Army leaders are stressing that the service’s latest network modernization effort will not lead to the creation of a new network or should even be thought of as a physical entity in and of itself.
Rather, the modernization effort, known as the integrated tactical network, is a concept that looks to use a series of existing systems – including radios, tablets and satellite communications capabilities – to enable greater connectivity to units battalion and below.
“What we’re doing, this isn’t a new network. We’re not replacing anything. What we’re doing is we’re basically taking program of record and we’re looking at injecting commercial off the shelf items to see where we can enhance or improve our capabilities,” Lt. Col. Brandon Baer, product manager, told reporters at the Army’s Network Integration Evaluation at Fort Bliss in late October.
Baer, as well as other officials have said the ITN’s goals include a more simplified network for general purpose soldiers and being able to field this simpler construct faster than the current procurement timeline.
What problem is the ITN solving?
Officials said the ITN will help the Army become more lethal and faster, a critical attribute for future conflicts against near peer adversaries.
Through an Android device strapped to soldiers’ chests, troops in the field can access a shared photo or map with data and imagery providing unprecedented situational awareness. This not only allows these soldiers to know where others in the field are, but also allows those in the command post to know where the soldiers are and creates a shared understanding throughout the unit.
Improved synchronization also allows for faster mission command. A battalion executive officer, Maj. John Intile, of the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, told reporters the ITN provides a single graphic that is shared across the force allowing him to talk to battalion commanders and company commanders. His company commanders can also share information for the entire force to see.
This allows the force to solve multiple problems simultaneously, Intile said.
“This is one of the biggest capabilities that it gives me because I can chat, because I can talk on two different radios, I can bounce from one channel to the next so my force can, if we talk about the enemy providing you with multiple dilemmas, I can manage and counter numerous dilemmas time and time and time again,” he said, referencing the Army’s new two-channel radios that enable forces to access two waveforms on the same box in the event that the enemy jams one.
How is the ITN different?
Across the entire Army, top service leaders have charged organizations to do things differently and to do it faster.
In the past, the military would put a program out to bid in a long drawn out process that could take years in some cases, in most cases wedding the military to a vendor or family of vendors for the duration of the contract.
Not anymore. Army leaders hope the ITN construct will allow for continuous innovation and rapid insertion of new technologies and systems from a variety of vendors as a way to stay ahead of technology trends.
Officials said they expect to rely on a steady stream of experiments to test the network’s new concepts and systems.
“It helps us keep pace with technology … because it gives us an opportunity to keep up with industry and tweak things as we go, with user feedback and also inject capabilities depending on what the unit has [and] what the unit’s missions are,” Baer said.
The vision is the Army won’t be wedded to a single vendor, but rather rely on multiple vendors for the programs and systems that make up the ITN.
Once the Army has an established baseline based on what it learns from continuous experimentation, officials said the that product won’t go to the entire Army.
“We’ve seen when we’ve purchased radios and we say ‘Okay, to get them out to the whole Army based on resource constraints it takes a long time to field everything to the Army,’ and obviously technology is changing very quickly,” Baer said. “By doing this, we’re making sure we can continue to look at where industry’s going, where technology’s going and injecting it into our process.”
Top Army officials in charge of the network modernization have said while the current ITN effort has focused on battalion and below, the goal is to eventually scale to a brigade.
“The first kind of goal post ... over the next 12-18 months is defining what this integrated tactical network capability set should look like in the various formations and then begin fielding. We want to start fielding units, like first units equipped on a conveyor belt, starting in ’20,” Maj. Gen. Peter Gallagher, director of the Network Cross Functional Team told reporters Oct. 9.
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.