MOVE OUT: The author participated in Capability Set 23 planning discussions, which involved tailoring the ITN to Stryker and armored units. He saw results of the Network Cross-Functional Team’s work, including this Stryker vehicle integrated with Tactical Network Transport – On the Move capability, in September 2019 at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California. (Photo by U.S. Army)
Liaison officer provides a snapshot of two unified Army network modernization offices.
by Tyler J. Cook
People always talk about cutting out the middleman, but in the case of Army network modernization, the middleman can serve an essential role.
As an employee of Project Manager Tactical Network (PM TN) at the Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications – Tactical (PEO C3T), I had the unique opportunity to serve in a developmental assignment as the PM’s liaison officer to the Network Cross-Functional Team—one of eight cross-functional teams assigned to the Army Futures Command. I was embedded within the network team for one year, serving as a middleman between the two offices. Although I often wore many hats, ultimately my main responsibility was to help the two organizations remain synchronized. In the current environment of limited resources, it is critical to synchronize messaging across stakeholders, thus providing senior leaders and Congress with clear insight into the team’s mission. Synchronization speeds the decision-making process and enables the team to focus its efforts holistically and deliver results more rapidly.
LEARNING BY DOING
Both PEO C3T and the Network Cross-Functional Team work to foster a team environment. With support from an engaged leadership, that environment includes professional development and talent management. I found myself immersed in this new developmental role, working side by side with high-ranking Army officers and civilians. I had the opportunity to brief colonels and general officers on a daily basis, and even had the honor to meet Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy.
My duties included representing PM TN in the activities and initiatives of the Network Cross-Functional Team, communicating relevant information between organizations, coordinating PM support of the network team’s tasks and requests for information; and ensuring that the team’s modernization strategy, priorities and messaging accurately represented the PM’s challenges. This was especially important for things such as requirements, funding and the search for enabling technologies.
TWO TEAMS, ONE UNIFIED MISSION
As part of its 2018 Army Network Modernization Strategy, the Army stood up the Network Cross-Functional Team to augment traditional acquisition through rapid prototyping and experimentation. The organization identified four primary lines of effort to guide tactical network modernization:
- Unified network.
- Common operating environment.
- Joint interoperability and coalition accessibility.
- Command post mobility and survivability.
I directly supported the unified network line of effort, which aims to make the network stronger, more reliable, secure and mobile to ensure that tactical units can stay connected and communicate in hostile environments. Since most of PM TN’s portfolio supports this goal, the assignment was a perfect fit for my background and an extraordinary opportunity to expand my acquisition proficiency.
As the Army intended when it stood up the cross-functional teams, PM TN and the network team rely heavily on their partnership and intense collaboration to identify options for innovative solutions, make tough decisions and ultimately drive network modernization outcomes. The team’s strongest attribute is its ability to use stakeholder relationships across the network requirements, acquisition, and science and technology communities to work through goals, options, solutions and courses of action (COAs).
My developmental assignment was a unique opportunity to learn how the Army makes decisions on key network modernization efforts and to witness firsthand the extensive behind-the-scenes actions that lead to those decisions. In some instances, I was involved in the formal military decision-making process—a proven analytical process that helps the commander and staff develop, integrate and synchronize their plan. It consists of seven steps:
- Receipt of mission.
- Mission analysis.
- COA development.
- COA analysis.
- COA comparison.
- COA approval.
- Production of orders.
Other efforts also followed a governance structure—a formal process that optimizes efforts across different working levels—to obtain leadership buy-in and concurrence.
At the lower working levels, we gathered and distributed all of the most recent facts, assumptions and other pertinent information to enable leadership to make solid, informed decisions. In some instances, leaders would decide to use one of the recommended COAs, while in others, they thought outside the box, combining different COAs or creating entirely new ones to overcome the particular challenge at hand.
TWO ORGS ARE BETTER THAN ONE
As part of the Army’s network modernization strategy, PEO C3T and the Network Cross-Functional Team together are delivering phased network capability enhancements on a two-year basis, beginning with Capability Set 21 in fiscal year 2021. The goal is to deliver a modernized network to support a force capable of multidomain operations by 2028.
The Army will build on lessons learned from the development and fielding of each capability set, including work being done with new and evolving satellite capabilities. As part of the capability-set delivery, the team embraces the developmental operations process, leverages acquisition authorities, establishes program baselines and executes design review processes to ensure technical maturity, basis of issue and affordability. Together, PM TN, PEO C3T and the Network Cross-Functional Team are successfully providing a unified tactical transport network by aligning priorities and resources across numerous programs and efforts to pilot and prototype.
