Future network must make it easier for Soldiers to train, plan, operate from garrison to foxhole
By Brig. Gen. Daniel P. Hughes and Ms. Jennifer Zbozny
When you think “modernization,” the next word that comes to mind probably isn’t “simplify.”
Progress often implies more systems, with greater complexity—saturating Soldiers with technology and then surging the underlying infrastructure necessary to support everything from power to training. But does it have to?
As we plan the Army’s future tactical communications network—a top modernization priority as the Army transitions to a smaller but still highly capable force—we have a different vision. Picture a landscape in which Soldiers can start up a wireless command post at the push of a button, a quick voice command can summon and interpret a wealth of operational data, and a digital map looks the same from smartphone to tablet to vehicle-mounted touch screen.
In this vision, capabilities for maneuver, fires, logistics and other functions will be delivered and accessed not on separate computer terminals, but through a common, cyberhardened framework. Powering communication systems will require less fuel and fewer batteries. Soldiers will have the same information at their fingertips from garrison to foxhole, with network-enabled training providing continuity from schoolhouses to combat training centers. Holistically, the modernized tactical network will mimic the simplicity and capacity of commercial networks, while enabling the Army to securely dominate the battlefield across the full spectrum of military operations. Above all, capabilities will be intuitive for Soldiers to operate with minimal training and field support, so that they can focus on the mission, not the network.
To achieve this vision of simplicity, the Army has begun to implement the network modernization road map, which synchronizes operational priorities for versatility, mobility and security with technology imperatives and program-of-record objectives. The road map unfolds in three interconnected phases: Network 2.0 (in FY14-15), Simplified Tactical Army Reliable Network (STARNet, FY16-20) and the Network After Next (NaN, 2020 and beyond). (See Figure 1.) Led by the Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications – Tactical (PEO C3T) and aligned with Armywide efforts such as the Network Integration Evaluation (NIE), Network Capability Review (NCR) and Common Operating Environment, the road map also serves as a guide for industry to focus development efforts and to bring forward innovations quickly to fill capability gaps.
Simplifying the network will make it more efficient and lead to cost savings by combining hardware and other infrastructure, increasing competition, reducing software development efforts, and decreasing the number of field service representatives (FSRs) required to train Soldiers, troubleshoot systems and sustain the tactical network.
WHY SIMPLER IS BETTER
Over the past two years, the Army fielded four of the final brigade combat teams (BCTs) bound for Afghanistan with the Capability Set (CS) 13 network, which represents a huge leap forward from previous tactical communications equipment. CS 13 provides mobile satellite and terrestrial communications that allow the commander to stay situationally aware at all times, even when far away from his command post, and empowers the dismounted Soldier and squad with a new level of situational awareness through smartphones and networking radios. Deployed U.S. forces are now relying on CS 13 technology to stay connected and cover more ground, even as fixed network infrastructure is dismantled as part of coalition retrograde operations.
But while we dramatically increased network capability with CS 13, we also introduced greater complexity. During their training with CS 13, users—from the experienced signal personnel in the brigade S6 shops to company commanders suddenly inundated with communications gear—repeatedly told us that while they very much valued what the new network could do, it took an awful lot of time to learn. In part, this was because CS 13 represented the first time the Army delivered the network as a complete set of tactical communication systems for the BCT, and our training had not caught up to the integrated nature of the equipment. PEO C3T has since implemented a new system-of-systems training curriculum for Soldiers in BCTs receiving the follow-on CS 14, who have more time to train because they don’t face imminent deployment.
More importantly, however, users struggled with aspects of CS 13 because the network was not intuitive to use. Systems required too many commands entered through too many menus. Configuration changes could not be made automatically, requiring significant field support.
