO C3T website: https://peoc3t.army.mil
PEO C3T News https://www.army.mil/peoc3t
PEO C3T Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/peoc3t
PEO C3T: Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/peoc3tmedia
National Guard https://www.nationalguard.mil/