The Army recently took a critical first step toward realizing its commitment to delivering a modern, resilient tactical network to Soldiers.
Last week, the Army program office in charge of tactical network modernization and the Network-Cross Functional Team (N-CFT) completed a critical design review (CDR) to solidify the network design of the first round of modernized network capabilities, called Capability Set 21 (CS21). The Army will begin fielding CS21 capabilities to Army units, including four Infantry Brigade Combat Teams and three Expeditionary Signal Battalions, beginning in 2021.
At the commencement of this initiative, leaders understood that employing an agile and innovative development process would be just as critical to achieving modernization as the technology itself.
“When we reviewed the findings and recommendations of the Army network study two years ago, we realized that the network we had was not the network we wanted or needed for the future,” said Maj. Gen. David Bassett, program executive officer for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T). “We also determined that the most effective method to achieve a modern network was to adopt a structured capability set process, which fields upgraded network capability enhancements every two years that are informed by experimentation, demonstration and direct feedback from our operational units and Soldiers.”
Each successive capability set builds upon the previous one, establishing the foundation for developers to address emerging threats and integrate commercial technologies into existing programs of record, to ensure what they deliver meet’s the Army’s expectations for a modern, resilient tactical network.
The major gaps CS21 addresses include providing a more expeditionary and intuitive network design for maneuver brigades and signal formations supporting echelons above brigade. A major component of CS21 is the Integrated Tactical Network (ITN). The ITN is an approach that injects new commercial components and network transport capabilities into the Army's tactical network environment to provide maneuver brigades and below with smaller, lighter, faster and more flexible communications systems. This mix of commercial capabilities integrated with programs of record systems provide commanders with resilient communications as part of their primary, alternate, contingency and emergency communications plan.
The approved ITN components for CS21 resulting from the CDR include single-channel commercial radios with advanced networking waveforms, high capacity line-of-sight radios, voice and data gateways, tactical cross domain solutions, small aperture satellite terminals, expeditionary servers, variable height antennas (via a quadcopter drone), 4G commercial technology, applications and associated ancillary devices.
In addition to regimented laboratory and developmental test events, multiple exercises and operational deployments with 82nd Airborne Division units and the 50th Expeditionary Signal Battalion-Enhanced informed CS21 and ITN capabilities.
“Our commanders stated that they would have much preferred to have ITN over the legacy equipment during their last deployment,” said Maj. Gen. James Mingus, 82nd Airborne Division commander, during the CDR. “We have to accelerate and move beyond what we’re doing now. The CS21 network is not perfect, but it’s exponentially better than what we have today.”
Soldier feedback from 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team and the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, and the deployment of a partial ITN kit with Security Force Assistance Brigades also provided the Army with additional feedback to confidently conduct the design review of CS21 capabilities. The Army will continue to use Soldier feedback to refine CS21 and inform follow on capability sets.
“There will be plenty of opportunities to gather additional feedback, including an operational test with the handheld, manpack and small form fit radios and brigade-sized combat training center rotations, which will allow us to adjust and improve the network design,” said Col. Garth Winterle, project manager for Tactical Radios, under PEO C3T.
The CDR was structured to balance CS21 integrated system performance -- as assessed in the lab and through multiple Soldier touch points -- with affordability and component density considerations. As the Army collects additional feedback from operational units, it expects to implement an iterative process to adjust component mix decisions over time, if needed.
The capability set process, with a series of design reviews enabling informed development acquisition decisions, is the cornerstone of the Army’s approach for designing and delivering the multi-domain capable network of 2028. Even as the Army prepares to procure and field CS21 systems, the N-CFT is already working with industry and Army research and development centers to pursue and assess additional technology solutions for the design of CS23. Experimentation to inform preliminary network design for CS23 is set to begin later this calendar year, with the initial integrated design review slated for April 2021.
“Even as we complete the design for the first capability set, we continue to refine the network as new technologies emerge,” said Maj. Gen. Peter Gallagher, N-CFT director. “Moving forward, we will continue to base our decisions on density of experimentation to give us the most network capability for the amount of money the Army can spend.”
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, 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.