AUSTIN, Texas – Recognizing and preparing for the increased connectivity that will be required by tomorrow’s Service members is an integral part of Army modernization.
Zeroing in on the need for more rapid and reliable information-sharing within the Army and across the Joint and Multinational Force is the U.S. Army Futures Command Network Cross-Functional Team (NET CFT).
Brig. Gen. Jeth B. Rey, Director of the NET CFT, recently highlighted how highly dynamic, responsive and cross-cutting network capabilities – able to relay mission-critical data and operational updates from multiple domains at the speed of relevance – are indispensable to Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2).
“Our senior leaders support the network as the fundamental underpinning across all modernization efforts,” Rey said. “As we move into Project Convergence, you can see the importance of the network in relation to how we move and share data with our partners to achieve JADC2.”
NET CFT staff at the team’s base in Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, are focused on advancing network command, control, communication and intelligence by assessing and experimenting with state-of-the-art technologies, in order to drive requirements and transitions to accelerate modernization. The team takes into account not just Army needs, but also Joint and Multinational Force interoperability objectives, and recently added British and Australian Army liaison officers to its diverse footprint of Soldiers, Civilians, contractors and subject matter experts.
Among the NET CFT’s priority initiatives is a series of incremental capability sets, with target fielding every two years. These capability sets build upon each other, drawing insights from Army-led experimentation such as Project Convergence along the way, while also keeping pace with emerging threats and the advent of new technologies.
Through the capability set process, the Army plans to support eight Brigade Combat Teams, six Expeditionary Signal Battalions-Enhanced and two Multi-Domain Task Force units with modernized network equipment by the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2022. The Army will also equip more than 300 units with modernized network-enabling technology, such as upgraded mission command and fires applications and servers, modernized cryptographic systems and resilient satellite communications equipment.
The capability set effort by NET CFT and its partners has already initiated an Integrated Tactical Network, which combines program of record and commercial solutions to give commanders network resiliency and multi-path connectivity. In the coming years, the NET CFT will concentrate on progressively increasing network capacity, resiliency and convergence, automating and protecting the network, and achieving multi-domain dominance. These future capability sets – which are scheduled to begin fielding in FY 2023, FY 2025 and FY 2027, respectively – increasingly will focus on the mounted formation and division levels, whose mission requirements and capability needs differ from those of infantry formations at the brigade level and below.
The NET CFT is also working to ensure the Army becomes more data-centric – an objective that will require tactical data fabric.
Data fabric is a technology architecture that securely weaves together information from numerous different sources to provide a unified common operating picture. This intricate, behind-the-scenes framework allows commanders to leverage data from multiple Services, echelons and weapon systems platforms to choose the right effects.
Data fabric has the potential to improve the speed and accuracy of decision-making, including by providing robust data to inform artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities.
By enabling and integrating new capabilities like data fabric, the NET CFT is paving the way for a data-centric, transport-agnostic and highly secure future network capable of identifying and defending against cyber and electromagnetic threats.
To keep up-to-date with the rapidly evolving technologies that could affect development or implementation of such a network, the NET CFT participates regularly in Army-led Technology Exchange Meetings, which provide opportunities to connect with – and invest in – commercial efforts to accelerate promising technologies.
The NET CFT also works closely with the Army Program Executive Office Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T) and the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C5ISR) Center to envision not only what capabilities the Army and Joint Force need, but how they should or could be delivered.
In addition, the NET CFT partners with the Headquarters, Department of the Army G-6 and Chief Information Officer, various Army acquisition and science and technology experts and other CFTs – who rely on a functional network to carry out their activities in the field – to advance Army network research, concepts and technologies.
NET CFT activities such as the capability set series, foundational data fabric effort and future network planning also serve to further progress across four signature network modernization efforts: a unified network, which would be capable of functioning seamlessly in any operational environment; a common operating environment; Joint interoperability and Coalition accessibility; and command post mobility and survivability.
Through these initiatives and others, the NET CFT is modernizing the network iteratively and in close coordination with key partners. In carrying out purposeful engagements with industry and the Soldiers who will serve as the network’s end users, the NET CFT has been able to hone its requirements for a future-savvy Army network.
In addition to big-picture objectives like enabling JADC2, “it’s also great to focus on the user level” when evaluating important network requirements, Rey explained.
“Across all theaters, we are conducting touchpoints with units doing experimentation efforts – including new distributed, cloud-enabled mission command concepts and hybrid approaches with commercial and military equipment sets,” he said.
“It’s just amazing how commanders and units are thinking through the network as the core of how they’re going to fight in the future and informing how we modernize.”
Rey and his team are looking forward to seeing how network advances contribute to Joint and Multinational data-sharing and operational synchronization during the Project Convergence 2022 modernization experiment, which will take place this fall.
During the event, the NET CFT plans to continue honing improvements to data fabric, resilient satellite communications, the aerial tier network and the common operating picture, while also enabling successful network integration across participating partners.