The Army is rolling out a series of “massive changes” to its tactical network capabilities to provide operational units with expeditionary network systems that are more mobile, hardened, and easier to operate, officials said.
Through 2028, the Army will initiate a bi-annual scheduled release of capability sets, all while making continuous enhancements to the network through the insertion of new technologies.
At the same time, the Army will receive feedback from a series of Soldier-led capability experiments and evaluations to make informed network design decisions, said Col. Garth Winterle, Integrated Tactical Network experimentation lead for Capability Set 2021, or CS21.
“From the [Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical] perspective, nothing is sacred — to include programs of record,” Winterle said. “It is time to take a hard look at ourselves, do the analysis, and find out where trades can be made.”
PEO C3T and PEO Soldier, in partnership with the Network Cross-Functional Team and commercial agencies, have partnered to meet the list of priorities within the network implementation plan, officials said. The plan aligns with the Army’s network modernization strategy.
The initial CS21 will incorporate smaller, lighter, and faster communications technologies, easy-to-use applications and devices, and multiple ways to connect through the deployment of a mesh-like network.
“At the same time we are assessing new capabilities against existing capabilities to determine if there are potential tradeoffs,” Winterle said. “For instance, if we can find a less expensive or better way to do things, we’re open to trading that program of record capability.”
INTEGRATED TACTICAL NETWORK
Starting with CS21, Soldiers will have access to better ways to facilitate mission command via the Integrated Tactical Network, or ITN. PEO C3T and PEO Soldier officials discussed future capabilities Wednesday during an Army Tactical Network Capability Set 21 demonstration.
PEO C3T is teaming up with Army Training and Doctrine Command capability managers to take a hard look across all of the formations and cater a suite of ITN capabilities to meet the needs of each unit, Winterle said.
For starters, officials look to bolster the network-communications capabilities starting at the battalion level. At the same time, PEO C3T is determined to put the “right radio, at the right place,” and at the right quantity at the company level and below.
With the inclusion of a “secure but unclassified, or SBU,” communication’s architecture into the ITN, the Army now has more opportunities to communicate all while driving down cost, Winterle said.
By incorporating SBU into the network, Soldiers will be able to leverage commercial cellular networks, such as 4G, LTE and WiFi, along with other commercial wavelengths to communicate. Further, Soldiers will be able to supplement these networks as needed to increase connectivity, officials said.
“A move to the SBU architecture at the battalion and below increases our options to share radios and a common operating picture with a coalition force,” Winterle said.
SBU IMPROVES NETT WARRIOR
With the incorporation of SBU architecture into the Integrated Tactical Network, Soldiers now have access to increased capabilities through the Nett Warrior system, said Maj. Ken Elgort, an assistant program manager with PEO Soldier. This is just one example of what the Army is doing to improve the ITN under CS21.
Nett Warrior, or NW, is an integrated situational awareness system for dismounted leaders, accessible through a mobile phone type of device affixed to their person, officials said.
Through the system, leaders have access to a geo-referenced map application, which provides them with their location and the position of other NW-equipped personnel or equipment.
“When we changed over from having a classified network to [SBU], it changed the classification of our devices, which then changed the opportunities of what networks we can connect to,” Elgort said.
Under CS21, PEO C3T is also evaluating TSM waveform enabled devices and its role in the integrated network. With the addition of the new waveform and the ability to access other SBU networks, Nett Warrior has seen an overall increase in functionality.
“It is all about how much data you can move and how you can connect it and interoperate between Soldiers,” Elgort said. “You can now stream video from an unmanned aerial vehicle, you can send pictures — we can do a lot. It opens up the aperture of things we can do with this software.”
The classification level of the radio network also dictates the security level of the NW device, Elgort said. With the introduction of SBU, Soldiers can now store applicable communications equipment, to include NW-enabled devices, at their location.
“Every time I want to use [a Nett Warrior device and radio], I no longer have to go see someone, draw the equipment out [from a secure locker], and monitor it,” said Staff Sgt. Jason Roseberry, assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.
Over the past year, Roseberry experimented with Nett Warrior and other CS21 equipment.
“I can now issue it like any piece of equipment, just like I would issue a laptop to my Soldiers,” he said. “What that did is allow [Soldiers] to train on the equipment, daily.”
“Having situational awareness is a game-changer,” Roseberry added. “It makes Soldiers easy to talk to and easy to find. [Nett Warrior] pretty much enhances every mission.”
TETHERED DRONE ANTENNAS
Depending on the environment the Army is training or fighting in, maintaining line-of-site communications can be a challenge, especially for expeditionary units. Officials are looking into improved technologies to keep Soldiers connected while on the move.
Tethered drone antennas could be an answer.
“These [devices] are aerial assets that are tethered to a base station,” Elgort said. “They don’t produce a radio frequency, and all the power and data is transmitted through the tether so it can’t be jammed. We can put a [repeater] node on the platform, put it into the air, and extend our network out 25 kilometers.”
The Army is currently evaluating two variants to support battalion-level and company-level tactical networks. The company-level drone can reach a max elevation of 200 feet, while the battalion one can reach 300 feet, Elgort said.
“The company variant can be put into the back of a vehicle,” he added. “Any military vehicle with a vehicle inverter can power [the drone]. You can even drive with it up in the air up to 30 mph, and it can fly in 25-knot winds.”
Equipping units with tethered drones could eliminate the need for them to stop and put up an antenna to establish communications, Elgort said.
“We saw when we were at a [Network Integration Evaluation] at Fort Bliss, Texas, we were able to extend our bubble 25 kilometers, which is beyond the needs of most tactical units,” he added.
FUTURE CAPABILITY SETS
The 82nd Airborne’s 1st BCT in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, will be the first to receive the initial ITN equipment as part of CS21. Fielding of the ITN will begin in early 2020 as they prepare for an upcoming global response force mission, Winterle said.
“They will exercise new capabilities and provide us the feedback,” he said. “We will continue to poll them on what needs to be improved — what’s working and what’s not working.”
Moving forward, CS 2023 will introduce more capacity, improvements in resiliency that allow the Army to fight through communications jamming, and increased bandwidth and line-of-site capability through low- and medium-orbit satellites, Winterle said.
CS 2025 looks to introduce cloud capabilities to the Army’s network, to include automated switching capabilities, he said.
“For example, your phone switches between WiFi and LTE seamlessly and you don’t have to do anything about it,” Winterle said. “We want that same kind of capability when we established multiple options to connect to a network.”
By CS 2027, the Army hopes to incorporate artificial intelligence and machine learning technology to help augment a commander’s decision-making process, he said.
Future command posts will also be designed to operate at low electromagnetic signatures, he said, adding the Army could employ the use of electromagnetic spectrum decoys to slow the enemy’s ability to detect key command and control infrastructure.