FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Dec. 11, 2020) – The Army is nearing completion of the pure fleet fielding of the 50th Expeditionary Signal Battalion- Enhanced, or ESB-E -- the first unit equipped with a newly modernized, agile and scalable tactical network transport tool suite.
For over a year, the 50th ESB-E served as the ESB-E pilot unit, with three of its companies providing feedback on different sets of commercial prototype network transport equipment, which informed Army design and fielding decisions on how to best modernize legacy ESBs. This pure fleet fielding gets the 50th ESB-E’s companies on the same equipment baseline.
The new smaller, lighter tactical network transport gear will enable ESB-Es to more rapidly deploy and maneuver across the battlefield and provide robust and resilient network connectivity to the other units they support.
“For the last decade, the signal regiment has been too heavy and required too many assets to move from point A to B,” said Lt. Col. Mallory Wampler, commander of the 50th ESB-E, 35th Theater Tactical Signal Brigade. “Now our entire package can fit into one truck and one trailer, and if needed, we can operate out of the back of the trailer. Our center of gravity is a small team that can go anywhere in the world and provide upper tactical internet capability to the warfighter regardless of their mission set, and logistically, now we have more flexibility in how we get it there.”
The Army’s Project Manager (PM) Tactical Network, at the Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T), is currently providing new equipment training to 50th ESB-E Soldiers at Fort Bragg, which is expected to be complete by the end of December, in time for the unit’s upcoming Joint Readiness Training Center rotation.
In addition, PM Tactical Network began fielding the 57th ESB-E -- the second unit equipped-- in November, at Fort Hood, Texas. The 57th ESB-E will use its new tactical network capabilities during upcoming exercises this spring, including Warfighter Exercise 21-03 and Pacific Defender 21.
On the current plan, with potential exceptions due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, the PM will field several ESB-Es per fiscal year until all of its 23 ESBs have been upgraded to the new baseline capability. The Army’s agile acquisition and fielding approach aligns with its two-year incremental Capability Set fielding process, which will allow the service to enhance the ESB-E baseline capability if Soldier feedback warrants it or if evolving technologies become mature enough to be procured.
“The 50th ESB-E is the Army’s first Capability Set 21 enhanced Signal Battalion,” said Lt. Col. Stuart McMillan, product manager for Mission Network, at PM Tactical Network. “This has been a true team effort, with the Network Cross Functional Team and our industry partners working alongside the pilot unit. Together we listened to Soldiers and the needs of the unit to deliver the right mix of network capability that will enable these units to support multi-domain operations and maintain a competitive advantage against increasingly capable adversaries.”
The ESB-E Capability Set 21 baseline equipment package includes the new medium ground satellite terminal and baseband kit, known as the Scalable Network Node (SNN), which replaces the units’ legacy at-the-halt tactical network transport equipment. The SNN can be setup in minutes, and can provide immediate network connectivity using its organic generators until increased power is delivered. The reduced size and system complexity enables the ESB-Es to significantly increase their network support to other units with more nodes and less manpower, while reducing transportation requirements by over 60 percent.
“With this reduction in size, we are going to be much more mobile,” said Cpt. William Lane, Alpha Company commander, 50th ESB-E, during SNN training. “Our teams are able to load up faster and get out the door to the mission quicker, and the smaller footprint makes our teams a lot more resilient.”
Also included in the ESB-E Capability Set 21 baseline equipment package the expeditionary high-throughput Terrestrial Transmission Line Of Sight (TriLOS) Radio, which provides signal path diversity in congested and contested environments; Secure Wireless for rapid command post set up and tear down; and network enclaves that enable connectivity to commercial and coalition networks.
The agile network tool suite is tailorable and scalable with medium and large satellite communication systems to enable support to different sized units, from teams up to corps elements, in a wide variety of mission sets.
“The fluidity that comes with the design provides flexibility across the whole spectrum of tactical operations,” Mallory said.
In line with the Capability Set acquisition and fielding concept, the Army leveraged informed experimentation in operational and lab environments, and continual Soldier input from training, field exercises, and real-world unit support, to inform decisions on capability, unit formation, and tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs). During the year-long pilot, the 50th ESB-E successfully used the prototype equipment to provide communications support during approximately 60 training exercises and real-world unit support in over 15 countries, including two real-world Immediate Response Force missions.
“We have a number of Soldiers who were part of the prototype and are now part of this pure fleet fielding, and after all of the feedback they provided to the PM and the vendors, clear as day, they are able to see that they had been heard,” Mallory said. “I think we are only going to get better with each iteration, knowing that our feedback is going to be heard, actioned, then put into the program, and collectively keep us moving in the right direction.”
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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.