FORT MYER, Va. (May 4, 2021) – With fielding of the Army’s modernized tactical communications network to infantry units now underway, the service is looking ahead to the next upgrade – extending new technology to Stryker formations while increasing overall network capacity, resiliency and convergence.
Army modernization leaders recently approved the preliminary baseline for Capability Set 23, a package of integrated hardware and software systems that is progressing through experimentation and testing in preparation for fielding to Soldiers beginning in Fiscal Year 2023.
Capability Set (CS) 23 is the second installment in the Army’s iterative two-year network modernization acquisition and fielding process. It builds upon the previous CS 21, which is currently fielding to select Infantry Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs), by adding improved communications capabilities for command posts, mounted formations, and dismounted Soldiers.
“When we finished fielding the first CS 21 BCT, we were able to witness some of the tremendous effectiveness it provided that operational unit, and we got a lot of insight and experience under our belt as we move into Capability Set 23,” said Brig. Gen. Robert Collins, Army program executive officer for Command, Control, and Communications-Tactical.
Network modernization remains a key Army modernization priority, enabling the speed, range and convergence required to achieve decision dominance and overmatch against near-peer adversaries.
To achieve those objectives, the Army sets a series of design goals for each Capability Set, aligned to four overall lines of effort: Unified Network, Common Operating Environment, Joint Interoperability/ Coalition Accessible, and Command Post Mobility/Survivability. Service leaders then evaluate candidate systems – including programs of record, prototypes, emerging industry capabilities, and science and technology efforts – against those design goals while prioritizing affordability, operational needs, requirements, and technical maturity.
“We are iterating and adjusting the design based on technology that’s real, it’s tangible, it’s going to be ready and readily available,” said Maj. Gen. Peter Gallagher, director of the Army Network Cross Functional Team. “Affordability is a big emphasis, because we have to be able to field this capability to our formations at the right scale and distribution to make a difference.”
The Army’s tactical network is provided by a diverse mix of systems ranging from satellites to radios to mission command systems and software, linked through various pathways to enable rapid and secure communications in expeditionary environments. Operationally, the network connects sensors to shooters and delivers the information that allows commanders and Soldiers to understand the situation at hand and decide what to do next. It is foundational to delivering other modernized capabilities in the priority areas of long range precision fires, next generation combat vehicles, future vertical lift, air and missile defense, and Soldier lethality.
The Capability Set 23 preliminary design review, completed on April 27 and briefed to senior leaders this week, identified the system of systems baseline that will continue through operational experimentation and Soldier touchpoints to further refine the equipment package prior to a formal critical design review next spring and fielding in 2023. Several of these events will involve the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, which is pioneering the modernized network for Stryker platforms and will be the first unit fielded with CS 23.
The CS 23 baseline will also continue to evolve through ongoing experimentation with industry technologies, which the Army identifies through network-focused technical exchange meetings and other forums. It will also be shaped by major operational exercises that involve the joint services, like this fall’s Project Convergence 21, an experiment at Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz. that maximizes learning opportunities for operational commanders as they incorporate emerging joint technologies, artificial intelligence-enabled decision aid agents, and innovative network solutions in realistic combat scenarios.
“This design is not the end-all, be-all – it’s a guidepost,” said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Chris Westbrook, senior technical advisor for the Network Cross Functional Team. “Technology emerges so quickly, and we will continue in the DevOps mindset to have inject points into the Capability Set before execution.”
In addition to delivering the modernized network on Stryker platforms, Capability Set 23 will begin characterization of these technologies with armored brigade combat teams (ABCTs) and platforms, to support ABCT fielding beginning with Capability Set 25.
For command posts, CS 23 enhances on-the-move communications for maneuver at the brigade and battalion level. It increases resiliency with anti-jamming and electronic warfare protection for continued operations in contested environments, and enables mounted Soldiers to maintain connectivity while transitioning between on the move platforms and dismounted operations.
At the dismounted Soldier level, CS 23 will improve situational awareness, voice and data message exchange, and reachback by strengthening the terrestrial radio network with additional waveforms while adding expeditionary air-to-ground network integration.
Across echelons, the capability set adds network capacity and bandwidth, and supports convergence between Army mission command systems and with joint systems through an initial tactical data fabric that enables data discovery and synchronization to break down barriers between silos and multiple warfighting functions.
Along with approving the initial CS 23 system of systems baseline, experimentation plan, and other supporting schedule activities, a final purpose of the preliminary design review was to confirm the deferral of select design goals to future capability sets. Based on analysis of technology readiness, requirements, and available funding, these improvements will be introduced in Capability Set 25 and beyond.
“Network modernization is an iterative process, with fielding, experimentation, and development happening in parallel for multiple Capability Sets at the same time,” Collins said. “There is a lot of capability coming on board with CS 23 – usable capability to put into the hands of Soldiers. There is still a lot of work to bring it to fruition, and the team is on a deliberate and comprehensive path to get there.”