An outsider’s take on acquisition

By December 21, 2017August 30th, 2018Army ALT Magazine, Commentary
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Army acquires tactical communications equipment; units lack time, resources to train with it; some deploy without it. A PEO’s liaison to the operational force breaks down this dilemma.

by Brig. Gen. Karl Gingrich

I arrived at the Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications – Tactical (PEO C3T) in June 2016 as an outsider to the Army’s acquisition community. Given that I had no acquisition credentials or signal experience, many found the assignment curious, but the Army knew exactly what it was doing and why. It was specifically the lack of credentials and limited knowledge of the tactical communications portfolio that enabled me to do what the Army wanted—bring a new perspective to what we are acquiring, how we are fielding and how we are sustaining systems throughout their life cycle.

My official position was assistant PEO for operations, readiness and fielding. The charge from my boss, Program Executive Officer Gary Martin, was even clearer—become the face of the PEO to the operational force and maximize their readiness. To enable this, he gave me unfettered access to all forums and programs and free rein to travel to gain information, coordinate actions and affect change, and speak for the PEO. The access I was afforded, as a general officer, to operational units further enabled my mission, as did the ability to leverage a large network of my peers, and my extensive experience within the Army enterprise. In all of this, my ultimate objective was to be an advocate for Soldiers, commanders and signalers in the field. The purpose of this article is to provide some broad insights I gained from the yearlong experience and to advocate for more assignment opportunities like this for my peers.

First, the United States Army remains tremendously capable and continues to emphasize increased readiness as it builds strong momentum on modernization efforts. The pace of operations is as high as it has been in the past 16 years, and units are as busy at home as they are when they are deployed, in part because of training and proficiency requirements and systems maintenance to support readiness. To facilitate home station training and deployed operations, our Soldiers are demanding a network that is less complex. As I met with operational units and commanders during my time at PEO C3T, this prevailing theme cemented our efforts to not only simplify technology but, more importantly, to change business practices in the way we field, train and maintain network capability.

With the high tempo of home station activities and deployments, one of the greatest challenges we face today is that Soldiers do not have sufficient time to train on these advanced communications systems such as the Warfighter Information Network – Tactical (WIN-T), tactical data radios and mission command applications. More simply, Soldiers are not getting enough repetitions on the systems that we are fielding. Time is a precious resource to commanders.


The author, center, traveled to Fort Carson, Colorado, in February 2017 for a capability set fielding visit with the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. One takeaway from his time as assistant PEO C3T is that whether Soldiers get enough time training on a system matters just as much as what the Army designed the system to do. (U.S. Army photo)


The acquisition community can help maximize commanders’ time and training resources by working to engineer complexity out of our systems, simplify and standardize user interfaces, and teach Soldiers through apps, videos and chat how to reinforce or in some cases replace over-the-shoulder training on systems that do not require it. But the acquisition community can only do so much on this score, as true proficiency requires repetitive hands-on experience with the systems. Commanders must ensure that units are exercising their communications systems, incorporating them into training events at every opportunity and prioritizing communications training as part of sustainable readiness.

However, in order for this to happen, the development and acquisition community needs to help our commanders. The community must design and improve systems to be less burdensome to integrate into home station training events by making them smaller, faster, simpler, more rugged and easily transportable. These are all common refrains I heard while talking to operational units. If we don’t work across the community to heed these requirements, then units will continue to leave their fielded systems behind at home station and deploy with less capability. This is problematic, as we must stay ahead of our potential adversaries and continue to leverage rapidly changing commercially available technology.

Based on feedback from operational units, the evolution of the threat environment and the pace of information technology advancement, we are now improving our business practices. We are pushing our research and development efforts, as well as the defense industry, toward simplification and standardization.

Key to these efforts are movement to a standard common software baseline across our mission command systems, simplifying user interfaces, virtualizing hardware components where technology allows and fielding smaller and more expeditionary communications capability. PEO C3T is addressing these concerns and issues across the portfolio, including fielding the air-transportable Tactical Communications Node – Light, which provides light infantry units with vehicle-mounted (on the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle) mobile, high-­bandwidth connectivity; a lightweight satellite communications capability called Transportable Tactical Command Communications, which will provide a satellite link that’s easy to set up during early phases of operations; and continuing development of the Command Post Computing Environment, which reduces the number of stovepiped mission command systems and hardware in the command post.

