FORT BRAGG, N.C. — In line with the Army’s recently released Unified Network Plan to posture the force for future multi-domain operations, the new Phoenix E-Model ground satellite terminal will provide network transport diversity, greater mobility and enhanced operational flexibility.
As part of the Army’s scalable Expeditionary Signal Battalion-Enhanced (ESB-E) Capability Set (CS) 21 baseline equipment package, the Phoenix E-Model will soon serve as the large ground satellite terminal for ESB-E formations, in addition to the units’ smaller Scalable Network Node (SNN) terminals, further expanding communication capacity and flexibility. The versatile quad-band Phoenix E-Model will enable ESB-Es, as well as Multi-Domain Task Force formations, to deliver expeditionary, high-bandwidth network connectivity to large division, corps, and taskforce-size headquarters.
“It’s about scalability,” said Lt. Col. Mallory Wampler, commander of the 50th ESB-E, 35th Corps Signal Brigade. “We are fighting as divisions again, and the depth of the corps battlespace is where Phoenix E-Model comes in.”
This winter, the Army’s Project Manager Tactical Network, at the Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T), will field the Phoenix E-Model to the first unit, the 50th ESB-E, which was also the first unit to be equipped with the initial CS21 ESB-E equipment package. The 50th ESB-E served as the pilot unit for the entire ESB-E effort, including the Phoenix E-Model development, providing feedback to inform design and fielding decisions to modernize the Army’s ESB formations. Compared to previous capabilities, the new ESB-E beyond-line-of-sight and line-of-sight communications systems are smaller, lighter and faster to deploy and set up, easier to operate, and together provide increased network communication Primary, Alternate, Contingency and Emergency (PACE) plan options.
The Army began fielding the first few ESB-Es with the initial ESB-E equipment package in fiscal year 2021, and the program office will continue to field a few ESB-Es per fiscal year until all of its 23 ESBs have been upgraded to the full CS21 baseline capability. The Army’s agile 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 if Soldier feedback warrants it or if emerging technologies become mature enough to be procured.
“When the Army leaned into the 50th ESB-E to provide Soldier feedback to help modernize the current Phoenix system, it had several things in mind — the terminal needed to be modular and scalable, expeditionary, and enable signal path diversity in network contested and congested environments,” said Lt. Col. NaTasha Wayne, product manager for Satellite Communications, Project Manager Tactical Network. “We relied heavily on Soldier feedback to support continual industry enhancements to deliver a system that meets all of these goals.”
In the configuration of the current Phoenix D-Model components are integrated onto the vehicle platform, but the modular new E-Model is transit case-based. If needed, Soldiers can completely remove all of the equipment from the vehicle and easily deploy and operate the system without the vehicle to support a variety of different missions around the world.
“ESB-E operations are really fast-paced,” said Spc. Austin Kersey, 50th ESB-E network systems operator, during a recent Phoenix E-Model user demonstration. “We have to be able to get where a unit needs us to be in a quick manner, to deploy quickly, get our systems up quickly, and get all users what they need, when they need it, as soon as we can. I have seen the changes the Army has made with these systems [to support that], and Soldiers are actually being listened to.”
Led by Project Manager Tactical Network, the Phoenix E-Model user demonstration, supported again by the 50th ESB-E, concluded in early November, at Fort Bragg. The month-long demonstration was the culminating assessment in a series of operational and developmental tests aimed to ensure that the Phoenix E-Model met all threshold requirements prior to official delivery and fielding. The event provided the ideal opportunity for the program office to verify previously implemented design changes made through the interval Soldier-centric design process.
“The Army’s Unified Network Plan requires our hardware, software, and Soldiers to enable a secure and survivable network,” Wampler said during the user demo. “Transport diversity is critical to the success of the future force. We must assume our near peer adversaries will challenge mission command and create a denied environment for commanders to operate within. That being said, the number of modems in the Phoenix E-Model allows us to tie into any Army network with any band; the opportunities are endless.”
In addition to operating on traditional Geosynchronous Earth Orbit satellites, the Army is also assessing the potential to leverage the Phoenix E-Model to operate on emerging commercial Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) constellations. MEO satellite capability is expected to provide significant reduction in network latency and an order of magnitude increase bandwidth, as well as adding signal path options for contested or congested network environments.
The Army assessed the potential Phoenix E-Model MEO capability during the Project Convergence 21 network modernization exercise in October and November at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, and Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington. The Project Convergence series of exercises supports capability set development and the improvement of Joint All Domain Command and Control. In preparation for the event, the Army assessed the Phoenix E-Model’s MEO capability during a lab-based risk reduction event in July, at the Joint Engineering Satellite Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. The service will continue to experiment with the terminal’s MEO capability to inform capability set design and fielding decisions.
“Having a survivable network, something that is less contested by an adversary, being able to provide mission command in a denied environment because of the advantages that come from leveraging MEO is going to be a win for the Army,” Wampler said. “Transport diversity is something that every S6 (communications officer) requires in order to provide commanders with the network communications and common operating picture that they need for decision dominance. The Phoenix E-Model, in combination with the rest of our ESB-E kit, will help us obtain that.”
The U.S. Army Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical, or PEO C3T, 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.