NEW CASTLE, Del. — The Army is converting its expeditionary signal battalions, or ESBs, to modernized ESB-Enhanced formations, fielding them with a smaller, scalable, yet more capable network equipment set to better support today’s complex kinetic battlefield environments. The Delaware Army National Guard 198th ESB-Enhanced is the first Guard unit to be converted to a so-called ESB-E and the sixth unit overall.
“This new lighter, faster, more mobile network equipment can be rapidly deployed,” said Lt. Col. Linden Boyer, commander of the 198th ESB-E. “It will enable us to get out to a location, set the equipment up and provide network communications to our subscribers much faster than ever before.”
The ESB-E mission is to provide or augment global network connectivity to other Army units that don’t have the robust network communications equipment organically in their formations.
The reduced size and system complexity of this new modular, transit-case based equipment enables ESB-Es to significantly increase their network support to other units with more nodes and less manpower, while reducing transportation requirements by over 60 percent. The modernized commercial network tool suite is also tailorable and scalable to enable the ESB-Es to support different sized units in a wide variety of mission sets.
“ESB-E teams can rapidly deploy with absolutely relevant network equipment at any point in time in any location; that’s power for the entire U.S. Army. They are the connecting life blood for the tactical formation,” said Maj. Gen. Anthony Potts, program executive officer for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical, or PEO C3T, which acquires and fields the ESB-E kit.
PEO C3T is currently training the 198th ESB-E on the Scalable Network Node satellite antenna and baseband equipment at different National Guard sites in Delaware. Earlier this year the office fielded the unit with additional beyond line-of-sight and new high-capacity line-of-sight transport systems, secure Wi-Fi and commercial coalition equipment.
The variety of terrestrial and satellite network transport systems in the ESB-E equipment set provides signal path diversity for enhanced resiliency in congested and contested environments, a critical capability to combat against increasing electronic warfare threats.
“This [fielding] is a big deal, not only for our troops at the company level, but for our state,” said Maj. Gen. Michael Berry, adjutant general for Delaware. “You can see the Soldiers’ enthusiasm; anytime you can make their job easier, [their kit] lighter and more mobile, they are ecstatic about moving forward. I’m really excited to hear their feedback and for the opportunity [to inform further] improvements.”
In 2018, the Army made a calculated pivot, moving away from large static forward command post operations as seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, to smaller, highly mobile command post operations to better fight against potential sophisticated enemies in Europe and the Pacific. This pivot spurred the service to modernize its signal battalions to make them, and the command posts they support, more mobile and survivable.
Boyer’s unit deployed with its former much heavier tactical network transport equipment in 2013 and again in 2019, providing network communications support to units in Afghanistan and other U.S. Central Command locations. It took more time and resources to prepare, deploy and initialize the ESB’s original equipment, Boyer said.
“It could take a couple of days to get it set up correctly,” Boyer said. “But this new kit can be set up in minutes, and I definitely see that as an advantage as we get ready for the next fight [against a potential peer or near-peer adversary],” Boyer said.
The Army’s agile ESB-E acquisition and fielding approach aligns with its two-year iterative network modernization capability set design and fielding process, enabling the service to enhance the ESB-E baseline capability in future capability sets if Soldier feedback warrants it, or when evolving commercial technologies become mature enough to be procured. On the current plan, the Army will field several ESB-Es per fiscal year until all of the Army’s ESBs have been upgraded to the new baseline capability.
“The key to the ESB-E modernization effort is the continual feedback we receive from each unit, which we use to inform decisions to modify things like basis of issue, new equipment training and fielding, and Soldier-centric design changes to the kit,” said Col. Shane Taylor, project manager for Tactical Network, PEO C3T. “Since this is the first Army National Guard unit we are fielding, we can garner their unique perspective to make additional improvements if needed.”
Looking forward to future capability sets, the Army is leveraging lessons learned from units, including ESB-Es, which are supporting real world operations, training and deliberate experimentation efforts in Europe and the Pacific, to inform future network resiliency enhancements. These include emerging high-throughput, low-latency multi-orbit capabilities that increase signal path diversity even further.
The Army is also looking to automate primary, alternate, contingency and emergency signal path options and bandwidth aggregation capabilities to enable optimum network transport and bandwidth that is seamless to the user.
“The Army’s has asked us to move faster in our modernization efforts than ever before and that is a great thing, but it is also a challenge,” Potts said to the unit. “Tell us what is good and what didn’t work so well. This partnership is more important than you may imagine. You make the difference for the next unit and the next unit after that.”