We saw the greatest success with systems like Nett Warrior, based on an Android smartphone, and Joint Capabilities Release (JCR), with its chat room functionality. Those systems provide the same seamless, naturally collaborative experience as the devices Soldiers use in their everyday lives. As users picked them up with minimal training—and constantly brainstormed new tactical uses as they took them to the field—the direction we needed to take became very clear. Soldier feedback from the semiannual NIEs and insights from the NCR, led by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), have reinforced the same theme: The network must be easier to use, train, maintain and sustain, so that it functions as a holistic weapon system that is tailorable and scalable to meet the needs of our innovative force.
MISSION COMMAND ANYTIME, ANYWHERE
The network modernization road map is divided into several focus areas: mission command; advantaged services transport (the “upper” tactical network and satellite communications used at higher echelons); basic services transport (the radios and smartphones used at lower echelons); cyber and network operations (NetOps); and physical (power and platform requirements, and tactical operations center (TOC) footprint).
With respect to mission command, our short-term goal is to complete the Army’s transition from stand-alone mission command systems to an integrated, Web-based environment that delivers powerful warfighting systems as user-friendly “widgets,” or apps, merged with the common operating picture of the battlefield. STARNet and NaN then will build on that foundation to deliver a single computing environment (CE) across the tactical formation, from handheld devices to platforms to the command post.
Using standardized maps, messaging and icons, the single tactical CE will provide a unified, familiar experience—similar to what a user would have with multiple personal devices that all run an Apple or Windows operating system. Working with the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, PEO C3T is implementing the standards and protocols to make this possible and enable multiple industry partners to participate.
Thanks to Apple’s Siri, most Americans are familiar with voice-based digital assistants that “live” in their smartphones and tablets to answer questions, take notes and memorize tasks. For the Army, infusing our tactical systems with voice and gesture recognition capabilities is another critical aspect of modernizing mission command. Imagine a commander who can request information and direct simple tasks by talking to his apps, rather than having staff scroll through multiple systems with separate menus, icons and buttons. The unit would save significant time during operations and in training.
This technology exists today—along with other simplified human-machine interfaces such as touch screens and gesture recognition capabilities—and we are actively pursuing such capabilities for the Army. Joint Battle Command – Platform, the successor to JCR that begins fielding later this year, takes several steps in the right direction with touch-to-zoom maps, a Google Earth-like interface, and drag-and-drop icons.
In the longer term, that is, the time frame for NaN, the human-machine interface will mature further to augment Siri-like technologies with JARVIS, a capability that acts like a “digital tactical butler” inside mission command systems. JARVIS will remember a system operator’s patterns and provide needed information, analyses and recommendations without the need for constant commands.
Unlike the mission command systems that various personnel use throughout a brigade, the transport side of the network can be largely invisible to all but a few signal Soldiers. But the progress of Warfighter Information Network – Tactical (WIN-T), radio waveforms and other transport avenues is just as critical to successful modernization, to provide the Soldier the freedom to attach to whatever network is available to achieve his mission.
The road map for advantaged services transport focuses on increasing capacity through solutions that provide alternatives to satellite communications, thus reducing network latency and cost. From “tropos,” tropospheric scatter technologies that transmit and receive microwave signals through the lowest portion of the Earth’s atmosphere, to “pseudolites,” or pseudo-satellites, advantaged nodes that simulate satellite services, the Army is exploring all options for beyond-line-of-sight communications and connectivity in degraded environments. Another operational imperative is to actually remove traffic from the network through intelligent caching mechanisms that record the information Soldiers use the most, store it locally and automatically provide access to it without using additional bandwidth.
At lower echelons, the Army crossed a major threshold with CS 13 by delivering software-defined radios that connect with smartphonelike handheld devices to transmit position location information, text messages, photos and other data. The focus for the future is to “untether” the phone from the radio, using LTE (Long Term Evolution, commonly known as 4G) wireless technology, so that troops can communicate more seamlessly across echelons. Radios will continue to improve as we maintain a competitive marketplace for commercial hardware and consistently incorporate enhancements to government-owned waveforms—with the NaN goal of achieving a simple-to-operate family of radios that can adapt dynamically to any bandwidth and spectrum environment.
