ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND (APG), Md. (April 28, 2021) – The Army continues to leverage its rapid two-year Capability Set acquisition and fielding process to incrementally modernize its network to enable Multi-Domain Operations against any adversary.
Capability Set 2023 (CS23) gets after enhancing network resiliency, capacity and convergence; and several innovative managed multi-orbit satellite communications (SATCOM) prototypes, from both military and industry, could potentially deliver all three.
The Army is looking at simple and intuitive solutions that provide commercially managed multi-orbit SATCOM services for operational tactical Army units, with the ability to blend and transfer network traffic seamlessly between evolving high-capacity Low Earth Orbit (LEO), Medium Earth Orbit (MEO), and Geosynchronous (GEO) satellite constellations.
“Signal pathway diversity is one of the most critical elements to a resilient network, especially in congested or contested network environments,” said Lt. Col. Natashia Coleman, product lead for Unified Network Capabilities and Integration (PdL UNCI), at Project Manager (PM) Tactical Network, Program Executive Office Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T). “Having that ability to leverage SATCOM in multiple constellations and orbits, seamlessly to the user, gives us more routing choices to enable uninterrupted data exchange on the battlefield.”
The Army anticipates the proliferation of LEO and MEO and High-Throughput GEO satellite capabilities to deliver expeditionary, mobile, beyond-line-of-sight communications with increased bandwidth and low latency to better enable reliable robust data exchange. When signals are lost with one constellation, whether unintentional or through enemy jamming, they can be rerouted to other pathways, protecting units against loss of situational awareness and mission command during critical battle movement.
As part of continuing market research to inform CS23 network modernization decisions on potential Managed Multi-Orbit SATCOM Services, PM Tactical Network, in conjunction with the Network Cross Functional Team (N-CFT), conducted a Soldier assessment in March 2021 to obtain early feedback on one potential solution that was provided industry, at the Joint SATCOM Engineering Center, at APG. The assessment was supported by Soldiers from the 112th Special Operations Signal Battalion, 528th Sustainment Brigade. The team is working with industry to use the feedback to further enhance the system for potential future field-based experimentation.
“We worked closely with the vendor to improve the prototype after both the Phase I lab-based PM assessments in October 2020, and the recent Phase II experimentation and demonstrations with the Soldiers,” said Tyler Cook, PdL UNCI’s project lead for Managed Multi-orbit SATCOM. “Providing lab and Soldier feedback early and often in development speeds the acquisition process and ultimately provides better capability for the Army.”
The industry-provided prototype integrates emerging high-capacity multi-orbit technologies and a transport aggregation gateway (TAG) into a managed service business model. For a couple of years now, the Army has been looking at various degrees of commercially managed SATCOM services – including hardware, software, bandwidth, network traffic aggregation and management, and sustainment support – to reduce resource and budget burdens, and more affordably keep pace with technology.
The TAG is the prototype’s core system, and the Army is assessing its ability to seamlessly blend data rates from LEO, MEO and GEO constellations, as well as other transport means such as Long Term Evolution (LTE) and line-of-sight radios, with the potential to leverage the increased combined throughput of all.
Following the Army’s rapid two-year interval CS23 acquisition model, this Managed Multi-Orbit SATCOM Services prototype, one of several solutions under Army consideration, successfully transitioned forward from the Technical Exchange Meeting (TEM) 4, held in November 2019. PdL UNCI received over 20 white papers to support this TEM 4 Topic. Following in-depth technical evaluations of each paper, the Army chose two industry partners to provide “Shark Tank” like demos in March 2020. Of these, one was chosen to move forward in the Phase I (lab-based) and Phase II (Soldier-based) assessments.
This technology, and others, were discussed at this month’s the CS23 Preliminary Design Review. Pathway diversity capabilities will continue to be developed and assessed at other experimentation events such as the Army’s NetModX, Project Convergence21, unit pilots, etc. Following the field-based experimentation, the CS23 Critical Design Review, scheduled for spring 2022, will balance technical maturity, operational relevance and affordability of systems, finalize the capability set and authorize production to begin on new systems.
“The TEM process is a great opportunity to explore with industry and Soldiers the maturity and capability of commercial technologies early on,” said Mark Mitcham, N-CFT Unified Network Deputy and Program Integration Specialist. “The process enables the Army to team with industry to efficiently deliver new capabilities to units and enhance the Army’s ability to execute Multi-Domain Operations. This particular capability could potentially increase our tactical communications resiliency for Joint All Domain Command and Control.”
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.