FORT HOOD, Texas (May 5, 2021) – The Army completed fielding a new smaller, tailorable and scalable tactical network transport equipment set to the 57th Expeditionary Signal Battalion-Enhanced, in April, at Fort Hood, making it the second unit to be converted to this enhanced signal formation.
“In Multi-Domain Operations, we [as an ESB-E] need to be able to move at the speed of the Warfighter,” said Lt. Col. Kemielle Smith, commander for the 57th ESB-E, 11th Theater Tactical Signal Brigade. “When we hit the ground, we need to be able to provide network communications to the units we support within minutes, and with this new equipment, we are able to do that.”
The Army’s commercial ESB-E Capability Set (CS) 21 baseline equipment package includes the new medium ground satellite terminal and baseband kit – the Scalable Network Node (SNN) – which replaces the unit's legacy at-the-halt tactical network transport equipment, formally known as Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T). The reduced size and system complexity of the SNN enables the ESB-E to significantly increase its network support to other units with more nodes and less manpower, while reducing transportation requirements by over 60 percent.
Smith said that he was a young signal Soldier when his assigned unit was first fielded with the legacy WIN-T Joint Network Node – a vehicle-based system that requires military aircraft or ship transport when deployed. Now years later, as an ESB-E commander, he feels as if he has come full circle. Just two weeks after his unit was fielded with the new SNN, he was able to rapidly send several teams on a commercial charter bus with their equipment stored in the cargo hold, to support Warfighter Exercise 21-03, at Fort Riley, Kansas.
“If I had one thing to highlight about this kit is its rapid deployability,” Smith said. “It allows us to strategically move equipment, even on a commercial airplane if needed, without having to worry about a train, a plane, or a boat stopping us from getting our job done.”
The ESB-E’s agile network tool suite is also tailorable and scalable with different sized satellite communication systems to enable support to different sized units, from teams to corps elements, in a wide variety of mission sets.
“Until now, our units were limited in their ability to scale equipment to meet mission requirements, but this new kit provides that needed flexibility,” Smith said.
Following WfX 21-3, the 57th ESB-E was also on deck to deploy its new equipment on a moment’s notice to support III Corps Headquarters forward Tactical Command Post (TAC) during WfX 21-4 in April at Fort Hood, Texas, although the unit did not end up being called in. However, the 57th ESB-E will deploy the tool suite again during upcoming multi-national exercises later this year.
The Army’s Project Manager (PM) Tactical Network, at the Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T), wrapped up the 57th ESB-E fielding of the CS 21 systems in April, with the fielding completion of the inflatable Transportable Tactical Command Communications (T2C2) satellite terminal. Additionally, the PM had previously fielded the high-throughput Terrestrial Transmission Line Of Sight (TriLOS) Radio, which provides signal path diversity in congested and contested environments, and Secure Wireless for rapid command post set up and tear down.
The toolkit also includes the innovative Unified Unclassified Enclave (U2E). This new system consolidates numerous unclassified hardware enclaves onto a single multi-purpose unclassified hardware platform, with all the appropriate levels of security separation and using encryption standards that exceed National Security Agency requirements.
On the current plan, PM Tactical Network will field several ESB-Es per fiscal year until all of the Army’s 23 ESBs have been upgraded to the new baseline capability. The PM will begin fielding the next unit, the 44th ESB stationed in Germany, later this year.
The Army’s agile ESB-E acquisition and fielding approach aligns with its two-year incremental Capability Set fielding process, which will allow the service to enhance the ESB-E baseline capability in future capability sets if Soldier feedback warrants it, or when evolving commercial technologies become mature enough to be procured.
“It’s all about ensuring that the Army’s ESB-E formations have the most advanced communications technologies possible to enable the unit’s they support to have the situational awareness they need to defeat a great power enemy,” said Lt. Col. Natashia Coleman, product lead for Unified Network Capabilities and Integration, at PM Tactical Network.
In line with the Capability Set development, the Army leveraged Development Security Operations, (DevSecOps) process, including early industry collaboration, informed experimentation in operational and lab environments, and continual Soldier input from training, field exercises, and real-world unit support, to inform decisions on ESB-E capability, unit formation, and tactics, techniques and procedures.
Also fielded this year, the first unit equipped, the 50th ESB-E, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, served as the ESB-E pilot unit, with three of its companies providing feedback on different sets of commercial prototype network transport equipment. The year-long pilot informed Army design and fielding decisions on how to best modernize legacy ESBs. During the pilot, the 50th ESB-E successfully used prototype equipment to provide communications support during approximately 60 training exercises and real-world unit support in over 15 countries, including two real-world Immediate Response Force missions.
Staff Sgt. Dylan Carmichael, SNN operator for Charlie Company, 57th ESB-E, said that the new equipment will enable his battalion to better support units in Multi-Domain Operations, where they will need to constantly relocate, or jump, to outmaneuver the enemy. During his unit’s last combat training center rotation, his team jumped 11 times, hauling its legacy network equipment to new locations on the battlefield.
“You really don’t realize how big a deal size is until you have to jump with your equipment 11 times,” Dylan said. “Looking back, if we had done the same thing with an SNN, it would have been a completely different story; it would have taken no time at all. In today’s war, units have to be able to communicate from one side of the world to the other, proficiently, securely and quickly. This equipment definitely allows that to happen at a much faster pace than I have seen in the past.”
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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.