MAJOR UPGRADE: PM Tactical Network provides Scalable Network Node new equipment training to Soldiers from the 307th Expeditionary Signal Battalion at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, on April 7, as part of the conversion of the unit to a modernized ESB-E formation. (Photo by Maj. Kenisha Wilkerson, PM Tactical Network, PEO C3T)
Newly modernized ESB-E network equipment set enables warfighter formations to meet the rapid pace of a near-peer fight.
by John W. Gillette, Maj. Matthew Miller and Amy Walker
It began with a pivot.
In 2018, the Army made a calculated move away from large, static forward command-post operations, such as those seen in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to smaller, more deployable and dispersed command posts, which better suit a fight against sophisticated potential adversaries in Europe and the Pacific. This pivot spurred the Army to modernize its expeditionary signal battalions to make them, and the units and command posts they support, more mobile, survivable and lethal.
The newly modernized Expeditionary Signal Battalions ‒ Enhanced formations (ESB-E), provide or augment global network connectivity for other units that don’t have such robust, easy-to-deploy network communications equipment organically in their formations. By the end of fiscal year 2022, the Project Manager(PM) for Tactical Network, assigned to the Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications ‒ Tactical (PEO C3T), completed fielding six of these critical new signal units.
The fielding of the Delaware Army National Guard 198th ESB-E at New Castle, Delaware, in August 2022, marked the first Guard unit to be converted to an ESB-E. On the current timeline, the Army plans to convert three more units in fiscal year 2023 and will continue fielding several ESB-E packages per fiscal year until all of the expeditionary signal battalions have been upgraded to the baseline capability.
SMALLER, LIGHTER, FASTER
In today’s complex global environment, U.S. forces must be able to rapidly deploy and “fight tonight” when conflicts arise. On the battlefield, units need to be constantly on the move if they want to survive indirect fires or increase lethality through more covert offensive missions. The new smaller, lighter, yet more capable ESB-E network equipment set enables these formations to meet the rapid pace of a near-peer fight. The reduced size and system complexity of the transit-case-based equipment set enables ESB-Es to significantly increase their network support to other units with more network nodes and less manpower, while reducing transportation requirements by over 60 percent.
The current equipment set leverages both high-capacity line-of-sight (radio) and beyond-line-of-sight (satellite) network transport systems to enhance units’ primary, alternate, contingency and emergency (PACE) communication plans. Having multiple path options to transport data increases network resilience in contested and congested network environments, keeping Soldiers and their commanders connected. Resilient network connectivity enables uninterrupted global data exchange and mission command, providing commanders with the information they need to make rapid informed decisions on fast-paced dynamic battlefields.
The modular ESB-E network tool suite is also tailorable and scalable to enable these units to support a wide variety of mission sets and formations, from small early-entry command posts to full division-sized tactical operations centers. Now, with little or no notice, small four-man teams, versus entire platoons, can rapidly deploy on commercial airlines with this smaller, lighter network equipment to support operations anywhere in the world.
SOLDIER FEEDBACK LOOP
The key to the success of the Army’s signal battalion modernization effort continues to be the ongoing feedback the service receives from each unit. This feedback is used to inform decisions to modify elements such as Soldier-centric design changes to the equipment, basis of issue and training and fielding improvements. Unit input is also critical to modernization efforts that integrate emerging technologies into the network, such as high-throughput, low-latency multi-orbit satellite communication capabilities.
Direct observations from operational units enable the Army to assess and modify maturing technologies before final fielding efforts, creating efficiencies in time and cost, while getting new capabilities into the hands of Soldiers faster to retain overmatch against tech-savvy threats.
The agile ESB-E acquisition and fielding approach aligns with the Army’s two-year iterative network modernization capability-set design and fielding process, enabling the service to enhance the ESB-E baseline capability in future capability sets if Soldier feedback warrants it, or when emerging commercial technologies become mature enough to be procured. In line with the Army’s capability-set development, the service leverages a DevSecOps process—including early and often industry collaboration, informed experimentation in operational and laboratory environments, and ongoing Soldier input from training, field exercises, and real-world unit support—to inform decisions on continual ESB-E modernization, design, unit formation, and tactics, techniques and procedures.
In support of these efforts, PEO C3T continues to work as a wholistic team with industry partners, the operational units, the Army’s Network Cross-Functional Team and the C5ISR Center, both assigned to the Army Futures Command. Since the conclusion of the first ESB-E pilot in 2019, this team-of-teams continues to leverage an on-going Soldier feedback loop, listening intently to Soldier input, and then reaching out to the science and technology community and industry for solutions based on common faults, and implementing those solutions and adjustments.
