The Army’s efforts to modernize its tactical networks and information technology are expected to reshape its signal corps, according to service officials.
One of the Army’s efforts includes creating what is known as “expeditionary signal battalion-enhanced," or ESB-E.
Expeditionary signal battalions support units that don’t have organic communications capabilities. These groups could include military intelligence battalions, chemical battalions, engineering battalions or air defense artillery branches.
However, the Army realized it took too long to get equipment to theater, and the units said the gear performed too slowly on the battlefield, Sgt. Maj. Wendle Marshall, the head of 50th ESB-E, told C4ISRNET during a September trip to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. In response, the service adopted a more expeditionary approach, hence the “enhanced.”
The Army as a whole is working to be more expeditionary and mobile to stay ahead of potential future threats, which will require units to move rapidly. Mobility extends to the overall tactical network modernization effort, for which the ESB-E is part of the first iteration of development to the force in 2021.
The 50th ESB-E is the experimental unit, and three of its companies each received different equipment to test. When the Army receives feedback from those units and makes a decision on fielding, it will retrofit the entire battalion with the same gear. In 2021, the Army plans to outfit three ESB-Es out of 24 total ESBs.
The biggest difference between the enhanced version of these battalions? Advancements in technology allow them to be more mobile and use less equipment while proving more capable.
Soldiers described to C4ISRNET the difference in equipment between two sister battalions in the same signal brigade — one being an enhanced battalion. Based on the current configuration of a company in a typical battalion, six vehicles are needed to establish communications for a battalion or brigade — three vehicles and three trailers totaling six drivers — and three to seven C-17 planes to transport the vehicles.
The enhanced versions can deploy that same company in a single C-17 requiring just a four-seat Humvee and one trailer to house equipment and personal gear.
“If we had to get somewhere fast, we would not be able to provide the combat power as effective or fast as the ESB-E would,” Lt. Col. Trey Matchin, commander of 67th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, a sister battalion of the 50th located at Fort Gordon, Georgia, told C4ISRNET.
Marshall said the enhanced battalions also aren’t constrained to just satellite communications.
“This kit’s allowing us to change force structure to meet the needs of the Army,” Col. Matthew Foulk, commander of 35th Signal Brigade, which includes the 50th and 67th, told C4ISRNET in August.
Moreover, with less equipment, soldiers’ loads are lighter, they are more multifunctional and they rely less on contractor support.
“ESB-Es being fielded is going to come to an apex at the perfect time. Which is creating a more multifunctional soldier instead of ‘I only do SATCOM [satellite communications] or I only do baseband, I only do radios.’ We’re getting away from that,” Foulk said.
Marshall demonstrated how the motor pool for the 50th is smaller and simplified compared to sister battalions. One prominent example is an operations cell in which soldiers work on their kits as opposed to contractors. This allows war fighters to become proficient on systems ahead of exercises.
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.