WASHINGTON D.C. (March 28, 2022) – During several panels at last week’s Satellite 2022 industry symposium in Washington D.C., Army network modernization leaders laid out their priorities for current tactical network modernization and the future network of 2030. Network resiliency remained a common thread between them.
“If you look at recent current events and at our competitors, we have to be prepared for that type of environment. The time is now,” said Maj. Gen. Robert Collins, program executive officer for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T). “We as an Army are embracing a more agile and iterative acquisition process; using open systems architectures to bring in new solutions faster to keep pace with the threat; and bringing Soldiers and the user community together to test-drive capability and ensure Soldier-centric designs.”
In support of Army’s network modernization efforts, “we are laser focused on three things: data, multi-path transport agnostic capabilities, and security,” Collins said.
Information and rapid data exchange will enable accelerated decision dominance in multi-domain operations against great power competitors. Being able to rapidly and reliably transport data at the point of need will increase survivability, lethality and ultimately, mission success, leaders said. This future data-centric environment will require increased network resiliency and security.
Transport Agnostic Solutions
One of many ways the Army is enhancing network resiliency – offsetting congested and contested network environments, including electronic warfare and cyber threats – is to deliver modernized communications solutions that are self-healing and transport agnostic. The more pathway options that exist for data to travel through, the more resilient the network becomes. Adaptive network connections will determine the optimal signal path for any given moment to enable rapid and reliable data transfer. Future transport agnostic solutions will include both satellite and terrestrial communications capabilities to support strong primary, alternate, contingency and emergency (PACE) options, enabling uninterrupted global data exchange down to the edge of the battlefield.
“From a transport perspective, one the biggest opportunities is the Army’s instantiable appetite for data, at all levels,” said Col. Shane Taylor, project manager for Tactical Network, PEO C3T. “To facilitate that, we need transport agnostic capabilities that can leverage all possible communications pathways, all orbits, and terrestrial communications, and do that seamlessly, without overpopulating data everywhere.”
Emerging commercial high-throughput, low-latency satellite communications capabilities in low and medium Earth orbits will augment the Army’s commercial and military satellite capabilities in the traditional geosynchronous Earth orbit. Through the Army’s capability set network modernization process, the service can iteratively deliver a transport agnostic network architecture that leverages these developing multi-orbit solutions based on technological maturity and viability. Affordability is also important in design decisions, leaders said. Initial high-throughput, low-latency SATCOM will be included in Capability Set 23, with additional capabilities expected to be mature enough to support CS25 designs. These and multiple terrestrial transmission capabilities such as high-throughput radio mesh networks, will be critical to PACE in the Army’s network of 2030.
Underpinning future transport agnostic solutions is the ability for Soldiers to manage them seamlessly through auto-PACE features. The Army is experimenting with several resilient SATCOM solutions that will provide auto-PACE and aggregation, including prototyping efforts that can blend and transfer network traffic from different constellations and other transport means.
To maintain current readiness, wherever possible, the Army’s initial intent is to maximize its ability to leverage multiple pathways with current systems that are already fielded. In the future, the service is looking to deliver multi-beam, multi-band and multi-constellation ground satellite terminal solutions that could also leverage terrestrial transport PACE capabilities.
“We want to deliver as much network resiliency and protection as possible, and we want to do that with less kit,” Taylor said. “Looking forward, we want to be able to use the same ground terminal to support all different constellations, without having to swap out feed horns and leverage other terrestrial communications without multiple antennas.”
Taylor added that in the past, more Signal Soldiers were dedicated to manage the network and its assets, but in the future more communications assets will be delivered down to lower echelons at the edge, to Soldiers with little or no signal training. In response, the Army will ensure that equipment solutions are as easy to use as possible for those general purpose users.
Network security will play a heavy role in the data-centric environment of the Army’s network of 2030, and the Army is increasing both data protection and transmission security to support its network modernization efforts.
As part of these network security initiatives, the Army is looking at a zero trust security model leveraging identity credentialing systems that render data
based on the need to know. This model requires the ability to tag data to determine who is authorized to access it, so only authenticated and authorized users and devices could access certain applications and data. In support of this vision, as part of the service’s Unified Network Operations program, a new software system called Identity Credentialing and Access Management, or ICAM, will provide that security authentication and management, providing access to the right operators while preventing adversarial access. ICAM program of record development is scheduled to start in fiscal year 2025.
The Army’s network security nirvana would be to have the ability to tag everything at the data level and then simply rely on colorless network transport, leaders said. The service will continue to work toward that goal, but in the meantime, it is ramping up the protection of network transport through transmission security and endpoint security solutions.
“We want to be transport agnostic; we want those multiple bands; we want them simultaneous with auto-PACE; but we also want to take away the complexity at the transport layer and move it to the data layer, and allow us to use the transport layer freely to move data around,” said Brig. Gen. Jeth Rey, director for the Network Cross Functional Team, Army Futures Command. “If we are going to use zero trust and secure the data layer, then identity management and attribute based access control has to play into that.”
As the Army becomes more mobile and dispersed in its operations, leaders said that security, resiliency and common data, as well as expeditionary solutions, will all be critical to network designs and will drive network modernization efforts. As part of its capability set process, the service is collaborating with industry to address these priorities and transition commercial products into the military environment, leveraging Soldier feedback along the way to ensure Soldier-centric designs that will provide a competitive advantage.
“When troops are in contact, they are going to fight with every resource they have,” Rey said. “Having those multiple paths and auto-PACE is going to get us what we need to be successful in the battlespace.”