Following the first ESB-E equipped in 2020—the 50th ESB-E at Fort Bragg, North Carolina—the PM Tactical Network never stopped putting unit observations to work to address operational challenges.
One of the biggest changes the team made based on ESB-E feedback concerned new equipment training and fielding. In the past, Soldiers were narrowly focused on certain military occupational specialties, and each Soldier was trained according to their specific specialty, such as a satellite terminal or baseband operator and maintainer. The Army now cross-trains ESB-E Soldiers on baseband equipment and satellite terminals together, and on multiple beyond-line-of-sight and line-of-sight network transport systems. This enables Soldiers to become proficient on different systems in the equipment set, and it increases operational readiness and flexibly, enabling ESB-Es to cover more missions with less manpower.
Soldiers also requested that additional training in signal theory be added into the new equipment training. To address this, the PM Tactical Network went directly to the U.S. Army Signal School to obtain high-level overviews that included instruction on how to employ and develop strong PACE plans. Since the ESB-E tool suite is easy to use, the actual new equipment training to set it up and operate is relatively short. The bulk of the training focuses more on troubleshooting common issues based on root cause data collected from across all of the ESB-Es.
The project office is also working on the development of systems-of-systems training materials that will provide an app-based user guide to support delta training beyond the initial new equipment training. Step-by-step instructions will review the setup, operation, maintenance and interoperability of each of the ESB-E systems. The app will provide Soldiers with on-demand digital training and troubleshooting assistance, both in the field and at home station, regarding the proper configuration and integration of network equipment in support of ESB-E missions.
As technology advances, the Army will continue to make the ESB-E kit even more intuitive and easier to use, decreasing training requirements, expense, and unit burden.
Looking forward to future network modernization capability sets, the Army is leveraging Soldier feedback and lessons learned from ESB-Es and other units that are supporting real world operations, training and experimentation efforts in Europe and the Pacific. These efforts include the use of evolving high-throughput low-latency capabilities that leverage commercial satellite constellations in the low Earth orbit and medium Earth orbit, which will increase signal path diversity and enhance network resiliency even further. Upcoming pilots in these theaters will assess multi-orbit high-throughput low-latency capabilities that automate PACE, to enable optimum network transport that is seamless to the user, so Soldiers can focus on the fight and not the network.
While the Army continues to provide more network capability and increased signal path diversity, it is looking to reduce the amount of physical equipment needed to do so, keeping cost and unit burden at acceptable levels. This equipment reduction will be achieved in numerous ways, including an increase in equipment virtualization or by potentially using a “family of terminals” approach that leverages existing portfolio options to support a wide variety of evolving requirements versus delivering a new network terminal to support every new requirement as it has been done in the past. The Army is also looking at commercially managed satellite service business models to more affordably keep up with the accelerating speed of technology advancement, while reducing resource and budget burdens, equipment obsolescence and other sustainment challenges.
Together, Army network stakeholders are providing significant and lasting contributions in support of the Army’s network modernization capability-set development and fielding efforts, directly enhancing the way the Army exchanges data during the most challenging, limited, congested and contested network environments with increasing network resiliency and security. As technology marches forward without end, the Army will continue to modernize its network, relying heavily on feedback from the ultimate end user—the Soldier on the battlefield.
For more information, contact the PEO C3T Public Affairs Office at 443-395-6489 or usarmy.APG.email@example.com.
JOHN W. GILLETTE is the product manager for Mission Network, at the PM Tactical Network, assigned to PEO C3T. He is directly responsible for the modernization of the Army’s Tactical Network Transport, which provides both at-the-halt and on-the-move networking, keeping highly mobile and dispersed forces connected to one another and to the Army’s global information network. Gillette earned an M.S. in counseling and leader development from Long Island University, a B.A. in sociology from the University of Delaware and an associate degree in science from the Valley Forge Military College. He is a 2018 graduate of the Defense Acquisition University Senior Service College Fellowship and a 1999 graduate of the Army Command and General Staff Officers Course at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He is Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act (DAWIA) Advanced certified in program management.
MAJ. MATHEW MILLER is the assistant program manager for Mission Network’s Assistant Program Manager for the Scalable Network Node (SNN), Project Manager Tactical Network, assigned to PEO C3T. He earned an M.S. in systems engineering management from the Naval Postgraduate School and a B.S. in exercise science from Towson University.
AMY WALKER has been the public affairs lead at PM Tactical Network for 13 years and served in public affairs at PEO C3T for the previous two. She has covered a majority of the Army’s major tactical network transport modernization efforts, including Army, joint and coalition fielding and training events worldwide. She holds a B.A. in psychology with emphasis in marketing and English from the College of New Jersey.