Huntsville, Ala. – On the heels of Project Convergence 2021, FVL and Network CFT directors hosted a panel discussion at the Army Aviation Association of America’s Cribbins Symposium Nov. 17, focusing on the challenges Soldiers face in air-to-ground communications and how experimentation is improving capabilities for the future.

Senior leaders emphasized the role of PC21 in understanding the Army’s current capabilities to move data across the battlefield and the importance of both technology innovation and hands-on experimentation to finding solutions.

“We did a lot of learning with the network we brought,” said Maj. Gen. Walter “Wally” Rugen, FVL CFT director. “Everything was not flawlessly executed.”

Rugen and Brig. Gen. Jeth Rey, Network CFT director, both noted the role of the aerial tier at PC21 in improving the range and resiliency of the network. Data and feedback from PC21 will support additional experimentation with the aerial tier and air-ground communications in the coming year.

The end goal, Rey said, is a future in which battlefield systems are transport-agnostic: resilient and adaptable to move data across multiple communications pathways on the ground and in the air.

“We need to have data-centric environments…[and] move data to the point of need,” he said. “I can’t buy all the bandwidth off of each satellite constellation. We have to build out the best, most robust transport. It has to be resilient, reliant, and it has to be able to move data fast and to where we need it, so commanders can make informed decisions.”

Ward Roberts, acting deputy Program Executive Officer, Command, Control, Communications-Tactical, said shifting the way the Army has traditionally done business in developing and fielding network systems for individual applications and platforms is imperative to interoperability and supporting the future fight.

“In the past we get requirements from one customer, and we generate one solution that works with one piece of the fight,” he said during the panel. “We are changing that mindset to stop the stovepiped requirements from going to the stovepiped units.”

Lt. Col. Jonathan Mulder, chief of Systems Integration Management Office for U.S. Special Operations Aviation Command, said harnessing the amount of data available to pilots and crew and processing some of it autonomously is a key component to future success.

“Our crews can only access about 20 percent of [data] at any one point, because there’s so much of it.” Mulder said. “We need software that takes information from every sensor on board, processes it, potentially autonomously, and then we take that system to the things we’re doing at Project Convergence. We share that information, that tactical data, and doing it securely will help decision-makers make those decisions quicker and more timely in order to be relevant on the battlefield.”

Rugen and Rey acknowledged the challenges ahead in synchronizing data and moving it to the point of need in a secure and timely way among all the services, but stressed that experimentation and partnering with industry and government can accomplish the mission.

“We can and must get data from our pilots to our fighters on the ground, and all for the sole purpose of what truly only ground forces can do, and that’s to seize terrain,” Rugen said. “You’re going to need to do that in whatever theater you’re fighting in the future.”