The above efforts, and others, aim to develop a network foundation for achieving mission command, assured and interoperable communications, and information links across a multidomain architecture. But change does not come quickly, and we must continue to support the near-term readiness of our formations with better and more numerous training opportunities while we try to field less complex, more robust capabilities.

From an institutional perspective, the Army needs to strengthen integration and synchronization across doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel and facilities, to better support the readiness of our formations. The Army is working toward an integrated approach across new equipment, institutional and sustainment training.
Synchronizing fieldings, along with units’ other tasks, will produce better-trained Soldiers who are more confident in their skill sets. Well-trained Soldiers also will help the Army reduce its reliance on contracted logistical support, to achieve time and cost savings. The Army’s C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) Home Station Training Initiative, which is executed by the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command with support from PEO C3T, helps address these issues. Trainers and readiness resource managers catalog information (trouble tickets) on systems that units had difficulty using during operational training, to determine which systems see the most requests for field support assistance; the unit is then informed on how to receive additional training support for its personnel from the training providers available to them at home station.

Unfortunately, this is not enough, and we must begin to produce new Soldiers and leaders proficient on the systems they will find in their units. Until we can align our institutional training and business processes, far too much burden is being placed on our unit commanders.

One aspect of the Army’s institutional business approach to total life cycle management is producing positive outcomes. The Army’s C4ISR community at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, functions as a single team for life cycle management of our equipment. The U.S. Army Research Laboratory explores how emerging science and engineering could be transitioned into applied research for near- and long-term capabilities. The U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) executes engineering and prototyping, in coordination with partners such as PEO C3T and PEO Soldier at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. CERDEC’s activities then transition into acquisition through its relationships with PEO C3T, PEO Enterprise Information Systems and PEO Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors. The ­Communications-Electronics Command, including Tobyhanna Army Depot in Pennsylvania, completes the collective approach to addressing readiness issues. The field support ­initiative—whereby Soldiers are once again the primary operators and maintainers of C4ISR equipment at the unit level—is pushing down to our tactical units.


During its training rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Folk Polk, Louisiana, in April 2017, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division used the mobile WIN-T network to provide on-the-move mission command, situational awareness and voice, video and data exchange. The author, whose status as a general officer gave him greater than usual access to operational feedback, heard over and over again that such systems need to be smaller, simpler and more rugged. (U.S. Army photo by JRTC Public Affairs)

I personally dedicated much effort to fostering and strengthening these relationships and orienting their collective efforts on the challenges our tactical commanders were facing.

Finally, I gained an appreciation of just how complex our acquisition process is and the commitment of our acquisition professionals. PEO C3T has a tremendously professional workforce, composed of both civilian and military staff. They are laser-focused every day on the readiness of our formations and the needs of the future. They are meeting the challenges from senior Army leaders—including those from the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology and the U.S. Army Materiel Command—for greater innovation across the phases of research, development, engineering and acquisition. The PEO, like all others, is more closely managing risk as it accelerates capability generation and fieldings. The challenge is to remain focused on the Soldier while being transformational instead of transactional.

As an outsider, I would like to think I helped in this area the most. By challenging the common assumptions, focusing our program managers on outcomes and not process, advocating for our Soldiers and their desires, and being willing to underwrite risk for our acquisition leaders, the PEO continues to improve and thrive.

My time at PEO C3T has been a great opportunity and one of my most valued assignments. I believe the Army made a wise investment in my development, as I left with a stronger appreciation of our materiel life cycle processes and the professional workforce that executes these difficult missions every day.

I look forward to continuing to serve this great Army and to applying what I have learned. My hope is that I left a similar impression on the PEO and that the change I helped foster will endure. This was a unique opportunity the Army afforded me, and I highly recommend that the Army expand this approach and provide other general officers, many of whom could bring their expertise and years of experience into the process, the same opportunity to contribute new perspectives for improving our network capabilities.

The Army should focus not just on the network, but should expand this approach to our other challenging capability portfolios like ground combat vehicles and intelligence. I will forever cherish my time at Aberdeen and the C4ISR community and look forward to future opportunities to serve in this community again.

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BRIG. GEN. KARL GINGRICH currently serves as the director, capability and resource integration, J-8, U.S. Cyber Command, Fort Meade, Maryland. His previous assignment was assistant program executive officer for operations, readiness and fielding, PEO C3T, Aberdeen Proving Ground. He holds an M.S. in industrial engineering from the University of Louisville, an M.S. from the Dwight D. Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy of National Defense University, and a B.S. in civil engineering from Temple University.

This article will be published in the January – March 2018 issue of Army AL&T Magazine.

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