The Army is upgrading how it tracks friendly forces to increase readiness.
During the fiscal 2019 budget roll out in February, Army officials at the Pentagon indicated that the service would be accelerating its Joint Battle Command-Platform, which provides friendly forces awareness information known as blue force tracking, as well as encrypted data and faster satellite network connectivity. The change is intended to solve mounted mission command problems across all formations.
The new budget request shows the service is serious about the issue. The Army asked for $431 million for the program in FY2019. That’s up from a total of $283 million during the FY2018 budget. Moreover, the Army plans to procure 26,355 systems as opposed to 16,552 from the FY2018 budget.
However, officials in the program office were careful to note this was not a “plus-up, so to speak,” but an effort to accelerate the fielding of the tracking systems.
C4ISRNET’s Mark Pomerleau recently spoke about the program’s modernization efforts with Col. Troy Crosby, project manager for Mission Command, alongside Lt. Col. Shane Sims, product manager for JBC-P, assigned to Project Mission Command.
C4ISRNET: How should we interpret the FY2019 budget request for this program?
COL. TROY CROSBY: It’s important to understand that there wasn’t necessarily a plus-up.
Really what happened is we shifted already approved authorizations to the left. We’re just expediting sooner.
The Army asked us what we could do to modernize faster … essentially, we went back to them and said give us the funding and the resources to move a lot of those units to the left because every year the G-3/5/7 comes out with this priority list and we weren’t able to get down to that priority list because of funding.
That’s really what you’re seeing with that movement of money from the out years closer in to the left.
C4ISRNET: What led to the decision to baseline the program across formations?
CROSBY: The Army’s looking to standardize their baselines not only on the platforms like JBC-P, but also a similar effort in the command post with software baseline reduction.
Moving to the standard baseline on the platform-side helps with training, readiness and the physical constraints as we can depreciate the older versions of FBCB2/BFT [Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below/Blue Force Tracking] out of sustainment.
C4ISRNET: How does standardization help the Army?
CROSBY: Any time you’re greatly standardized in a organization the size of the Army, you’re going to get easier interoperability down at the tactical level.
If Lt. Col. Sims is Sgt. Sims and he is in a unit at Fort Stewart and we were trained on the current systems in the force and then he gets [a permanent change of station] out to Fort Riley, he already has a base of knowledge when he hits the ground on what those systems are because they’re the same across the force. So, the training burden for his new units greatly reduced.
I think it also helps in readiness as units and soldiers move around the battlespace.
The other reason the Army really wants to standardize on JBC-P is, like with all systems in the tactical network, we’re always looking to improve cyber posture, and there were multiple improvements in our cyber posturing that the department felt were relevant to try to accelerate so we could get that capability to the entire force as quickly as possible.
C4ISRNET: In terms of cyber, what are some modernization efforts you’re undertaking to help this platform perform in the more dynamic environments?
CROSBY: I think the best way that we can characterize it is looking to … achieve a cyber posture that allows us to operate both in a counter-insurgency/counterterrorism role and a near-peer adversary role. We’re looking to answer both sides of that coin. Yes, current fight, but we’re also looking to make sure we’re cyber postured for a near-peer.
LT. COL. SHANE SIMS: You can probably draw some conclusions from what you know on the commercial side. Imagine having a computer that’s over 20 years old — that’s where some of our platforms are right now when you’re talking about the FBCB2 that was fielded almost two decades ago.
C4ISRNET: In terms of your FY19 funding, could it be characterized as investing in standards to help increase readiness and lethality?
CROSBY: Very much so. The plus-up kind of touched a couple of areas. On the research and development side, the plus-up helps us in looking at ways to modernize and bring new capability for the blue force tracking network side. We’re really looking to expedite that fielding for better cyber posture.
C4ISRNET: It sounds like standardization is very important from an Army readiness and lethality perspective.
SIMS: When talking JBC-P, there are really three components: the software, the hardware and then the network.
Really, what we’re doing on a couple fronts [is] we’re expediting the fielding to get the hardware out there but that’s going to set the conditions for what we’re doing in the command post with the infrastructure. That same infrastructure is going to reside on our hardware that’s in the platform.
The commanders are in environments where they experience something completely different in the command post than you experience on the platforms.
You hear repeatedly from the commanders, “Can I have the same type of user experience?” Data’s really what we’re addressing with the modernization of the command post and the mounted computing environment. That user experience is going to be one and the same for the commander when he or she is in the command post and then when they get in the vehicle.
That is really what we’re doing with modernization for JBC-P.
C4ISRNET: The National Defense Strategy has stressed prioritization on great power competition. How does JBC-P modernization and standardization fit into that strategy?
CROSBY: The first one is looking to modernize JBC-P mission command on the move at the platform level. How we continue to modernize and field as fast as we can so that we can maintain both that counter-insurgency/counterterrorism fight and near-peer adversaries is one piece of this.
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.