Enabling the network, empowering the Soldier

By May 15, 2019Acquisition
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

By Stanley Niemiec, Dennis Teefy and Robin Schumacher

Network security is crucial: The Army places responsibility on commanders, leaders and managers for ensuring that cybersecurity is part of all operations.

The Project Lead for Network Enablers (PL Net E), part of the Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications – Tactical (PEO C3T), serves as a critical enabler for the Army’s tactical communications network, ensuring the security and fidelity of the information transmitted across the network; simplifying Soldier and first responder network operations; and streamlining delivery of hardware and software solutions to Army program management offices and operational units.

Coordination across four product offices—the Product Lead for Common Hardware Systems, the Product Lead for Communications Security, the Product Lead for Military Technical Solutions and the Product Lead for Tactical Network Initialization and Configuration—allows PL Net E to provide expertise for specific program areas to reduce the requirement for the acquisition community to have its own staff for functions that Net E performs.

Life Cycle Acquisition Support

One of the most important ways PL Net E supports the acquisition community is through the Common Hardware Systems (CHS) program. The CHS program office works across Army and joint project management offices to streamline acquisition of commercial off-the-shelf information technology hardware items, available through a single contract. CHS acts as an extension of a program’s internal staff—providing market research, cost analysis, technical evaluations, contracting support and start-to-finish ordering and delivery of tactical hardware. From receipt of requirements to award of a corresponding order, CHS averages a 90-day processing time with an expedited capability available to meet urgent needs. Recently, CHS received requirements for an expedited technology insertion and order for the Warfighter 19-4 exercise. With the support of the U.S. Army Contracting Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, the team was able to award a technology insertion for three different NetApp hard drives in approximately 45 days and deliver the order within 48 hours.

The new CHS-5 contract provides additional flexibility and benefits to Army programs. It requires the prime contractor to establish a public-private partnership with Tobyhanna Army Depot to facilitate product support for programs procuring hardware via CHS-5 and having core logistics capability requirements. The contract also provides the government with an increased ability to perform supply-chain risk management, critical functionality analysis of critical components, critical program information assessment and implementation of other protection measures contained in program protection plans. CHS-5 also incorporates multiple warranty options, including the standard original equipment manufacturer warranty as well as three-, five- and eight-year warranty options that provide a 72-hour turnaround time for repairs, with no shipping costs incurred by Soldiers.

The Army’s Project Manager (PM) Tactical Network leveraged the Common Hardware Systems 5th Generation contract to rapidly acquire and field these Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange (CENTRIX) Network Extension Packages, or CX NEPs to units at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, in January 2019. (U.S. Army photo by Ken Burr, Product Manager Network Modernization, PM Tactical Network)

The Army’s Project Manager (PM) Tactical Network leveraged the Common Hardware Systems 5th Generation contract to rapidly acquire and field these Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange (CENTRIX) Network Extension Packages, or CX NEPs to units at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, in January 2019. (U.S. Army photo by Ken Burr, Product Manager Network Modernization, PM Tactical Network)

Protecting the Network

The Army’s efforts to create secure tactical communications and network capabilities would not succeed without robust National Security Agency (NSA)-certified encryption, which is where the Product Lead for Communications Security (COMSEC) plays a critical role. The product office collaborates with the joint cyber community and stakeholders from across the Army, other government agencies and partner organizations to develop, procure, test, field and sustain communications security solutions to protect the tactical network. Each year, the office hosts an integrated product team meeting to bring stakeholders together to collaborate on far- and near-term COMSEC solutions. Attendees include Army platform and acquisition project managers, DOD and other government agencies, NSA and international and industry partners.

The Army controls how program offices acquire cryptographic systems, and Product Lead COMSEC is the primary project office for COMSEC equipment. For example, it supports the Product Manager for Network Modernization and the Product Manager for Satellite Communications, both within PM Mission Command, with the procurement of inline network encryptors that provide secure communications over internet protocol networks.

Product Lead COMSEC provides several additional products for program offices and units, such as the Key Management Information (KMI) system—an NSA-developed program that provides a modern, reliable and secure system to handle encryption key generation and use. In the past, keys were generated, supplied to project managers and units, and tracked by hand on paper, which is a time-consuming and unsecure process. Now, KMI securely delivers keys over the tactical network, ensuring that each system obtains its own key that can never be exposed. A large part of COMSEC’s role in KMI is to be the expert bridge between the NSA and the user by providing an interface to the user to explain how KMI works and how to implement it properly.

Product Lead COMSEC also provides a management client and the Automated Communications Engineering Software mission planner. These products work together to obtain crypto keys from NSA, and to track which keys are used on the network with which equipment. The keys are then linked to simple key loaders to load onto the equipment. The simple key loader is currently the only way a project manager or unit can get crypto keys onto their equipment, as it is the only approved key loader in the Army inventory. It is also used in joint services.

A Soldier from the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division ensures her communication systems inside a tactical mobile station for the network is secure by using a simple key loader. (Photo courtesy of PEO C3T)

A Soldier from the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division ensures her communication systems inside a tactical mobile station for the network is secure by using a simple key loader. (Photo courtesy of PEO C3T)

Advancing Network Interoperability

The Army Tactical Network is a highly complex ecosystem consisting of different hardware and software that perform based upon different standards provided by multiple program executive offices, project managers and vendors. Various network systems, coupled with a mix of proprietary software and protocols, often create an environment that is difficult to integrate, interconnect and engineer.

The Product Lead for Tactical Network Initialization and Configuration (TNIC) provides engineering services to ensure the Army tactical network operates as one unified system. The results of these engineering efforts are reflected in the data products produced by Product Lead TNIC, which enable all command, control, communications, computers, cyber and intelligence systems to seamlessly initialize and cooperate on the network. Product Lead TNIC works with project managers within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology to incorporate their emerging technologies and requirements into one cohesive network, enabling them to deliver a standardized baseline set of data products across the force.

Data products assign every system in a command post a unique identifier, role and internet protocol address, taking into account a unit’s specific mission, personnel footprint and mix of networked mission command systems. This information enables the various systems to connect and share information. In FY18, Product Lead TNIC produced 311 data products in support of Army tactical initiatives, which included G-3/5/7 unit set fielding priorities, warfighter exercises, security force assistance brigades, integrated tactical networks, software baseline reduction and deployment requirements.

Conclusion

PL Net E offers a unique set of services for the Army, and its support is embedded within many different programs. PL Net E ensures the network is secure, communication can occur, and units have the equipment they need. Its approach in working with other programs is to integrate itself into the environment to understand the requirements, but also to have a holistic view to maintain a connected and interoperable network. As a result, the organization provides cost savings to program managers by using resources effectively and collaborating across the Army and with industry to offer resilient technology to outpace any threat.

 


Subscribe to Army AL&T News – the premier online news source for the Army Acquisition Workforce.
Subscribe