Brig. Gen. Karl Gingrich looks at acquisition through the eyes of an operations research analyst to bring clarity to the readiness, fielding and operations of the Army’s tactical network
by Ms. Nancy Jones-Bonbrest
It’s a matter of perspective.
To ensure that the tactical network enables the readiness of operational forces, the Army must have a ready network to support them. Yet a ready network does not come solely from meeting materiel needs for better technologies. Instead, it includes the other side of the coin: institutional readiness to put those technologies into play on the battlefield. After all, the Army can field the latest and greatest network equipment, but if Soldiers are not adequately trained or do not have the proper amount of time to train, their willingness to use it will diminish.
Listening to Soldier feedback and lessons learned, the Army is tackling both aspects.
Industry partners have heard the call to make capabilities less complex, to deliver interfaces with a common look and feel, and to include simplified network management tools and initialization processes upfront. To amplify those efforts, the Army is building Soldier proficiency and training that were sacrificed during back-to-back wars.
Approaching the problem from both directions—and meeting somewhere in the middle—will get the Army closer to the sweet spot, where Soldiers get the simplified and standardized technology they’re asking for, as well as the time needed to train on the network as an integrated weapons system.
In an attempt to approach these complexities from a unique angle, Brig. Gen. Karl Gingrich, the new assistant program executive officer for command, control and communications-tactical (APEO C3T), is serving as the “face” of the program executive office (PEO) to operational Army units.
Not an acquisition officer by trade, Gingrich comes to PEO C3T after serving as the director of resource management/G-8 for the Installation Management Command. Now, as the PEO C3T point person to work on complex issues of network modernization across the operational force and with Army partners such as the Forces Command, Training and Doctrine Command, Army Materiel Command and Army Cyber Command, Gingrich is focused on the goal of readiness in the field.
Gingrich provided his perspective on his new role, what feedback he’s gathered and how to implement changes so the Army—and its network—is better positioned to ensure readiness, during a Q&A discussion on Oct. 13.
What are the recurring themes you are hearing from the field when it comes to operating the network?
Smaller, faster, simpler, standardized and more capability—that’s what everyone wants. That’s what the Soldiers are asking for. If that’s what they want and what we are giving them today is not meeting that, then they will be unwilling to learn how to use the system, they will not operate it to its fullest capability and their mission will be degraded. That is the challenge we are faced with today. One of the key factors is complexity. Soldier training time is a finite commodity, and often we are hearing that they don’t have enough time to complete training requirements, and when they do get trained on the newest equipment they often PCS (permanent change of station) to a unit with older equipment and that knowledge base is lost. Also, as the Army continues to field the network to lower echelons, signal Soldiers—who are at the heart of operating this equipment—are in greater demand and not always found at the company or platoon level.
We didn’t get where we are overnight. We’ve gotten here because units are used to contractor support and they’ve lost the ability to do some of the basics. We were at war for almost a decade and a half. All of the Soldiers who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s understand the garrison Army and how we had to train ourselves and manage ourselves and manage our supplies. Then, when we went to war and went to the AFORGEN (Army Force Generation) readiness model, and we were doing one-to-one rotations or less (one year deployed, one year at home), all of that knowledge and skills atrophied. Were you going to send your Soldiers home at night, or were you going to keep them late to do a quarterly training brief knowing they were going right back to Afghanistan or Iraq, right back to the same neighborhoods they were in less than a year ago? So we got out of that business, we got out of the business of taking our kit with us and we created theater-provided equipment. We lost that unit-level maintenance capability because of that, and with it we created a customer type of environment instead of an owner type of environment. Woe be to the company commander whose equipment wasn’t ready in the ’80s and ’90s. You were vilified if it wasn’t in working order. So what we’re going through right now as an Army is that cultural change to get back to fundamentals. We are re-learning how we do training management and unit maintenance. There’s a lot that we have left to do, and I use the term “cultural” specifically because it’s going to take us time.
What can industry do to support?
A lot of what we’re doing now is organizing our field service support. Who does the unit go to if they need help? Right now, they go to whoever is in civilian clothes walking beside them at the Combat Training Centers (CTCs) or in the motor pool. We’re looking at not only how to organize that structure to make sure the unit readiness is supported adequately, but that the support is also streamlined and optimized. A lot of this comes down to training. During CTC rotations, 95 percent of the trouble tickets that are coming in are user-level issues that could be handled by the Soldier, such as basic troubleshooting procedures and user-level maintenance tasks. Of those, 75 percent should have been addressed through training. So we need industry to look at their training packages and streamline them. It currently takes us 24 weeks to do new equipment training/new equipment fielding (NET/NEF). We have to get better at that.
