Facing both shrinking research and developmentR&D budgets and a need to adopt faster and more flexible ISR network technologies, such as software-defined networks (SDNs), the Army is now looking to its commercial partners for assistance in developing innovative solutions.
"We work closely with both internal — Army and [Department of Defense] — research facilities, as well as contractors from multiple fields supporting cyberspace," said Lt. Col. Jackie Jones, a spokesman for the Advanced Concepts and Technology Directorate (ACTD) of Army Cyber Command in Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Jones said the decision to work in closer collaboration with commercial partners is being made out of necessity. "While DoD research facilities may expand the number of technologies they develop and evaluate, they are not growing in capacity at the same rate as the civilian marketplace."
Jones noted that by forming close ties with industry, academic and other external R&D organizations, the Army hopes to achieve and maintain a thorough understanding of all emerging ISR network technologies. "Currently, not all cyberspace capability requirements from commanders can be accomplished with existing technologies," he said. "As operations being conducted in and through cyberspace become more integrated within military operations ... research and development into new capabilities will be necessary for the Army to stay at the leading edge of technology with respect to our adversaries."
Jones added that the task of finding and developing solutions to meet the needs of soldiers and their commanders isn't tied to specific technologies. "As requirements are identified and potential solutions are evaluated, all technologies, [including] software-defined networks, are equally viable," he said. "Achieving the best solution to meet the capability shortfall is the ultimate objective."
Brian Abbe, a senior vice president in the Strategic Innovation Group at management and technology consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, said contractors are now stepping forward to help the Army develop an array of fresh generation of network and other ISR technologies. "We are investing in innovation more and more internally to give us solutions so we can provide the government with some unique opportunities above and beyond low price [that are] technically acceptable."
Abbe co-leads BAH's Rapid Prototyping and Platform Integration (RPPI) initiative, which concentrates on research and development programs under the Army's C4ISR umbrella. "All we do is focus on coming up with R&D and unique solutions to help solve [C4ISR] problems," he said.
The Army has a wide range of potential network solutions to choose from, Abbe said. "There's a number of different technologies out there from the sensor and the networking perspective that will allow them to jump-start where they need to go in the future," he said. Over the past several months, the Army has been anxious to test, validate and deploy these technologies as quickly as possible. "Especially in light of the new battlefront with the Islamic State groupISIS/ISIL, being able to do things and get situational awareness without putting too many boots on the ground is going to be essential to being able to control that situation," Abbe said.
Helping to get innovative new network technologies into the field as rapidly as possible is a growing network of government test facilities. "The Army has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on setting up some very specialized test ranges all over the country," Abbe said. "As they introduce new types of technology, whether it's communication network based or ISR based, they have the right test range to test it."
Abbe is convinced that by increasingly relying on its commercial partners to feed the innovation engine, the DoD is doing more than simply searching for fresh approaches to networks and ISR. "I think they're relying more and more on companies to spend their own dollars to do the R&D and [performing] less internal government R&D along the way; the budgets just bear that out." Yet Abbe also feels that the DoD can't afford to neglect its own R&D resources, which over the years have made many important contributions to network, ISR and other critical technologies. "I think at some point the government is going to have to turn around and spend more money than they are to maintain their edge and advantage overall," he said.