ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND — The U.S. Army’s incremental approach to network modernization is producing results, inching the service closer to the Pentagon’s vision of being able to connect sensors and shooters across the force.
The Army has adopted a multiyear strategy involving the incremental development and delivery of new capabilities to its integrated tactical network. Those “capability sets” now provide technologies to units every two years, each building upon the previous delivery. Capability Set ‘21 was primarily designed for infantry brigades; Capability Set ‘23 is focused on Stryker brigades, and Capability Set ‘25 is focused on armored brigades.
Officials said Capability Set ‘23 begins to set the foundations for the Pentagon’s new concept — Joint All-Domain Command and Control — which seeks to seamlessly connect sensors and shooters to share information across services and domains while enabling faster decision-making.
Features and capabilities that are being added to this iteration of the network set the stage for enhanced situational awareness, greater tracking of troops on the battlefield, better transport of data – secure but unclassified, secret and top secret – from the tactical edge to the command post, and the automatic transition of communications pathways referred to as PACE, or primary, alternate, contingency and emergency.
The latter is an important component of military communications capabilities officials have discussed for several years, equating it to the way cell phones seamlessly transition from WI-FI to cellular network when the user leaves their home without any action taken by the user. In the field, this means that if a vehicle or system’s connection to its primary form of communication is unsuccessful for whatever reason, it will automatically switch over to the next available communication pathway. This allows the soldiers to be much more mobile and focused on their mission rather than having to be constantly fiddling with buttons to get on the right radio or waveform. In addition, soldiers can now turn the radios in their vehicle off to conserve power, connecting to the WI-FI in their Stryker as they transit from one place to another.
While Capability Set ‘21 provided units a level of situational awareness on the battlefield not previously realized, Capability Set ‘23 provides the first mounted and dismounted situational awareness capability, providing a common operational picture and mobile command posts that significantly improve the understanding of troop locations on the battlefield. It is also the first time that the command post can connect via line-of-sight to other platforms and automatically switch to satellite communications if that link is broken.
The command vehicle, a Stryker where the battalion or brigade commander resides, has a variety of situational awareness tools to see their troops on the battlefield.
Additionally, a new revolutionary tool is being introduced to the network that allows dismounted soldiers to call for fires. Previously, soldiers would have to use a mounted tool, and there was a lot of human input and verification prior to issuing a fire to ensure there weren’t any friendly soldiers in the area. With Precision Fire-Dismounted, soldiers can plan targets and send information back through the network that tracks their exact location, making the process faster, more seamless and leading to less friendly fire.
“I would argue this is the first real step towards a true JADC2 environment that we’re getting after here,” said Col. Gregory Napoli, the unified network lead for the Network-Cross Functional Team.
When it comes to sharing this common operational picture with other services, officials said they need a data fabric, which is not a single solution, but a federated environment that allows information-sharing among various forces and echelons. While the other services won’t have the same exact systems as the Army, as long as the data can be shared over networks they can attack the same targets. Officials said this is what the Army has sought to do with Project Convergence.
Officials also explained they are now beginning to fold in electronic warfare and intelligence systems into the Army’s network as part of Capability Set ‘23. That includes the forthcoming Terrestrial Layer System, the Army’s first integrated electronic warfare, signals intelligence and cyber platform mounted to a Stryker;
It also includes the Electronic Warfare Planning and Management Tool, or EWPMNT, a software interface that serves as a command-and-control planning capability, allowing forces to visualize the potential effects of electronic warfare in the field and chart courses of action to prevent jammed capabilities. While the Army initially expected EWPMT to reside in a command post, officials realized they needed that capability inside the vehicle to process data at the edge.
“The key thing you’re getting here that we didn’t have before is you’re getting real time data from the soldier, from the platform, back to the command post,” said Kenneth Strayer, project manager for electronic warfare and cyber within Program Executive Office for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors. “In the old days, even if you collected data, you’d have to manually move it from the soldier to the platform, manually move it from the platform to the command post. The ability of the commander to see this in near real time is the greatest advantage.”
Commanders will now be able to plan and visualize what they previously couldn’t see and to better understand how communications could be jammed.
And given that TLS is both an electronic warfare and a signals intelligence platform, it needs to work with data at both the secret and top secret classification levels. In the past, the Army has relied on an intelligence network to move that data, which presented a number of challenges.
“We relied on the intel network and it’s worked for us, but it’s a single network, single point of failure for us with limited bandwidth and the ability to move that data off that network is really impossible,” Strayer said.
Now, the Army has created a PACE plan for that data by linking it to the Army’s overall battlefield network. This requires what officials call “colorless transport” which means data of all classifications can flow over the network with proper automated controls to ensure the right people are seeing the data.
Adding these tools will require more bandwidth, and the Army is working with network management tools to prioritize what information is sent at what time.
“In a certain part of the mission, they may want to prioritize some of those intel and electronic warfare resources. You start to capture some of those demands on the network, now you can help our communicators, our signaleers, work with the commander to prioritize those,” said Maj. Gen. Robert Collins, program executive officer for command, control, communications-tactical.
This intelligence and sensor data will now be able to feed into a true common operational picture, officials explained, further contributing to the notion of JADC2 and multi-domain operations.
This level of data integration has not occurred before. Now, commanders will be able to have a more holistic picture of the battlespace.
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.