The U.S. Army is leveraging the global operational landscape and multi-national training exercises as real-world “laboratories” to rapidly enhance network resiliency and keep ahead of potential challenges, such as the electronic warfare and cyber threats observed on both sides of the fence in the war in Ukraine.
“We have a front row seat to the largest land war in Europe since World War II … and we are learning a lot watching everything unfold. We are also experimenting here, in this kind of lab, moving around other countries’ terrain,” said Lt. Col. Randy Linnemann, signal officer (G6) for the 101st Airborne (Air Assault) Division, which deployed to Europe in June 2022 for the first time since WWII. “One of the pieces we are working on is optimizing for denied, disrupted, intermittent and low bandwidth network environments.”
The Army is accelerating experimentation and the use of commercial prototype capabilities worldwide, specifically in Europe and the Pacific, to inform the rapid and continued integration of emerging technologies into the unified network and retain technological overmatch against potential near peer adversaries.
Close partnerships between Army units; the Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T); the Army Futures Command’s Network-Cross Functional Team and C5ISR Center; Training and Doctrine Command and numerous Army and industry stakeholders are enabling deployed Soldiers in these areas of responsibility to experiment with evolving network technologies, to successfully operate and exchange critical data in limited and constrained network environments with increasing network resiliency and security, while enhancing the network for distributed operations.
Feedback from these efforts will support future Army network modernization Capability Set (CS) decisions.
“We continue to learn from previous and current experiences and [experimentation],” said XVIII Airborne Corps Commander, Lt. Gen. Christopher Donahue, during the Army’s Technical Exchange Meeting (TEM) 9 with industry in Nashville, Tennessee, last month. “How can we [use data] to understand what's going on [on the battlefield] and make better decisions? How do we prepare all of the data on a single pane of glass, while being mobile and survivable? As we look out and see what our adversaries are able to do and what we think we're going to need to do going into the future … we are organizing to have the right cloud infrastructure, the right networks and the right ability to do something [significant] with that data.”
Army pilots and experimentation in Europe and the Pacific are enabling distributed command and control (C2) through tactical edge cloud access and resilient automated-primary, alternate, continency and emergency (Auto-PACE) communications, which include commercial high-throughput, low latency (HT/LL) multi-band multi-orbit transport. Auto-PACE and HT/LL multi-orbit satellite communication capabilities are foundational elements for distributed C2 and tactical edge cloud computing, especially in denied, disrupted, intermittent and low bandwidth network environments.
AGNOSTIC AUTOMATED TRANSPORT DIVERSITY
“As we move away from counterinsurgency missions, and with what we are learning in Europe and with the pivot to the Pacific, the threat is very different; we face much more sophisticated adversaries. Therefore, we are focused on resiliency in our transport options,” said Col. Shane Taylor, project manager for tactical network, at PEO C3T.
One way the Army is enhancing network resiliency is through automated agnostic transport diversity, significantly increasing the number of network communication pathways available to units. The more pathway options that exist for data to travel through, the more resilient the network becomes.
"So, if we run into constraints with one of our links, we have other links that we can use,” Taylor said. “We're talking line-of-sight, beyond-line-of-sight, fiber, host nation 5G; we're talking all of the above. However, just as important as the additive transport options, we are also looking at how we seamlessly integrate and automate so that we reduce the complexity at the edge."
Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) deployed in Europe are working closely with PEO C3T and multiple Army stakeholders to pilot one potential Auto-PACE prototype, developed by the Army’s science and technology community, which enables the simultaneous use of all of the unit’s available data transport paths. This capability increases bandwidth through aggregation, quick detection of link outages and rapid, automated self-healing. Adaptive network connections determine the optimal signal path at any given moment to enable rapid and reliable data transfer, and the automated changeover to different PACE options is seamless to the edge user, so Soldiers can focus on the fight.
Feedback from the unit will inform initial A-PACE and HT/LL multi-orbit satellite communications capability supporting CS23 and more advanced capabilities in CS25.
DISTRIBUTED C2 AND EDGE CLOUD CAPABILITIES
Linnemann noted that the Army is taking a hard look at where it should make gains and advancements, “not just looking at what’s interesting, but what we think is going to be lifesaving — such as improvements in how we negotiate consistency and availability in the cloud, being able to come into and out of that cloud network, and how quickly the networks recover.”
In addition to the experimentation and pilot efforts in Europe, the Army is simultaneously enhancing the network to support cloud access experimentation and pilot efforts in the Pacific, which will inform future enhancements of cloud-based mission command and data sharing from distributed locations as part of CS25.
“We want to establish multi hybrid cloud environments, so forces can come into the region, connect into the environment and quickly get to work [and] exchange information,” said Col. Elizabeth Casely, signal officer (G6) for I Corps, at TEM 9. “We need the transport to connect these information environments and to distribute the data; that's the purpose of the network. The idea is to have a persistent environment where you could [rapidly] set up an episodic network and connect to it. We need something that is highly available, global, and regionally agnostic.”
While supporting numerous multi-national training exercises forward across the expanse of the Indo-Pacific, I Corps has been operationalizing distributed C2, distributing its headquarters elements into different nodes. This is much different from a traditional single forward tactical command post course of action and requires thinking very differently than existing doctrine dictates, said Lt. Gen. Xavier Brunson, I Corps Commanding General, during TEM 9.
“All forward, we continue to aggressively demonstrate and test our warfighting operations process and distributed command and control nodes. The network is the underpinning capability of our distributed operations,” Brunson said. “The end state is that the warfighting commander’s decision making is data-enabled. I must be able to see, sense, understand, decide, and act faster than any adversary.”
“Data is ammunition, an operational commodity that must be delivered at the time of need, to the point of need, by the network,” Brunson said. “Just like ammunition, we need data that is clean, that we can store, that we can access, and that we can use.”
The U.S. Army Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical develops, acquires, fields and supports the Army's mission command network to ensure force readiness. This critical Army modernization priority delivers tactical communications so commanders and Soldiers can stay connected and informed at all times, even in the most austere and hostile environments. PEO C3T is delivering the network to regions around the globe, enabling high-speed, high-capacity voice, data and video communications to a user base that includes the Army's joint, coalition and other mission partners.