JOINT BASE LEWIS MCCHORD (JBLM), Washington – Providing resilient network communications to disparate units on the islands of vast Indonesia-Pacific region comes with a litany of challenges -- the tyranny of distance topping the list.
To effectively support large scale combat operations, the Army is modernizing its signal units, converting its expeditionary signal battalions to ESB-enhanced formations (ESB-E). By arming these units with scalable tactical network communication equipment that is lighter, smaller, and more capable, units will be able to rapidly deploy and be highly mobile once in the fight, while giving commanders the data they need to make fast comprehensive decisions.
“Getting data to the warfighter is our mission,” said Lt. Col. Stuart Jones, commander of the 51st ESB-E, 22nd Corps Signal Brigade. “But getting from one side of the Indo-Pacific area of responsibility (AOR) to another is a daunting challenge. Corps needs us to be maneuverable and scalable, able to move from one location to another quickly. We believe this new ESB-E equipment will give us the capabilities we need to do that.”
ESB-Es provide or augment global network connectivity to other Army units that do not have robust network communications equipment organically in their formations or that need additional capacity.
“Providing expeditionary communications to commanders where and when they need it to make decisions is [the main] mission set of the 22nd Corps Signal Brigade,” said Col. Charles Dean Smith, the brigade’s commander. "The unique terrain, multiple mission partners, and creditable threats in the Pacific compound the challenges to provide reliable, redundant, and survivable communications capability at scale. The 51st ESB’s conversion to an ESB-E greatly enhances the unit’s ability to support I Corps and U.S. Army Pacific missions, as well as Army Forces Command missions world-wide."
The Army’s Project Manager Tactical Network, at the Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T), is currently training and fielding this modernized equipment set to the 51st ESB-E, at Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington, marking the seventh signal unit to be converted to a modernized ESB-E formation. By this fall, the office expects to complete fielding the unit with the remainder of the current ESB-E baseline systems – which include various-sized expeditionary satellite dishes and baseband equipment, high-throughput backhaul radios, wireless command post technologies and network enclaves that enable coalition data exchange.
The reduced system complexity and size of the new 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 systems are also easier to use and much faster to set up and tear down. This equates to a more agile, mobile, and survivable force.
“With these new transit case-based systems, we will be able to support larger elements with a much smaller physical footprint,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Lisa Gandy, 22nd Corps Signal Brigade. “In essence, this equipment is really going to make us more expeditionary - easier to deploy and faster to the fight.”
These benefits are not just for the Army, but across the joint force in the Pacific, where the Navy and the Air Force have to prioritize assets for transport, added Maj. Nicholas Christensen, deputy commanding officer at the 22nd Corps Signal Brigade. “When you're competing for very contested logistics transport space, having these smaller systems with bigger capability is really important for commanders out here. And the smaller the package, the smaller the sustainment trail behind it.”
In support of a more resilient network in congested and contested environments, the ESB-E tool suite increases units’ Primary, Alternate, Contingency and Emergency (PACE) network communication plan options, providing more transport paths to push signals through. The kit includes numerous high-throughput beyond-line-of-sight and line-of-sight capabilities and multiple frequency bands. Following several Army pilot efforts planned for later in the year, future transport options are expected to add high-throughput, low latency, multi-orbit satellite communications, as well as automatic-PACE capabilities that are seamless to users in the fight.
To offset a more sophisticated threat, Jones noted that during Warfighter Exercise 23-01, the 51st ESB-E supported I Corps’ distributed command and control nodal concept of operations. Corps purposefully distributed its headquarters elements into different nodes at numerous locations throughout the Indo-Pacific AOR, over an operational area larger than the United States. This is much different from a traditional way of fighting with all of the Corps’ warfighting functions in one central static location, or at a single forward tactical command post when relocating. The goal of this new operating concept is to make units more survivable and lethal, and also agile, resilient and scalable to better contribute to the joint fight.
“We have had two decades of COIN [counter insurgency] based operations in the Middle East where we were very big and very slow. We had all of the warfighting functions centralized in one location,” Jones said. “But, as we look to [pivot] to large scale combat operations, the Corps commander needs us to be more agile through [enhanced] maneuverability. This ESB-E equipment will give us the capabilities to support the Corps [more effectively].”
In addition to the 51st ESB-E fielding, Project Manager Tactical Network is also preparing to field and convert the Nevada Army National Guard 422nd ESB and the Puerto Rico Army Reserve 35th ESB later this calendar year. On the current plan, the Army will continue to field several ESB-Es per year until all of the ESBs have been upgraded to the baseline capability, supporting the data-centric Army of 2030.
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.