ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND (APG), Md. (March 31, 2021) – Army network developers are advancing industry technology integration to support the next package of modernized network communications gear, known as Capability Set 23.
Through efforts of the Network-Cross Functional Team (N-CFT) and Program Executive Office Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T), which manage tactical network modernization efforts, and the DEVCOM C5ISR Center, promising industry prototype technology is entering the next phase of experimentation and demonstration.
“Industry is a key enabler for the Army’s network modernization and capability set design goals,” said Matthew Maier, project manager for Interoperability, Integration & Services. “Our strong partnerships with Army organizations and industry at these Soldier experimentation, training and fielding events is the reason we are able to modernize our Army network capability and capacity so efficiently.”
Since late 2019, the Army has held a series of technical exchange meetings with industry partners to outline Capability Set (CS) 23 design goals, which resulted in nearly 200 industry white paper technology submissions targeted at specific needs outlined in the meetings. Army leaders chose dozens of these vendors to submit demonstration ideas and/or enter into prototype evaluations funded by N-CFT 6.4 research dollars.
Today, in support of CS23, six industry vendors are under contract with the Army, graduating from Phase 1 lab-based prototype efforts to Phase 2, where they are refining their capabilities for potential insertion into field-based experimentation.
“These vendors’ innovative prototype designs are helping the Army inform design decisions for CS23, which will enhance network capacity, resiliency and convergence,” said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Chris Westbrook, senior technical advisor, N-CFT. “As part of the capability set process, which fields new technologies every two years, we plan to place many of these prototypes into the hands of Soldiers this year to obtain valuable feedback for Fiscal Year 23 fielding.”
Outcomes from prototype experimentation and demonstration will help inform capability set design reviews, including the April 2021 Preliminary Design Review, which sets the stage for initial capability set integration. The CS23 Critical Design Review, scheduled for April 2022, will balance technical maturity, operational relevance and affordability of systems, finalize the capability set and authorize production to begin on new systems.
CS23 prototype efforts
The six CS23 Phase 2 efforts focus on six topic areas: Managed Multi-Orbit Satellite Communications (SATCOM), C4ISR/Electronic Warfare Open Suite of Standards (CMOSS) Tactical Radio Waveforms, Unified Network Operations (Cyber Security), Identity Access Management (IADM), Hardened Transport and Communications and Data Fabric.
For the Managed Multi-Orbit SATCOM topic, the Army is seeking solutions that explore the use of managed services for its ever-expanding satellite capabilities. Managed commercial services can lessen resource and budget burdens to the government, while more affordably keeping pace with technology advancements. From this topic solicitation, a promising commercial managed service and technology emerged that provides pathway diversity to mitigate signal overload, which can degrade or deny signal transmission.
The prototype integrates emerging multi-orbit SATCOM technologies and a transport aggregation gateway (TAG) with a managed service business model. Core to the capability is the commercial TAG prototype, which enables load-balancing or blended routing across Low Earth Orbit (LEO), Medium Earth Orbit (MEO), and Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) satellites. It also enables the Army to prioritize the strongest signals to critical mission sets.
“When satellite links either degrade or break, TAG will adjust the traffic to the remaining links to ensure the Soldier never loses connectivity,” said Tyler Cook, Managed Multi-Orbit SATCOM lead for Product Lead Unified Network Capabilities and Integration, Project Manager Tactical Network, under PEO C3T. “If the user is linked using LEO and the signal becomes degraded or jammed, the capability will switch you to MEO, and then if needed to GEO.”
The Army is conducting a Soldier assessment event this month at APG to gain feedback and further refine the TAG prototype to inform CS23 design decisions, Cook said.
Another Phase 2 effort calls for systems that are compliant with CMOSS waveform capability. CMOSS is a uniform open system architecture developed and managed by the C5ISR Center, which will allow fast and flexible capability upgrades at the tactical edge by simply replacing a capability processing card in a standardized modular chassis.
This capability would allow a mounted or command post node-equipped with a CMOSS system to participate in the radio network provided through Capability Set 21.
The selected vendor for this topic developed a CMOSS card that delivers the TSM commercial waveform, which runs on multiple software-defined radios and provides an ad-hoc network with nearby radios, enabling communications to hop from radio to radio for to extend communications and enhance situational awareness.
“The concept of a Universal A-kit is a game-changing approach as it ensures commonality across multiple platforms while allowing for rapid insertion of the latest C4ISR capabilities,” said Jinwoo Park, Strategic Technologies acting branch chief, Technical Management division, PM Tactical Radios, under PEO C3T. “This will enable the Army to keep pace with emerging needs while permitting capabilities that are innovative but unplanned to be quickly implemented.”
Moreover, it will reduce the size, weight and power footprint of C4ISR systems by with shared hardware and software components, and it will save time, money and other logistical burdens associated with retrofits back at depots, Park said.
“In short, it will ensure that our forces are agile in every sense of the word,” he said.
The TSM card is undergoing testing with the vendor at the C5ISR Center Ground Activity, Fort Dix, New Jersey. The Center successfully integrated CMOSS onto a Stryker and tested interoperability between the card and legacy TSM by operating on two-channel leader radios and a single-channel shadow radio.
Two other CS23 capability set topics, Identity and Access Management (IdAM) and a Common data fabric are at the end of Phase 1 and should advance to Phase 2 in the near future. The resulting two-vendor contract linked both topics together because the prototypes submitted provided solutions for both of these capabilities.
“IdAM is a capability that provides checks and balances to ensure the user logging into the system is who they say they are,” said Krupal Kapadia, Systems Engineering branch chief, Technical Management division, PM Mission Command, under PEO C3T. “It also ensures users only have access to the applications and services that they are authorized to use while considering user nationality, the device used to access the data and where the data is being accessed from.”
As the Army moves towards a multi-domain operations approach to warfighting, the requirement to process more data, and faster, increases, Kapadia said.
“The IdAM allows for the segregation of data, whereas the data fabric piece to this topic is the capability that allows the Army to move away from data stovepipes to one that optimizes data sharing with joint and coalition partners,” Kapadia said.
IdAM and data segregation will be especially critical while operating Joint All Domain Command and Control sensor-to-shooter kill chain capabilities, which enable the flow of critical situational awareness and sensor data to connect sensor to shooter, all the way down to the dismounted Soldier, he said.
The Army plans to host more vendor events to introduce each of the next capability sets to industry partners, with leaders maintaining an open-mind approach to encourage innovative submissions.
“We are leading a continuous Army modernization effort to ensure our future warfighters possess the concepts, capabilities and organizational structures they need to dominate a future battlefield,” Westbrook said. ”From the numerous white papers down to the few selected prototypes, we are providing a rigorous and agile method for pivotal and innovative technologies to transition into fully fielded capabilities.”
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.