FLEXIBLE, SECURE AND AGILE
Another area in which the future network must be much more dynamic is in NetOps and unit task reorganization (UTR). Simplifying UTR, which refers to the network adjustments required to support a change in task organization, was one of the most urgent recommendations from CS 13 users who had to reconfigure their systems manually when they reorganized into security force assistance brigade (SFAB) formations.
As the Army pivots to the Pacific and transitions to more expeditionary operations with regionally aligned forces around the globe, Network 2.0 and STARNet will accelerate efforts to give commanders and their staffs the ability to execute UTR through a user-friendly graphical interface and automated execution process. The STARNet phase will also continue recent progress in simplifying the NetOps tools used by signal Soldiers to manage and monitor the network. The goal is to converge upper and lower tactical Internet tools into a single NetOps tool set that provides total network visibility, overlaid with the common operating picture, for faster response on a complex battlefield.
None of these network advancements will matter if we can’t protect information from our enemies, making cybersecurity another essential component of the road map. NaN will bring improved tactical capability to defend against malicious cyberattacks and execute integrated offensive and defensive cyber operations, so that Soldiers can identify when they are being attacked, neutralize the attacker and retaliate. Systems will employ a simplified authentication mechanism, eliminating the need for multiple passwords to sign on to the network and increasing cybersecurity using biometric identification methods.
Finally, it is essential to simplify the physical aspects of the network. We need to “unclutter” TOCs by consolidating hardware such as computers, servers and wires, reducing power requirements and converting many hardware systems into software applications. The Network 2.0 and STARNet TOCs will be smaller, more mobile and more agile while still supporting mission command. With NaN, the Army will seek to pioneer a secure, wireless TOC, enabling units to set up and tear down their equipment much faster without relying on FSR support.
After working with numerous stakeholders to define these goals, the Army is now executing the “disciplined optimization” processes to make the network modernization road map a reality. With G-3/5/7, TRADOC, the chief information officer/G-6, U.S. Army Network Enterprise Technology Command and others, PEO C3T is implementing NCR recommendations and providing an updated integrated network baseline for evaluation at upcoming NIEs. Periodic assessments of the network baseline, along with changes to the NIE cycle that give industry more time to propose solutions, will allow us to better define capability gaps and set the conditions for our future modernization efforts.
PEO C3T has synchronized the lines of effort for each of our programs of record with the overall modernization strategy for Network 2.0, STARNet and NaN. In partnership with the Army science and technology community, we have outlined our technology focus areas to all interested industry partners and will leverage the integrated laboratory resources at Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD, the NIEs and other venues to evaluate current and emerging capabilities that could satisfy the Army’s needs.
We are not starting from scratch: The beauty of the future network, in functionality and in affordability, is that it adopts the best ideas of the commercial communications world and optimizes them for the military environment.
As we pursue our vision, we will continue fielding CS 14 and follow-on capability sets to select BCTs, continuing the incremental, integrated modernization that has brought so much positive change to Army network capabilities and processes. It is now time to build on this change to give today’s and tomorrow’s Soldiers a simplified, pervasive network that behaves as they expect and performs as they deserve.
For more information, visit http://peoc3t.army.mil/c3t/.
Brig. Gen. Daniel P. Hughes is the Program Executive Officer for C3T. He holds an MBA in business management from Oklahoma City University, an M.S. in national resource strategy from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces and a B.A. in political science from the University of Texas at Arlington. He is Level III certified in program management, and is a member of the U.S. Army Acquisition Corps (AAC).
MS. Jennifer Zbozny is the PEO C3T chief engineer. She holds an M.S. in software engineering from Monmouth University and a B.S. in industrial and systems engineering from the University of Florida. She is a member of the AAC.
This article was originally published in the April – June 2014 issue of Army AL&T magazine.
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