The Army is looking to create better mission command, data transport and communications ability for smaller, more tactical echelons.
In an approach the service is calling the integrated tactical network (though officials stressed the ITN is not a new network), the Army seeks to focus on a simplified, independent, mobile network solution at the battalion level providing network availability down to the small unit dismounted leader, an Army document states.
Officials described a suite of capabilities to provide better mission command, situational awareness and air-to-ground integration that can close capability gaps at the company level and be tailored based on the environment troops are operating in or the commander’s objective.
The combination of capabilities that make up the ITN include Program Executive Office Soldier’s Nett Warrior future initiative 2-channel leader radios, small satellites, networking waveforms and radio gateways to provide flexible, resilient capabilities with joint and coalition mission partners. The goal is to bring higher bandwidth, more robust, agile and reliable networks to the tactical edge.
According to Army documents, the ITN’s key attributes include a network architecture to allow individuals and units to be disconnected from the network while still being mission capable and able to reconnect and resynchronize.
Army officials explained the core for the ITN and, in fact, its origins, lie in what the Army calls a secure-but-unclassified capability.
Given that war is conducted at the secret classification level, security measures to protect data and data transport at the tactical company level didn’t provide a lot of operational flexibility.
In working with partners across the U.S. government, the National Security Agency helped the Army understand the information that was trying to be protected at the tactical edge was perishable and could be protected in a different manner, Col. Ed Barker, program manager for Soldier Warrior at PEO Soldier, said during a June 21 event host by AFCEA’s Northern Virginia chapter.
This now meant the Army could use different forms of encryption and operate in a secure-but-unclassified manner, allowing data to be protected without the excess burden.
This new secure-but-unclassified approach also opened a number of other doors to the Army in terms of capability opportunities, Barker said, to include Wi-Fi, LTE and 4G.
This network already existed in some fashion in the Special Operations Command world, Barker added, so they began to partner closely with SOCOM and adapt their architecture and technologies.
Moreover, since the capability is secure-but-unclassified , it enables greater information sharing with partner nations, long a concern as the secret classification of battlefield data has hindered coalition operations.
The Army is test-driving new network concepts for battlefield communications.
“We have been for a generation restricting what maneuver commanders could do based on releasability caveats of our network,” CW5 Brian Wimmer, senior technical advisor to the Army’s Network Cross Functional Team, said at the AFCEA event. “U.S. secret is a releasability caveat; it’s not a technical description of anything.”
Barker explained that the secure-but-unclassified capability is just a subset of the overall ITN because, while this is very important, there is the broader need to operate in different security domains starting at the battalion level.
Wimmer added everything about the ITN is commander-centric, noting its tailorability.
If units have to operate in a mega city, jungle or subterranean environment, they’ll need the capabilities that make up an integrated tactical network to support the commander’s decision-making.
“As new threats emerge, as new conditions emerge that commanders will have to operate in, the network is going to have to adapt to those things and it won’t be a snap-to-chalk line network where we’re going to field you all this kit and everyone’s going to have the same radio,” Wimmer said of the ITN’s tailorability.