NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The U.S. Army’s network, key to allowing soldiers to communicate and share data, is not adequate for armored brigades and their personnel, according to armored operators in the field.

Now, the service is taking steps to address the issue, readying for a pilot program in 2022.

Army network officials converged here last week to discuss needs for the newest batch of network technology and meet with industry.

“If I can leave you with one thing to take away, it would be survivability. What I’d say about our current network is that our current network that I have deployed at the brigade level doesn’t support that,” Maj. Todd Donaldson, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division S6, said during the Dec. 2 technical exchange meeting.

This is partly because these organizations are unique in the types of vehicles they require and their particular maneuver needs.

“The armor formations are massively different in size, scope and the actual physics of it,” said Brig. Gen. Jasper Jeffers, deputy commanding general of maneuver for 3rd Infantry Division, adding everything about them is super sized.

But these armored units, which must stop to communicate today, need to be able to communicate on the move.

“I don’t have that capability to meet my commander’s intent, not that it can’t be met, but not met to the fullest. We have to stop in order to establish that upper tactical internet,” Donaldson said. “I would argue that our armored brigade combat teams more than any other maneuver element needs an on-the-move capability, and that network construct needs to be robust, it needs to be redundant, reliable and resilient. … Back to that survivability, we need to remain mobile and able to survive.”

The Army’s network team is kicking off early next year at Fort Stewart, Georgia, an on-the-move communications pilot that will demonstrate these capabilities.

As the Army has been modernizing its tactical network, it has constructed what it calls capability sets, meaning incremental builds and deliveries of capability to units on two-year cycles to create a baseline of technology and insert advancement as they arrive. Capability Set ‘21 was focused on infantry brigades, ‘23 on Strykers and ‘25 will focus on armored units.

In fact, the Army’s network team has already begun early work with the unit ahead of the demonstration.

“We’re also leaning forward on Cap[ability] Set ‘25. I have an ABCT characterization ongoing right now. We’re doing peer reviews with 3rd ID,” Matthew Maier, the project manager for interoperability, integration and services under program executive office for command, control, communications-tactical, said in an interview on the sidelines of the technical exchange meeting.

One of the reasons for the early characterization is the difficulty of not only outfitting these large platforms with confined spaces with various communications gear, but the diversity of heavy platforms.

“They had something like seven or eight different armored platforms up in PEO Ground Combat Systems, and we have to make sure the kit works as compared to a few variants of Strykers,” Maier said. “Really looking at making sure we get each of the different variants scheduled, available, units are coming home, training. I think a lot of that takes a lot of extra coordination so that early engagement helps.”

Officials said armored brigade communications gaps include minimal redundancies, no on-the-move capability and limited range, particularly when dismounted.

As the service approaches the on-the-move pilot for armored units, Jeffers said he’s seeking three main accomplishments. The first is maintaining speed of decision making. He said the advantage for units will be delivering information for the Army to make decisions at the right layer.

The second is resiliency. Adversaries are going to try to disrupt units, and the units will need multiple ways to pass and receive information in a contested and congested battlespace.

“There’s going to be times I believe, where those ground combat vehicles … may be the only things that are out forward and able to see what’s happening in the battlefield,” he said. “We’ve got to get the information off of it and deliver that to the right level of leader. How do we do that in a resilient fashion?”

The final key, Jeffers said, is reducing the complexity of systems for soldiers.

“We have to make the system simple because … everything starts to degrade the closer we get to contact and it has got to be simple to make it go,” he said.

Service officials have agreed. Indeed, they noted that early characterization efforts showed the service should not include too much and too complicated communications gear.

“There’s a lot of kit on those platforms and anytime you want to put more kit on them, there’s always that challenge of we want to be very, very careful not to overburden the soldier. These are fighting platforms,” Col. Shane Taylor, project manager for tactical network within PEO C3T, told C4ISRNET in a September interview. “Probably the biggest challenge in my mind is balancing — ensuring they have the necessary network capabilities that they need but also doing it at a level that minimizes impact on their ability to fight.”

Officials have also stressed the importance of early integration to ensure troops are getting what they need.

“As a brigade, we owe back to the Department of the Army, really, which technologies from the [on-the-move] we should continue to pursue and continue to encourage industry to develop,” Donaldson said.

Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.

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