FORT HOOD, Texas (April, 27, 2021) – The U.S. Army knows that to beat a great power adversary in a multi-domain operational fight, it can’t fight alone. With this in mind, the service is leveraging lessons learned from ongoing multinational warfighter exercises, working side-by-side with coalition forces, to enhance mission partner network interoperability.
“It’s all about fusion and exploiting the technologies we have to gain the advantage and get the upper hand on our adversaries,” said Capt. Lee McMahon, 3rd United Kingdom (U.K.) Division liaison officer embedded with the U.S. Army 11th Signal Brigade, during the recent Warfighter Exercise (WfX) 21-4. “It takes communication and teamwork. Looking forward, it’s [important that we use] common network services and common core applications…and make sure we have a common understanding of which applications are being used and what we are trying to achieve with them.”
As part of the Army’s Development Security Operations (DevSecOps) process to support network modernization capability set development, the service leverages data collection from on-going lab-based experiments and assessments, and Soldier feedback from field-based exercises, such as WfX 21-4 and the upcoming Joint Warfighting Assessment (JWA) 21, to build on its successes and modernize the unified network more rapidly.
This month, the Army conducted WfX 21-4, a major multinational exercise simulating a corps-level battle with U.S., U.K. and French Army tactical divisions, to improve U.S. and coalition network communication interoperability. Thousands of participating troops and support personnel, including III Corps and its subordinate units such as 1st Armored Division and 11th Signal Brigade, were distributed across multiple installations including Fort Hood and Fort Bliss, Texas; with support from units at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
During the exercise, the Army leveraged current network Capability Set (CS) 21 systems and applications -- including the Commercial Coalition Equipment (CCE) network enclave, Common Services-Hub (CS-Hub) and the Command Post Computing Environment (CPCE) -- and flexed them in a coalition Mission Partner Environment, injecting an operational threat with contested cyber and electromagnetic activities (CEMA) to help further develop CS23 and beyond.
CS23, the second installment in the Army’s iterative two-year network modernization capability set acquisition and fielding process, builds upon CS21 advances in more expeditionary and intuitive capabilities toincrease network capacity, convergence and resiliency.
As part of CS21, the Army introduced its versatile CPCE framework to reduce complexity and the amount of hardware in a command post, while improving capability and the common operating picture. CPCE, along with the handheld and mounted computing environments, provides an easy-to-use common operational picture (COP) through a single mission command suite operated and maintained by Soldiers. It provides a software and server hardware framework (common interface, data and services) upon which warfighter applications can be converged and future applications can be built.
During WfX 21-4, U.S. and coalition Soldiers used CPCE to access common collaboration tools and securely share information onto the common operating picture to help the coalition fight as one force.
“Using CPCE’s common operating picture and collaboration tools we are able to harmonize and synchronize activities and actions across the battlefield,” said Maj. Samuel Fadare, communications officer (G6) for III Corps. “As we look at a coalition fight, having that standard set of tools that we all use will decrease the time it takes to enable or achieve interoperability.”
The Army optimized CPCE through DevSecOps to improve responsiveness, add briefing capability and implement network management tools. Additionally, to improve system performance and to mitigate unnecessary data flow over constrained tactical network transport bandwidth, program managers and developers are working to address underlying data analytics, data dissemination and federation associated with the use of CPCE. These major efforts will be key focuses of CS23 development.
At WfX 21.1 in October, Soldiers used the latest CPCE Increment 1 software and indicated the need for feeds from unmanned aerial systems to enhance the commander’s command post purview, and the ability for the G6 communication officers to remove CPCE users if needed. The product office immediately addressed these requests and incorporated changes into future software iterations.
As it will in JWA 21, during the recent WfX 21-4, U.S. Army Soldiers used the CS-Hub to host mission partner enterprise services, such as email, voice over internet protocol, file sharing, chat and video teleconferencing. Integrated with CPCE, the Army’s Tactical Server Infrastructure served as the CS-Hub hardware and hosted additional authorized software from other Army programs of record.
“When we deploy to engage the enemy we are going to have our partners with us -- whether the Five-Eye countries or NATO – using the Mission Partner Network; so we can integrate other countries in with ease using the CS-Hub as the main [collaboration] point,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 James Webb, server technician for III Corps. “It’s going to help us to deploy and engage the enemy and bring other countries in during the fight, so they can jump in, tie right into the network and we can continue to move forward.”
During WfX 21-4, U.S. and coalition partners used the CCE network enclave to securely access and tie into the shared Mission Partner Network. The CCE provided the routing for the CS–Hub. If needed CCE can also be rapidly reconfigured to provide commercial connectivity. Additionally, CCEv4’s integrated Radio Bridging/Voice Crossbanding (RBVC) enables the system to establish multi-nation radio information exchange between telephones, combat FMZ networks, and voice applications.
U.S. Army units also used their ground satellite terminals and high-capacity radios, such as the Terrestrial Transmission Line-Of-Sight Radio, to provide the tactical network transport needed to support the Mission Partner Environment and exchange information across the simulated battlefield. As part of the tactical network architecture, units leveraged the Regional Hub Nodes (RHNs) and Global Agile Integrated Transport (GAIT) network design for long-haul data transport and home station mission command.
GAIT interconnects the RHNs to create a global network mesh that enables high-speed high-capacity data exchange. Commands with dispersed units can maintain mission command and network operations capabilities from their home station or forward-deployed headquarters. Additionally, as they did during WfX 21-4, units can also transport data directly between GAIT Points of Presence without the need to leverage the RHN services.
“Ultimately, the GAIT connection facilitates that colorless [encrypted] connection between us and other units,” Fadare said. “It is essential to how the Army is going to operate in the future.”
As part of the DevSecOps process and to ensure the success of WfX 21-4, the service conducted a series of lab-based risk reduction exercises at the integration facilities at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, which then led to field-based risk reduction exercises onsite with the units. It is doing the same for the upcoming JWA 21 event in late spring, as well as Project Convergence (PC) 21 this fall.
During the JWA 21 exercise, the Army will conduct operational assessments for CPCE, CS-Hub and CCEv4. That data collection will feed into PC 21, the second in a series of exercises to enable Joint All Domain Command and Control. This year’s PC campaign of learning will include a greater emphasis on joint service and mission partner involvement.
Each of these exercises builds on lessons learned to fuel following exercises and to help the Army more rapidly achieve its network modernization goals, including the enhancement of coalition interoperability.
“This warfighter exercise, and exercises like JWA and the Defender series, are all about how we can work together, from a human and a technical perspective, seamlessly and with synergy,” McMahon said. “I think the complexity of this exercise is phenomenal when you consider where we were two years ago, and the same goes with the other exercises, with each one we get better and better.”
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.