We are approaching this challenge from both sides right now. Materiel developers who are designing the next communication or mission command system need to stay focused on smaller, simpler and standardized. However, given the timelines for new capability development, this will take some time to affect unit readiness. At the same time, we need to ensure there are multiple opportunities, venues and means for units to train at home station and not rely so heavily on NET or the formal schoolhouse. You either make it simple on the front end when you field a piece of kit or you pay for it on the back end with training. So we missed the front end on some of our currently fielded equipment. What we are asking industry to do, as we move forward developing capabilities, is: Don’t forget simple, smaller, standardized and faster.
You’ve been in your new position as APEO since June. What unique perspective do you bring to the world of acquisition?
I had little preconceived notion of PEO C3T prior to arriving, other than that the PEO was providing connectivity and integration of the various programs within the portfolio to enable mission command at all echelons. Acquiring the capabilities the Army requires is extremely challenging given the complexity of the technology and the constant evolution of commercial capabilities. An even greater challenge is transferring these capabilities and technology to the operational force and ensuring their readiness. This work is complex and data intensive. Those themes—data, complexity and operational environment—are why I’m here. The Army seized on the opportunity to leverage the operations research skills of one of its general officers, while also exposing him to the broader acquisition community. What I bring is a comfort level with data, a comfort level with complexity. What we do for the Army is critical or structured thinking, helping leaders synthesize meaning from the data and clearly communicating that meaning in support of decisions.
You serve as the “face” of PEO C3T to the operational forces. What does that mean to you?
What that means to me is that rather than a series of individual project managers interfacing with the field, the program executive office is now taking on a role within that discussion. Because I’m a general officer, it allows us to now participate more readily and interact with senior leaders across the Army to help work some of these complex issues of network modernization. It starts to answer [the question], “Are we supporting the readiness of the field in the best possible way?” A civilian can absolutely do this job, but it’s a little bit different when you have a military officer talking with operational commanders and leaders. Another important aspect is that as we interface with the field, it is not just what PEO C3T can do to support readiness, but also what can our mission partners [the Communications-Electronics Command, Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, etc.] do in support as well—this is a team sport.
A lot of what is fielded directly relates to the requirements. Any general thoughts on requirements?
Over the past couple of years, we have seen probably a bit more friction between the requirements side of the Army versus the acquisition side, and that’s not appropriate. It’s not healthy. Honestly, part of the acquisition reform the Army is undertaking under the leadership of the secretary of the Army and chief of staff is really getting back to the basics of the requirements community focused on the requirements and working them through their channels, and the acquisition community focusing on acquiring and procuring those capabilities based on those requirements. It’s almost disciplining the system. When we were at war, lines blurred because we were trying to do the very best we could as fast as we could, and that line between requirements and acquisition turned from black and white to gray. Now we need to separate them and we need to make sure it’s a healthy separation. I’m not suggesting this is done in a vacuum; there still has to be dialogue. The requirements community can draft better requirements when supported closely by acquisition professionals. Likewise, the acquisition community can make better program decisions when working collaboratively with the requirements community. I think that is another niche I fill, in helping to bridge that gap, helping to make sure that there are productive lines of communication.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Again, this is a team sport. In addition to taking a look at ourselves, our requirements and what we are doing today in support of readiness, we’re now opening the aperture and looking more holistically at training from initial entry to deployed environment. Mr. Gary Martin, the program executive officer for C3T, has established a series of home-on-home engagements with our institutional partners at the [the Signal School at the U.S. Army Cyber Center of Excellence at Fort Gordon, Georgia] to ensure we are synchronized and optimized with respect to individual and collective training. We want our Soldiers to arrive at their unit trained on the equipment they will use. By looking at training all the way back to the institution and ensuring it is in line with what we are fielding on the front end, we can get out of the cycle we are currently in. We are looking at the various home station mission command initiatives that will include our capabilities at installations aligned to our divisions and headquarters to allow Soldiers to have an instantiation of their systems on hand. This way they wouldn’t have to pull everything out of the motor pool to train, but instead would have a standing suite of capabilities. We are cutting the NET/NEF timeline by weeks and encouraging FORSCOM to provide units with more time between fielding and their CTC rotation. We’ve stood up an advanced user courses, published a quick reference guide and are working closely with the Mission Training Centers to target training. There are many training opportunities out there and we need to make sure Soldiers and leaders are aware of them.
For more information, go to the PEO C3T website at http://peoc3t.army.mil/c3t/ or contact the PEO C3T Public Affairs Office at 443-395-6489.
MS. NANCY JONES-BONBREST is a staff writer for Data Systems Analysts Inc., providing contract support to PEO C3T. She holds a B.S. in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park. She has covered the Army’s tactical network for several years, including multiple training and testing events.
This article will be published in the January – March 2017 issue of Army AL&T Magazine.
Subscribe to Army AL&T News, the premier online news source for the Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology (AL&T) Workforce.