IT/Networks

How COVID-19 affected the Army’s plan for testing new network tools

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the Army’s plans for testing upgrades to its network, according to two top Army generals working on the project.

The pandemic has meant fewer soldiers have availability to perform operational testing for new network equipment, known as Capability Set ’21. Units are either not training or have implemented safety measures such as social distancing or personal protective equipment.

“The COVID-19 has had an impact on our cycle of testing, our access to units, and it’s caused us to make some adjustments in our in our time schedule, as we’ve been trying to take care of the health and safety of our soldiers and our workforce, but still keep our modernization efforts on track,” said Maj. Gen. Peter Gallagher, director of the network cross-functional team for Army Futures Command, at a C4ISRNET event in May.

The Army had to change plans for soldier experiments that were going to play important roles in informing the allocation of new devices across the brigades.

“We had to really start with what were we going to learn specifically from those soldier experiments and how are we going to use that information to help make procurement decisions,” said then-Maj. Gen. David Bassett and former leader of Army Program Executive Office Command, Control, Communications-Tactical at the C4ISRNET conference. Bassett has since been promoted to lieutenant general and now leads the Defense Contract Management Agency.

He added, “And so in most cases, we weren’t really using that to decide whether we were going to buy something or not. [It was] more about the density and the way things were integrated.”

Bassett also said that while the Army did lose out on some field testing, the service had already collected sufficient data in labs that could help “inform some of our decision-making.” He also said that the network modernization team was prepared to make adjustments to equipment because of the challenges associated with coronavirus.

“We’re looking really hard at and when the next opportunities are going to be available to us to get that detailed operational feedback from soldiers either in a training environment or a test environment,” Bassett said.

The coronavirus pandemic “hasn’t limited” the Army’s ability to move forward on procurement decisions because of the large amounts of data it collected in testing for Capability Set ’21.

“I think the risk of making those procurement decisions at this stage has been exceedingly low. And something that I think is a reasonable balance of risk and rigor and agility,” Bassett said.

The testing program was also disrupted at the beginning of the year when the 82nd Airborne Division, a primary partner for testing capabilities, was deployed to the Middle East.

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