ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (June 1, 2023) – To retain readiness in today’s complex geopolitical landscape, the Army is leveraging experimentation and Soldier feedback from global joint multinational exercises to continually validate and advance network capabilities, integration and digital data sharing processes.
These exercises are supporting the Army’s shift from former brigade-centric operations to a division as unit of action in support of large scale combat operations. Critical to this shift is a network that is less complex at lower echelons and can provide resilient voice and data communications, data-enabled common operating pictures (COPs) and digital fires, as units rapidly maneuver across long distances in contested network environments.
Three Army corps formations -- I Corps, III Corps, and XVIII Airborne Corps -- are currently providing valuable feedback to the Army as they exercise the latest network technologies around the globe. New network capabilities including logistics and coalition COPs, edge cloud capabilities and improvements to the mission partner environment (MPE) are driving the Army toward a data-centric force in 2030.
“We must be able to locate our data in a certain way to make it more searchable, variable and accessible to better enable commanders’ decision making,” said Col. Elizabeth Casely, I Corps Communications (G6) Director. “This iterative collaborative learning we are embracing is the best way to tackle our data challenges.”
ADVANCING FIRES THROUGH IMPROVED LOGISTICS
In the future battlespace, the time allotted for commanders to make critical decisions will not be measured in minutes or seconds; a millisecond may be all a commander has to save lives or win a battle. Time-sensitive actions are especially critical to the fires chain; however, without the needed ammunition supplies (Class V) at the ready, fires missions come to a screeching halt.
Currently, the targeting process and visibility of Class V supplies is mainly a manual process that relies on spreadsheets and PowerPoints, which could potentially result in delayed and/or inaccurate stock management and resupply, Casely said.
During the Warfighter Exercise (WFX) 23-1 in the fall of 2022 at Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington, I Corps understood the critical need to move past this manual process and instead implement a data-driven logistics (LOG) COP.
“We recognized that our operational endurance was driven by protection and sustainment,” Casely said. “Because the sustainers could not [always] tell us in real time how much ammunition [they had], when, where, or how long it would take to get [to the battlefield site], we realized we needed a real time or near real time data enabled Logistical COP.”
To achieve a data-centric LOGCOP, I Corps first established to a Data Warfare Team -- comprised of logistics and fires Soldiers with an aptitude for data analytics, along with industry partners with more advanced data technology skills.
“Next, we pulled in our sustainers to walk us through each step of the process on how they obtain situational awareness and make decisions on Class V [munition supplies], which subsequently informs the targeting process,” Casely said.
The Data Warfare Team -- working together with I Corps G6, the Cyber Center of Excellence, U.S. Army Cyber Command, the Network-Cross Functional Team and program developers from Project Manager Mission Command, Program Executive Office Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T) -- implemented a data fabric and will develop data mesh technologies to address the LOGCOP challenge. Tactical Data Fabric enables access to various data beyond just a particular warfighting mission area; it “stitches” together a variety of information sources and unique data formats. The data mesh provides flexible and usable data products. Data products include specific information related to a particular domain, such as providing sustainers information on the exact location and amount of ammunition on hand.
I Corps and developers continue to refine the LOGCOP through on-going operational experimentation, and looking forward they will focus on a data-driven COP for the fires chain to enable machine-enabled sensor-to-shooter-to-sustainer data exchange.
I Corps anticipates having an initial LOGCOP by mid-summer, followed by experimentation at every opportunity to continually improve capability.
ADVANCING THE TACTICAL CLOUD
PEO C3T and multiple Army stakeholders are also teaming to experiment with tactical multi-hybrid cloud and persistent data sharing environments, during numerous joint multi-national training exercises that will culminate this summer during the Talisman Saber Exercise in Australia.
These advanced cloud data exchange environments are enabled by resilient multi-path transport agnostic network capabilities and automated-PACE communications -- including commercial high-throughput low-latency multi-band multi-orbit transport. The network capabilities will enable the distributed command and control that I Corps needs in the Indo-Pacific region to be more survivable and lethal against near-peer threats.
The Army’s Indo-Pacific experimentation efforts are expected to inform network modernization in support of initial tactical cloud capability designs in FY2025, which are expected to further evolve to support the Army of 2030 and beyond.
Additionally, in Europe, the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) piloted data and cloud capabilities as part of the Army’s overarching data-centric networked environment experimentation. Units exchanged operational graphics and position location information with Romanians inside of the mission partner environment, employing a simplified data plan focused on data security and credential management identification.
“While we’ve been here, we’ve made progress replicating a lot of our Army mission command information systems into a cloud environment.” said Lt. Col. Randy Linnemann, 101st Airborne Division (AA) G6. “I don't worry about the network as much because it's in the cloud. That's really giving us the opportunity to make a lot of strides and focus our attention, less on building and running this huge elaborate network, and more on how we access our data.”
The 101st Airborne Division (AA) pulled data from the edge up to the headquarters, processed the data, and delivered refined data back down to the edge, Linneman said. “We've become much more effective, pushing our data exchanges down to the lowest level, so we get the best data going through the chain of command, enabling more rapid and better decision making at every echelon.”
ADVANCING THE COALITION COP
The Army’s global experimentation efforts are also enhancing readiness and improving coalition interoperability and a persistent COP that stretches across the allied force. A central coalition COP enables commanders to have a shared understanding of the battlespace to make more effective and rapid decisions in a mission partner environment.
In support of these efforts, the Army garnered valuable Soldier feedback and lessons learned from the April WFX 23-4, which was conducted at several locations, with the largest footprint at Fort Cavazos, Texas.
During the event, the U.S. Army, with support from coalition forces including the United Kingdom (U.K.), continued to build on previous advancements in the implementation of an expeditionary interoperable coalition mission partner environment to meet network, intelligence, fires and sustainment objectives. Soldier feedback from these efforts will inform current network designs and those of Army of 2030 and beyond, which will be data-centric, with persistent access to data and the ability to synchronize the data under multi-domain operational conditions.
“In each of our previous warfighter exercises, we established an episodic MPE network, and with each exercise we push the ball forward a little bit more in terms of our interoperability,” said Lt. Col. John Dollard, III Corps signal officer (G6), during WFX 23-4 at Fort Hood. “The concept for this exercise is from an expeditionary deployment standpoint, using the Common Services Hub (CS-Hub) at the Corps level to quickly and easily integrate with a U.K division.”
The CS-Hub is used to host mission partner enterprise services and is comprised of a Commercial Coalition Equipment (CCE) network enclave, which enables U.S. and coalition partners to securely access the shared MPE network; and Tactical Server Infrastructure (TSI), ruggedized laptops that function as servers and host a variety of battle command applications.
Dollard said that III Corps used Command Post Computing Environment (CPCE) for its COP and for other situational awareness, to build planning projects, and to share graphics and position location information with the U.K. Division.
According to Master Sgt. Sheena Ferrell, brigade signal non-commissioned officer for the 36th Engineer Brigade, her unit successfully bridged a coalition information sharing gap using CPCE on the Mission Partner Network to pass data with the mobile Joint Battle Command Platform (JBC-P) on the U.S. only network leveraging a cross domain solution.
“At the end of the day, being able to talk to our counterparts and to our coalition forces is what this exercise is about,” Ferrell said. “If we can't talk to them, then we can't fight.”
Ferrell said that her unit pushed systems like CPCE to their full extent so they could provide more valuable feedback to Army leaders and system developers on what they are able to handle.
“When we get out [to exercises like this] and we really ask the Soldiers, especially the ones who are coming up in today's generation, what they think can be done better, we're going to get better solutions, because they are our future.”
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.