FORT MYER, Va. — The U.S. Army this week finished evaluating a set of technologies that will better align soldier radios, satellite terminals, mission command software and more to help deliver the robust network the service is seeking.

The completion of the critical design review for Capability Set ‘23 signifies the gear is relevant, conceptually sound and cost effective, among other considerations. It also cracks open the door for procurement.

“With each one of the design reviews, there are four things we take a look at,” Army Maj. Gen. Robert Collins said during an April 26 demonstration, which was hindered by inclement weather. “We look at the requirements, we look at the concepts, the technology maturity and the affordability.”

Capability Set ‘23 is meant to enhance communication and data sharing abilities, and focuses on Stryker brigades, a move away from the infantry-first tack of the previous set. The systems will soon be sent to Europe, where further testing and demonstration will shape fielding decisions.

Collins, as the program executive officer for command, control and communications-tactical, or PEO C3T, oversees the development and distribution of enhanced Army hardware and software alongside Brig. Gen. Jeth Rey, director of the Network Cross-Functional Team.

“One of the things we say is that Gen. Rey, with the Network Cross-Functional Team, is really focused in on the ‘what,’ the vision, the types of data, the transport agnostic, the security and the zero-trust,” Collins said. “And then where I come into play is kind of the ‘how,’ the acquisition. How do we acquire, how do we procure?”

The Army is seeking $2.65 billion in fiscal year 2023 for the NCFT, up from $2.6 billion this year.

Capability Set ‘23 also opens the aperture for electronic warfare and cyber, ropes in additional players for a more-comprehensive approach, underlines the division as a unit of action, and begins to lay a foundation for Joint All-Domain Command and Control, the Pentagon’s campaign to connect disparate systems and better share information across land, air, sea, space and cyber.

“In previous wars, the difference between a good decision and a bad decision may be minutes,” Collins said. “In the future battlespace, that difference between a good decision and a bad decision may be seconds or milliseconds. And so the network allows you to tie all that together, synthesize that information and be able to present that to the folks that need to make that decision.”

Network modernization is a focus for the Army as the service transitions to multi-domain operations and contends with jeopardized communication environments.

Elements of Capability Set ‘23 will be included in Project Convergence ‘22, the Army’s JADC2 experiment during which cutting-edge tech is put to the test. What is learned will likely influence Capability Set ‘25 more so than ‘23.

The capability set initiative kicked off in fiscal 2021, with compounding upgrades expected in 2023, 2025, 2027 and beyond. The two-year increment, Collins said Tuesday, is the “sweet spot.”

“Now obviously, we do things from a cyber vulnerability, from a patching” perspective much faster, he said. “But when you look at logistics, you look at training, two years is about the right capability set.”

Capability Set ‘21 was foundational to Capability Set ‘23, and the Army was almost finished outfitting a seventh brigade combat team with the related gear as of April 20. Nine teams were expecting the upgrades.

The Army on April 26 said Capability Set ‘23 was “in near-term development”; ‘25 was “in technology maturation and prototyping”; and the design goals for ‘27 were coalescing.

“The network is the backbone of everything we do, and data is our new ammunition,” Lt. Gen. James Richardson, acting commanding general of Army Futures Command, which oversees the cross-functional teams, said in a statement. “All of the experimentation we are doing today is informing where we are going for the future.”

Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and its NNSA — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.

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