Delivering a Future Network
From Armor & Mobility, March/April 2019 Issue
Six months ago, the U.S. Army officially stood up its newest command aimed at finding, developing and experimenting with cutting edge technology to lead the service into the future. Now, the aptly named Army Futures Command (AFC) – armed with its Cross-Functional Teams (CFTs) – is outlining a plan to deliver these technologies, including tactical network capability, to Soldiers by 2028.
By Justin Eimers, U.S. Army Program Executive Office Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T)
The U.S. Army’s network is a critical enabler to the service’s other modernization priorities and the Network Cross-Functional Team (CFT) is hard at work to meet the demands laid out by Commanding General John M. Murray, Army Futures Command.
“We intend to develop the technologies and solutions that will enable us to modernize the force quickly, effectively and cost-effectively, wherever and whenever they might be,” Murray said at the Association of the United States Army’s National Partner Luncheon last October. “We will harness advances in artificial intelligence and big data analysis to quickly process information and identify trends that will shape modernization efforts.”
Over the next several years the Army will enhance its network with commercial solutions. This involves fielding common hardware and software to provide commanders better awareness while also reducing the clutter in command posts; leveraging commercial satellite constellations to deliver global coverage to augment military capacity; fielding advanced data radios to help dismounted Soldiers share data and talk; and improving network security with a variety of network management and communications security solutions.
Filling in Gaps
To deliver the tactical network of 2028 and achieve its Multi-Domain Operations future fighting concept, the Army will close critical gaps by fielding new capability sets – on a two-year basis – that build off of each other and are infused with commercial solutions informed by Soldier-led experimentation. The Army will begin fielding capability sets in fiscal year 2021 followed by increasing capability in 2023, 2025, and 2027. Capability experimentation and demonstration driven by the Network CFT, and direct feedback from operational units and Soldiers will inform the detailed network design of each successive capability set.
Maj. Gen. Pete Gallagher, director of the Network CFT, said this approach will ensure the Army accelerates at a rate at which it can steadily insert new technology solutions while enabling Soldiers with the best available capabilities.
“Inserting technology in two-year capability sets provides flexibility to augment and integrate IT capability as it emerges from industry,” Gallagher said. “We will leverage Army and Defense science and technology, coupled with industry and academia’s research and development. Advances in commercial off-the-shelf solutions in areas such as waveforms, cybersecurity, satellite constellations and artificial intelligence are core to the success of this phased approach.”
The initial phase, Capability Set 21, will make leap-ahead improvements in several tactical network areas with specific focus on improving expeditionary capability while making the network simple and more intuitive. This phase will deliver smaller, lighter and faster communications systems, and Soldiers will find that the applications and network devices are easier to learn and use. The first iteration of the Integrated Tactical Network, or ITN, will be fielded to select Infantry Brigade Combat Teams (IBCTs), air-ground integration improvements will be made through the use of gateways, and initial fielding of the Command Post Computing Environment (CPCE) will enable a common operating environment, another pillar of Army network modernization.
Partnering on Mission
The Network CFT is continuing to work in lockstep with the Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T) to develop and field these capabilities. The ITN, for example, has undergone several Developmental Operations (DevOps) iterations in which Soldiers are placed side-by-side with the developers to evaluate the technology and gather real-time, real-world feedback.
“In contrast to other Army programs, where somebody that we’re not even interacting with decides what we need and pushes it down, the ability to work closely with the developers of the software and hardware has been great,” said Capt. Matthew Risenmay, higher headquarters commander for the 1-508th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), which is currently experimenting with initial ITN capabilities. “If you don’t have contact with the people that are developing it, you run into problems and you have to deal with the problems for a long time.” The 1-508th PIR employed the ITN for a sixth time during major battalion exercises atCamp Atterbury, Indiana last month.
Capability Set 23 will build upon advances in expeditionary capabilities to increase capacity and resiliency of the network while providing a more robust transport layer to support the requirements of the Army’s other modernization priorities. Fielding of the ITN to additional formations – Armored and Stryker BCTs – will extend the distance and range of units, also increasing mobility for maneuver. Units at the tactical edge will have more agile computing environments thanks to access to a tactical cloud. Mesh networking and hardening of radios will decrease vulnerabilities and susceptibility to jamming.
Collaboration between the developers, acquisition professionals and Soldiers is key to infusing industry technology into the Army’s network design. Through experimentation and DevOps, the Army will continue to leverage Soldier feedback and insert commercial solutions into its network in Capability Set 25 with a focus on automation and protection. Deployed units will have more robust cloud capability, network management and decision making tools will become more automated, and network security will be augmented by new waveforms.
“As we look five years down the road, we anticipate advanced cellular technology – such as 5G or an equivalent – will become accessible to formations to provide faster connectivity,” said Maj. Brian Wong, Chief of
Market Research for the Network CFT.
By fiscal year 2027, the Army’s insertion of commercial technologies in two-year phases will be fully institutionalized. Wireless connectivity will be increasingly hardened and the service’s network will have significant cyber improvements and protection. Automation capabilities inserted in earlier capability sets should have fully capable artificial intelligence baked in and will be machine learning enabled. Capability Set 27 will further advance non-traditional, spectrum-efficient waveforms while converging all warfighting function applications into a common operating environment.
According to Gallagher, the capabilities laid out in each phase of this approach will position the Army to advance the other modernization priorities and deliver a future network enabling Soldiers to fight and win.
“Our Army is implementing these modernization efforts through capability sets to drive towards a less-complex tactical network in 2028 that utilizes the full benefits of existing technology and ensures Soldiers of today and future generations continue to be the most lethal fighting force in the world.”