WASHINGTON – The Army plans to continue building its Integrated Tactical Network as it finishes testing of its handheld and man-packable system radios with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team this month.
The ITN is a critical element of Capability Set 21 that incorporates commercial components and transport capabilities into the Army’s tactical network to create a simplified, independent network solution that provides enhanced, flexible network availability at the brigade level and below.
The Army is delivering the radios, satellite terminals, servers, applications and other devices associated with ITN to four brigade combat teams as part of CS21. The second iteration of Project Convergence, a series of joint, multi-domain exercises, will inform future capability set design.
This month, the 173rd Airborne Brigade from Vicenza, Italy, is scheduled to be the next brigade to receive the fielding kit.
An additional five brigades will receive kits in fiscal 2022, said Brig. Gen. Robert Collins, who leads the Program Executive Office for Command, Control, and Communications-Tactical, or PEO C3T.
The Army is also looking to partially field Stryker brigades, starting with 2nd Cavalry Regiment at Rose Barracks, Germany, in fiscal 2022.
Collins spoke Thursday at the Northern Virginia Chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association virtual conference, while attending the radio test at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
A full scale, ITN operational testing had originally been slated for August, but had to be bumped due to mission requirements and unexpected impacts from the pandemic.
The 1st BCT had a no-notice deployment from January to February last year and COVID-19 delayed some of its planned tests including the cancelation of an exercise planned for Defender Europe. Smaller scale tests were performed instead to inform the ITN production decision that took place in 2020. The Army intends to use upcoming combat training center rotations to continue to assess and inform Capability Set design.
Additionally, Collins said that expeditionary signal battalions will be “enhanced” with CS21 systems at a rate of three battalions per year, starting with the 50th ESB at Fort Bragg and the 57th ESB at Fort Hood, Texas.
“As we are getting ready to pivot to multi-domain operations, we realize the importance of not only having a tactical, capable force, but also having our expeditionary signal battalion enhanced and [continuing] to refresh our ESBs,” Collins said.
As the service progresses into the testing and fielding phase of CS21, it will continue to develop Capability Set 23, which remains at the prototype stage. CS23 aims to increase capacity, resiliency and convergence of the service’s network while targeting initial high- capacity communications with low- and medium-Earth orbit satellites, and data and cloud strategies. CS23 will also include multiple classification networks to give greater coalition interoperability.
CS23 will build upon CS21 to eventually help create a multi-domain capable force by 2028, said Maj. Gen. Pete Gallagher, director of the Network Cross-Functional Team.
Gallagher added that Project Convergence 2020 did not test the full scope of the Army’s multi-domain capabilities, nor did it involve partner nations. This fall, emphasizing interoperability as a theme, the service will include more operational units such as the Multi- Domain Task Force from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, and a division tactical command post from the 82nd Airborne Division.
Gallagher said there will be a greater emphasis on joint service and allied nation involvement.
“[Project Convergence] is an iterative campaign of learning to get after all of the modernization priorities for the Army,” Gallagher said. “But the network is absolutely critical to all of that.”
The Army is transitioning from close insurgent battles, where command posts operated out of protected buildings and tents, to environments where they must be more expeditionary.
In addition, the Army currently has two lines of effort related to modernizing its command posts with the 2nd Infantry Division’s 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team and 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Collins said. The initiatives will eventually make command posts more mobile and more difficult to detect.
“Against a pure adversary in a future fight, we know we're going to have to be mobile and we know our command posts are going to have to be survivable,” Gallagher said. “So we're looking at things like speed, size, the ability to manage our signature and the ability to separate and segment what we're doing on the battlefield.”