WASHINGTON — The Army program office tasked with network modernization has started procuring its first iteration of new network tools, known as Capability Set ‘21.

The Army’s Program Executive Office Command, Control, Communications-Tactical received mid-tier acquisition authority for Capability Set ’21 in July this year, according to Paul Mehney, director of public communications at the office. Four infantry brigade combat teams will receive Capability Set ’21 equipment in fiscal 2021.

PEO C3T will procure Capability Set ’21 to support fielding to the new tools to infantry and Stryker brigade combat teams from FY21 to FY23. Tools from Capability Set ’21 will serve as the foundation for Capability Set ’23, which will focus on improving resilient communications capabilities in contested environments.

In April, the Army network team completed its critical design review for Capability Set ’21. During the review, it finalized decisions regarding the types and amounts of technology needed across brigades, such as the number of single-channel radios versus leader radios.

“Critical design was as much about making sure that we ended up with a design that we could afford to buy in the quantities we promised as it was exploring specific technical issues,” said then-Maj. Gen. David Bassett, who led PEO C3T and is now a three-star general serving as director of the Defense Contract Management Agency.

For example, Bassett said, going into the critical design review, the team thought it would be able to have a smaller quantity of leader radios, which are two-channel radios, and a larger quantity of single-channel radios. The Army ultimately landed back at the original quantities it envisioned and reduced the amount of single-channel radios while increasing the leader radio amount.

On satellite communications terminals, the Army had to grapple with the affordability of the number of the terminals. Bassett said they ultimately landed at a “middle ground” of satellite communications terminals, and Gallagher said it will be “a lot” more than what units have today.

There were some emerging technologies with which the Army experimented for Capability Set ’21, but decided to defer them to Capability Set ’23 because of affordability reasons or lack of technical maturity.

“The answer is not that we never want them, just that we’re not confident enough in those capabilities and their affordability in this time frame to include them in our [Capability Set] ’21 baseline,” Bassett said.

When the Army’s Network Cross-Functional Team began work on Capability Set ’21 a few years ago, it was looking for existing technologies that could solve network capability gaps. In Capability Set ’21, the Army is looking for “smaller, lighter, faster” capabilities and “more options” on network transport.

Critical design review for Capability Set ’21 also moved from a 100 percent classified network to a 75 percent secure but unclassified network at the battalion level and below, which will save money and time with security clearances, according to Col. Garth Winterle, project manager for tactical radio at PEO C3T.

The Army also plans to go through a competitive procurement process for the technologies, Winterle told C4ISRNET in a May interview.

Anywhere “where there was a stand-in capability where we know from market research that there’s other vendors, we’ll perform the same sort of competitive actions,” Winterle said.

Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.

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