Paving the Way: Tactical communications across the Indo-Pacific

By Capt. Sara AlbertsonSeptember 21, 2023

Paving the Way: Tactical Communications Across the Indo-Pacific
A U.S. Army Cpl. Gerardo Vidal from the 307th Expeditionary Battalion-Enhanced performs checks on a Scalable Network Node during exercise Cobra Gold 2023 at U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Airfield, Thailand, March 30, 2023. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Nicolas Cholula) VIEW ORIGINAL

HELEMANO MILITARY RESERVATION, Hawaii — Just over a year ago the 307th Expeditionary Signal Battalion – Enhanced transitioned from traditional Warfighter Information Network – Tactical signal equipment to the new Scalable Network Node model.

Throughout this transition, the battalion has continued to provide theater-level support across the globe, from exercises like Cobra Gold 2023 in Thailand, Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center in Alaska, Yama Sakura 83 in Japan; to Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief support for Typhoon Mawar in Guam during the summer of 2023.

Maintaining mission support while conducting new equipment training and fielding, the lessons learned are boundless endless.

The equipment is now simplified for deployment while offering customers more transport options in a rapidly changing environment, where speed of communication on the battlefield is an undeniable need.

“The pace of change is increasing, and there are no signs of slowing down,” said U.S. Army Pacific Commanding General, Gen. Charles Flynn during Land Forces Pacific Symposium 2023. “The world is becoming more urbanized, information changes constantly, and the speed of human interactions is staggering.”

Across the Indo-Pacific theater, operational mindsets shift rapidly to account for the speed of information.

In keeping up with the speed of information, the 307th ESB-E ties in with organizations across the globe, coordinate communications support within the Indo-Pacific theater, build out tactical networks and assess the effectiveness of primary, alternate, contingency and emergency plans using the new equipment.

This transition has given the 307th soldiers the opportunity to successfully experiment in the theater with subject matter experts within joint and partner communities, to include expanding network monitoring that ties between legacy and the newer enhanced equipment.

“The new SNN systems have some significant advantages compared to the WIN-T legacy equipment. The equipment is much smaller, and the kit is considered safe for commercial flights which to allow our teams to rapid use,” said 1st. Sgt. Ruben Torres, 307th ESB-E Bravo Company first sergeant. “This scalability enables our teams to deploy in forward support of our customers faster than ever, empowering teams to secure their equipment and face the mission with minimal impacts to their timeline.”

U.S. Army Pfc. Alexis Ellis and Sgt. Thomas Cubbedge monitors the network during a training simulation at Helemano Military Reservation, Hawaii, April 11, 2023.
U.S. Army Pfc. Alexis Ellis and Sgt. Thomas Cubbedge monitors the network during a training simulation at Helemano Military Reservation, Hawaii, April 11, 2023. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Nicolas Cholula) VIEW ORIGINAL

This new ease of travel allows teams to remain in positive control of their equipment from home station to arriving at their area of operations during deployments. Still, the last year, also taught Soldiers of the 307th ESB-E many hard lessons. A consistent concern is the ruggedization of the equipment; the Hawkeye satellite dish and the management laptops chip or break semi-frequently in adverse environments.

“These teams operate in a theater where the climate can change from 100°F with 95% humidity to -20°F and 120 MPH winds,” said Torres. This drastic climate change, it frequently impacts Soldiers’ freedom of maneuverability during their deployment.

Deployed teams have also seen that flying with the equipment isn’t as easy as initially promised. Hand carrying equipment through international airports marks them as military and places them at a security disadvantage.

“Many commercial airlines have weight restrictions and additional fees for overweight baggage,” said Torres. “There are also particular requirements for flying generators and other power management devices that at one point carried gasoline.”

The 307th ESB-E team is evaluating how they can support shipping some of the equipment while maintaining the teams’ capability of providing immediate connectivity to mission partners.

Soldiers say the SNN equipment works well; Teams frequently speak about how user-friendly the SNN is compared to the Command Post Node or the Joint Network Node / Single Switch Shelter. The use of the cradle point and other cellular capabilities expedited their expected timeline for bringing up services to customers, enabling NIPR/SIPR Data and Voice faster than ever.

Despite these challenges, the 307th ESB-E’s teams have continued their mission success across vastly different environments, and work with our L3 counterparts to replace non-mission capable components quickly; drastically reducing expected shipment timelines. While the new equipment enables these teams to operate faster than before, the soldiers behind the SNNs make up for the equipment’s limiting maneuverability and delicate components.

“A lot of other countries, our enemies, want to steal our secrets,” said Gen. James Rainey, commanding general of Army Futures Command. “What they should want to steal is our Noncommissioned Officer Corps. The quality of people we put into our formation … nobody (else) can do that.”

According to Rainey, that the Army’s greatest asset, its people and expeditionary signal assets have always leaned heavily on team chiefs and non-commissioned officers to accomplish our mission sets.

The need for resilient, deployable and technically proficient teams remains the same after the 307th transitioned to be an enhanced battalion. Maintaining the intent that any team from any company under the 307th is capable of deploying independently across the world.

The sergeants, corporals and senior specialists are responsible for deploying with the necessary equipment, and then ensure the proper care and employment of their Soldiers while navigating new countries and cultures.

Paving the Way: Tactical Communications Across the Indo-Pacific
U.S. Army Sgt. Thomas Cubbedge oversees soldiers working to ensure uninterrupted connectivity on the strategic network during exercise Cobra Gold 2023 at U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Airfield, Thailand, on March 30, 2023. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Nicolas Cholula) VIEW ORIGINAL

The NCOs and team chiefs of the 307th have accepted this responsibility with great pride and resiliency; no matter the challenge, these leaders rise to any challenge to accomplish the mission.

“Team chiefs frequently cultivate relationships with joint and partner forces across the world, representing not only themselves, with dignity and respect but the unit as a whole,” Lt. Col. Izabella Lundy, 307th ESB-E battalion commander.

While they gain guidance and intent from their company leadership, these sergeants frequently go on to curate network and pace plans with G6s across U.S. Indo-Pacific Command during strategically critical exercises.

“Our NCOs have remained our most crucial asset and are a direct enabler of the supported commander’s ability to mission command across the Indo-Pacific area of operation. The development of these impactful mid-level leaders must remain a top priority if expeditionary signal teams are to remain successful across the Indo-Pacific,” said Lundy.

The 307th’s success during its transition to the SNN systems would not be possible without the help of the 44th ESB-E and 50th ESB-E, who successfully transitioned and now share information and lessons learned. Their help and team’s guidance enhances the unit’s ability to provide immediate support to mission partners.

“While technology might be rapidly changing in this fast-paced environment,” Lundy said. “Our relationships with mission partners, our NCOs and soldier’s ability to refine our systems will continue to enable success.”

The 307th ESB-E is the most forward deployed signal battalion in the Indo-Pacific theater and support multinational exercises and missions for Operation Pathways with tactical signal support, which enable multi-domain operations for the Theater Army and Joint Force.