All aspects of conflict — including networks, communications, logistics — will be contested in the future, military leaders commonly say.

But from a networking perspective, many of industry’s solutions in the software-defined networking space are not ready for war.

“The commercial products [deployed] at the tactical edge … need to be deployable with the mindset of a near-peer war,” Greg Ross, software-defined networking technology lead at Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command Atlantic, said at a defense conference hosted Dec. 7 in Charleston, S.C., by the Charleston Defense Contractors Association.

“A lot of what I’ve seen of the products are disparate products that won’t work in a near-peer war; they’re only good for peace time or if we’re the dominant force in the field.”

Networking technology has to be developed for mission assurance in a really complex environment, William Williford, executive director at Marine Corps Systems Command, said during the same conference.

Moreover, he said, networks have to be resilient, flexible, self-healing and available in denied environments, which is easy to talk about but harder to do on the tactical edge.

On the same wavelength

On the communications front, forces must learn to operate in an environment where SATCOM is taken away or command and control is jammed, Col. Brock McDaniel, portfolio manager of command element systems at Marine Corps Systems Command, said this week.

Even if forces are jammed, they still must be able to pass command and control, he said.

The service is trying to take their combat operations center — a deployable, self-contained, centralized facility providing shared command and control to all levels of the Marine Air Ground Task Force — and provide the same capability en route so it’s not just a static capability.

McDaniel said the Marine Corps is putting this capability on ground combat vehicles, allowing unclassified and secret voice, data and full-motion video to be done on the move, while also putting it on the back of C-130s and V-22s.

This capability will also begin to transition to soldier handheld devices. McDaniel said leaders are going to start fielding the Target Handoff System version 2 tablet later this month. This will be the first time they’ll be putting a tablet in the field that has the ability to do command and control, fires and chat.

There’s also a desire to replace AN/TRC-170s, a communication link that transports data from one position to another, given it’s a legacy capability that needs upgrading. McDaniel said they want to have a band C and band X capability while piggybacking with the Army.

Assault of the drones

Willford also hit on an oft-discussed and desired capability: unmanned systems to assault beaches in place of manned platforms.

“Today, when you look at amphibious assault and all the things we’ve done in the past, that environment is more and more complex out there and how you can actually operate that,” he said.

“One of the things that we’re looking at is how do we not lead with manned systems, but how do we lead with unmanned systems in any future type of assault.”

The desire here is to have unmanned systems take the point and reduce the risk of human operators in the first wave of a beach assault.