FORT HOOD, Texas (April 23, 2021) – As part of the Army’s two-year interval network capability set acquisition process, the service is conducting early lab-based experimentation and Soldier assessments to inform capability and design requirements needed to modernize its legacy logistics network, which has been operating since 2004.
“Having a network that is able to pass information in a timely manner across all domains, even if those domains are contested, is hugely important, specifically in logistics,” said Brig. Gen. Ronald Ragin, commander for the 13th Expeditionary Sustainment Command. “Logistics is intertwined with our ability to build lethality; without it, nothing moves; you can’t fire a tank if you don’t have the ammunition.”
To support logistics network modernization, Project Manager Tactical Network, at Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T), in coordination with the Network Cross Functional Team (NCF-T) and other Army stakeholders, conducted a three-week Soldier touch point assessment, supported by Soldiers from the 1st Calvary Division and 13th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, in March and early April 2021, at Fort Hood, Texas. During the event Soldiers were trained to setup, operate, and troubleshoot a variety of commercial technologies, including expeditionary ground satellite terminals for global voice, video and data transport, and high-capacity line-of-sight coupled with 4G LTE and wireless capabilities for local network transport. The Soldiers then provided feedback on their experiences with the equipment which will be used to guide future acquisition decisions.
“We are fundamentally transforming how we acquire capability for our Army modernization efforts, and it starts with, and finishes with, a Soldier-centric design,” said Brig, Gen. Robert Collins, program executive officer for C3T. “The Soldier touch point is allowing actual users to come out here and provide their input on various configurations of capability to see what works well and what doesn’t. This event enables us to affect development early in the process, starting with the requirements design, and also to provide early feedback to industry to help them deliver better potential solutions in the future.”
To more rapidly advance logistics network modernization, the Army is implementing Development, Security, Operations (DevSecOps), a term normally used in software development, however, Collins believes the concept also applies to hardware.
“DevSecOps brings together the developer, the user, and the requirements community, early in the process, so instead of having to do all those processes in serial, we do them all parallel, and it dramatically compresses the time in which we can deliver new kit," Collins said.
The main goal of the Soldier touch point was to inform the salient characteristics for the modernized logistics network material solution, which will be known as Sustainment Tactical Network (STN). These characteristics included set up and teardown times, ease of use for a general purpose user, ease of transport, reliability, resiliency, scalability, bandwidth and distance.
The Soldier touch point also incorporated other evolving sustainment technologies and processes such as Prognosis and Predictive Maintenance/Logistics (PPMxL), which automates the collection and analysis of maintenance and logistics data, and Medic Communications for Combat Casualty Care (MC4) emerging capabilities, including tele-health on the battlefield.
The Soldier feedback will help inform near-term Army requirements and future acquisition decisions for the final STN solution.
The Army plans to release a request for proposal to industry in fiscal year (FY) 2022 as part of continued market research to leverage innovative solutions that could best meet STN requirements in an affordable way.
Last summer, PM Tactical Network delivered bridge enhancements across the Army’s fleet of legacy logistics systems to make the current CSS network more resilient until the final STN solution can be fully fielded.
On the current timeline, following future acquisition decisions, the service plans to begin fielding STN capability to units in FY23, as part of Capability Set (CS) 23, the second installment in the Army’s iterative two-year network modernization capability set acquisition and fielding process. CS23 builds upon CS21 advances in expeditionary capabilities and intuitiveness, to increase network capacity, resiliency, and convergence.
“To meet those CS23 goals, we are converging the independent logistics network onto the Army’s robust unified tactical network to gain that capacity and resiliency that we need to enable future multi-domain operations,” said Lt. Col. Natashia Coleman, product lead for Unified Network Capabilities and Integration (PdL UNCI), assigned to Project Manager Tactical Network, which managed and led the STN Soldier Touch Point.
The legacy logistics network, known as the Combat Service Support (CSS) network, runs over a commercial satellite network, completely separate from the Army’s tactical network design. The service is now working to converge the legacy logistics network, as well as legacy medical and intelligence networks, onto its unified tactical network; an effort known as Transport Convergence.
As part of that convergence, the STN ground satellite terminal solution will be integrated with new configurations to enable data exchange over the Army’s Regional Hub Nodes and the Global Agile Integrated Transport (GAIT) network design for worldwide data transport. GAIT creates a worldwide network mesh that enables secure high-capacity data exchange, mission command and network operations between dispersed units and home station.
The eventual modernized and converged STN network will include new baseband, local transport and satellite antenna hardware solutions.
Commercial Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSATs) will provide the tactical network transport needed to enable global data exchange for the Army’s logistics information systems and applications, such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Global Combat Support System-Army (GCSS-Army), Integrated Personnel and Pay System-Army (IPPS-A), Medical Communication for Combat Casualty Care (MC4) and General Fund Enterprise Business Systems (GFEBS).
STN could also potentially include line-of-sight transport and 4G LTE secure wireless to support these systems across a localized logistics support location.
The final STN capability package may not be a one-size-fits-all solution set that contains each satellite, line-of-sight and 4G/LTE wireless element; instead, the Army may choose to scale and tailor solution sets for units according to mission sets, to more affordably meet the needs of different user groups.
To deliver network capability that best meets the needs of the logistics community, PEO C3T, in conjunction with the NCF-T, and numerous Army logistics stakeholders and industry partners, has also been conducting lab-based experimentation at the integration facilities at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, and Fort Huachuca, Arizona. Additionally, to further support STN market research while simultaneously satisfying a current U.S. Army Europe operational needs statement (ONS), PdL UNCI procured a limited number of VSAT satellite terminals, local transport solutions, and associated kit from industry partners to satisfy the ONS, assess requirements and inform the future network design.
Looking forward, the team will also leverage Soldier feedback from future operational field exercises, such as Project Convergence 21 this fall.
During the STN Soldier Touch Point at Fort Hood, several of the Soldiers commented on how proud and grateful they were that the Army was actually listening to them and finding such weight in their input.
“Engineers are not running into the conditions that we are out in the field and forward,” said Staff Sgt. Chase Brown, maintenance and motor pool foreman for 1st Cavalry Division Artillery. “We are the end users, the Soldiers in the field setting it up, operating it, and dealing with those real world challenges. We should have a say.”
-- -- -- -- -- --
The U.S. Army Project Manager Tactical Network is assigned to Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical, which 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.