Army network builds on Europe lessons, looks to industry for data-centric future

By Claire HeiningerMay 10, 2022

A U.S. Army Paratrooper assigned to 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division talks into a radio microphone during rotation 21-05 at the Joint Readiness Training Center on Fort Polk, La., March 7, 2021. The rotation serves to enhance the...
A U.S. Army Paratrooper assigned to 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division talks into a radio microphone during rotation 21-05 at the Joint Readiness Training Center on Fort Polk, La., March 7, 2021. The rotation serves to enhance the brigade and their supporting unit's deployment readiness. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Justin Stafford) (Photo Credit: Sgt. Justin Stafford) VIEW ORIGINAL

PHILADELPHIA — Russian aggression in Ukraine has reinforced the need for resilient military communications and robust information-sharing with coalition partners, Army leaders said during a network modernization-focused industry exchange meeting held May 9 and 10.

“We must invest in modernization to secure networks, platforms, and data, which will create cyberspace advantage that enriches operations across all domains,” said Brig. Gen. Joseph A. Papenfus, deputy chief of staff, G-6, U.S. Army Europe and Africa, who joined the event virtually from Europe. “Interoperability is the ability to act together, [and] the efforts being discussed at this technical exchange are a great example of how we are stronger together.”

The experiences of U.S. Army units executing support operations in Europe are accelerating the Army’s transition to data-centric operations. These operations see warfighters and technologies working together to synthesize large volumes of data and securely deliver information to support effects at all echelons. As they leverage a combination of military and commercial communications technologies and common operating picture applications and tools, units deployed today are providing real-time feedback on new concepts and capabilities to share data and interact with partners and allies.

“We’re not waiting for the Army of 2030,” said Dr. Raj Iyer, Army Chief Information Officer. “It’s about operationalizing data for today’s fight. If we do that, then we have the confidence to build and scale across the Army for the future.”

Observations from Europe — coupled with outcomes from Project Convergence, other experiments and unit operational exercises in additional theaters such as the Pacific — are feeding the Army’s implementation of a unified network across the full spectrum of doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, facilities and policy, said Lt. Gen. John Morrison Jr., deputy chief of staff, G-6, U.S. Army. The unified network will enable operational units deployed around the world to plug into available network infrastructure, reach back to the enterprise and apply strategic and operational effects such as long-range fires, cyber and electronic warfare, he said.

“Think of the power of that construct,” Morrison said, noting the role of industry in staying ahead of evolving threats as communications technology advances. “Our competitors are watching everything that we do, and they are learning rapidly from us, and jumping ahead in some areas. We can stop that, together.”

Featuring warfighter perspectives from the corps to battalion levels and special operations community alongside senior leader remarks, the Philadelphia technical exchange meeting was the eighth in the Army’s semi-annual series of network modernization-focused industry events.

With more than 350 members of industry attending in person and 400 online, the forum also provided in-depth technical discussions on future network design goals and offered targeted opportunities for industry to submit white papers for potential prototyping contracts. Focus topics included data centricity and data fabric; warfighter feedback across echelons and formations; standards implementation; command post modernization; Unified Network Operations; and aerial tier networking.

For example, during a panel discussion focused on how the Army can implement data-centric operations, Lt. Col. Randall Linnemann, the G-6 for the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), described how his unit is experimenting with emerging cloud capabilities to operate command posts in a much more mobile, agile and dispersed construct than if the command posts were dependent on constant connections to other deployed command posts’ networks.

“If the data goes up to the cloud, when the command post goes offline — whether it’s maneuvering or jumping — we have continuity of operations,” he said.

This approach not only increases resiliency against a potential near-peer adversary aiming to interfere with communications, but also allows users to focus on the specific data required for a mission, and tailor the network accordingly, Linnemann said.

Data centricity also relies on multi-layered security including tailored access controls, data tagging and authentication, which provide the foundation for securely sharing data with mission partners, said Brig. Gen. Jeth Rey, director of the Army Futures Command Network Cross-Functional Team.

“We need industry to bake in cybersecurity into everything we establish or create in the future,” he said. The challenge to industry is how we create the data and tag it at the attribute level.”

The technical exchange meeting zeroed in on Capability Sets, or CS, 25 and 27, which will be the third and fourth in the Army’s iterative series of integrated tactical communications packages for delivery to Soldiers supporting Joint All Domain Command and Control. CS 21 focuses on expeditionary and intuitive capabilities and is now fielding to infantry units, while CS 23 focuses on capacity, resiliency and convergence and extends network modernization to mounted units and the Division level.

With the Army recently locking the design for CS 23 and preparing for final operational demos supporting fielding decisions, now is the time to continue to push for advancements in automation, protection and data centricity to be delivered in CS 25 and CS 27, leaders said.

“We have a tremendous amount of momentum and progress,” said Maj. Gen. Robert Collins, Program Executive Officer for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical, which hosted the event along with the Network Cross-Functional Team and the Combat Capabilities Development Command Command, Control, Computers, Communications, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, or C5ISR, Center. “We in the government cannot do this alone – this is to articulate and be transparent about where we are going.”

The next step will be for industry to submit white papers on specific topics with proposed solutions for Army experts to review. Based on that analysis, the service can then issue select invitations for vendors to execute technology demonstrations prior to down-selecting for potential contract awards.

The strategy will continue to be informed by events in Europe, which have underscored the imperative for “secure and reliable communications, multiple pathways, encryption and securing our data,” said Joseph Welch, C5ISR Center director. “It just drives home the importance of the different sets of technology that will be required when we look at the whole global scale.”