ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (October 19, 2020) – Leaders and developers in charge of deploying the Army’s simplified network solution wasted no time responding to recent Soldier feedback.
Across three weeks in September, the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division (1/82 ABN) participated in the Capability Set (CS) 21 Integrated Tactical Network (ITN) Soldier Touch Point (STP), which was a battalion-scale, force-on-force training exercise that featured paratroopers operating CS21 ITN systems.
“The paratroopers continue to see the capabilities provided by the ITN as game-changing, but they were extremely vocal about the lack of time to learn the ins and outs of configuring the ITN components and employing it as a network,” said Lt. Col. Brandon Baer, product manager for Helicopter and Multi Mission Radios (HAMMR), under the Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T).
CS21 ITN integrates military and commercial network technology to provide a less complex, more expeditionary and mobile set of equipment including mission command applications, data radios, commercial satellite terminals and gateways and the ability to connect Secure but Unclassified networks.
The STP was the latest opportunity for paratroopers to provide real-time feedback using the developmental operations (DevOps) process, which places Soldiers and developers side-by-side throughout the event.
“Everything affects everything else,” said Cpt. Brian Delgado, 1/82 ABN S6 (communications officer). “We had Soldiers who were certainly able to operate a radio, but weren't really experts in making the radio and EUD [end user device] communicate together.”
Based on the feedback received, the program office quickly identified a systematic training approach with three main focal areas designed to bolster the paratroopers’ proficiency conducting missions using the ITN.
The first focal area will be a system of systems approach to training with the Handheld, Manpack and Small-form Fit (HMS) Leader Radio and Manpack and the Nett Warrior EUD. The training will include heavy hands-on training to maximize realism and the Soldier's time with the equipment.
“We will lay out the entire system in front of the students, which will include the radios, EUD, cables, conformal wearable battery and their tactical vest, or kit,” Baer said. “Instructors will then take students through the repetition of hooking up and configuring the system versus providing separate instruction for each of these components. It’s all about reps and sets.”
Cpt. Thomas McGinnis, 1/82 ABN troop commander, explained the critical need for a properly configured kit on each paratrooper, especially immediately following jumps into their objectives. During the exercise, he used the EUD with its software-based Android Tactical Assault Kit, which provides messaging capability and a secure common operating picture for rapid situational awareness.
“As soon as we jumped in, everyone turned on their radios and quickly began to populate their location on the EUD,” McGinnis said.
They achieved 90 percent accountability on the EUDs, and then began exiting the drop zone to execute their follow on missions, he added.
“For comparison, the brigade only achieved about 70 percent accountability after 48 hours during our last JRTC [Joint Readiness Training Center] rotation without the ITN equipment,” he said.
As the unit gains more confidence in the equipment, concept of operations and tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) will continue to evolve, allowing almost instantaneous situation awareness and accountability of Soldiers on the drop zone, Baer said.
The second focal area will be for leaders to ensure they understand CS21 ITN equipment capabilities.
“It’s critical for leaders at all levels to understand the new capabilities and how to maximize their use of the equipment because they must be able to tactically employ their network through communications plans driven by PACE [primary, alternate, contingency and emergency] and unit TTPs,” Baer said.
The final focus area will be a comprehensive, phased approach. It will offer individual system training, followed by unit collective training on the equipment to allow the unit to set up the network with support from field service representatives and industry vendors.
"The goal of this training method will be to prepare the unit to set up the entire network themselves prior to their next communications exercise," Baer said.
Moving forward, Soldiers will assess the ITN again at the January 2021 HMS operational test with the 1/82 ABN. The Army is fielding CS21 ITN equipment to four brigade combat teams in fiscal year 2021 and five in fiscal year 2022. It will then continue fielding ITN equipment to infantry and Stryker units as part of CS23 in fiscal years 2023-2024.
“We will look to the unit for their continued support to ensure proper command emphasis is placed on available leader and Soldier attendance for new equipment training classes," Baer said. “We believe that by establishing these training focus areas we will provide the radical change needed to prepare the unit for their missions, and also help them maintain proficiency after we leave.”
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.