During my assignment, I was immersed in numerous Capability Set 21 efforts, including the integrated tactical network (ITN). Through the ITN framework, the Army is providing battalion-and-below echelons with flexible communications options to better support threat-based environments. As the PM TN liaison embedded within the unified network line of effort, along with efforts to leverage and modernize the upper tactical internet in support of ITN, I was also involved with some of the radio modernization initiatives at the lower tactical echelons. Through the entire ITN selection process—from a scrum implementing the military decision-making process to the existing governance structure for iterative decision-making—I observed the importance of a synchronized message, ensuring that all of the stakeholders were working toward the same focused goals.
As discussions considered different radio capabilities to support the ITN, the team balanced cost, schedule and performance for programmatic efforts. It also considered the different radio modernization COAs balanced against different needs—such as thwarting near-peer threats, affordability, capabilities, sustainability, interoperability, etc.
As part of the operational planning team for the new Expeditionary Signal Battalion – Enhanced (ESB-E) equipment package, I contributed to the synchronization of information between the Council of Colonels and the General Officer Steering Committees, where leadership made iterative decisions based on Soldier feedback from the ESB-E pilot. The purpose was to home in on the right characteristics to balance capability with cost.
The ESB-E tool suite will be fielded to modernize the Army’s legacy expeditionary signal battalions. These units provide network communications capabilities to other units that either don’t have their own organic network transport communications assets, or require increased network capability to support certain missions. The tool suite comprises an innovative mix of smaller, more mobile equipment for tactical network transport, with significantly reduced complexity and logistical requirements. This modernized commercial off-the-shelf equipment set enables the ESB-Es to rapidly deploy and maneuver across the battlefield and provide robust and resilient network connectivity to the other units it supports.
Following the successful ESB-E pilot effort, I was involved in efforts to identify and implement the path forward for fielding. By working this effort and many other products throughout my year at the Network Cross-Functional Team, I gained an appreciation of the staffing process—all of the coordination that happens at the working levels before putting recommendations in front of the decision-makers—and how the process can support timely modernization decisions while building consensus and capturing differing perspectives.
Looking ahead past ESB-E and other Capability Set 21 solutions, Capability Set 23 builds on those, including science and technology efforts that have transitioned or will transition to PM TN. I took part in initial Capability Set 23 planning discussions as the Army looked to document objectives and approaches for various design goals, such as the use of commercial low- and medium-earth-orbit satellite constellations and ground terminals, and tailoring the ITN to Stryker and armored units. Of particular importance is the support to Joint All Domain Command and Control—a major concept that will leverage capabilities across all domains and mission partners to achieve battlefield advantage. In support of this concept, the Army plans to deliver network transport and data management solutions to enable the flow of critical situational awareness and sensor data. The goal is to connect sensors (such as aircraft, radar and Soldier-wearable devices), to shooter (the weapon systems used to attack targets), all the way down to the dismounted Soldier.
ENGAGING WITH INDUSTRY
The Army is relying on industry to provide innovative and pioneering technologies to support its network modernization efforts. The Network Cross-Functional Team and PEO C3T have been hosting technical exchange meetings to inform industry of opportunities to partner with the Army in support of capability set requirements as part of the acquisition process.
For instance, the technical solutions discovered through the fourth technical exchange meeting, held in November 2019 in Austin, Texas, will be used to inform Capability Set 23 during its preliminary design review in 2021. More than 670 industry and government partners attended that meeting; ultimately, the Network Cross-Functional Team and PEO C3T selected six topics to return to industry in a call for white papers. PM TN is the acquisition lead for one of those topics: managed multi-orbit satellite communications services.
As the Network Cross-Functional Team liaison, I worked on this effort from the start, beginning with the initial request for white papers in January 2020. Subsequently, I supported the white paper technical evaluations, which resulted in the selection of two vendors’ submissions for participation in a “Shark Tank” technical demonstration. At that event, one vendor was chosen to move forward with statement-of-work development and a final proposal. The contract is expected to be awarded this fall. The capability is being developed and evaluated in support of the Capability Set 23 preliminary design review.
LEVERAGING LESSONS LEARNED
My developmental assignment recently ended, and I transitioned to a new position as the assistant product manager for integration at Product Lead Unified Network Capabilities and Integration, a new product office created under PM TN earlier this year. The office consolidates tactical network integration efforts for current, evolving and future capabilities across the PM’s portfolio and broader Army modernization efforts.
I am now the lead for the multi-orbit satellite communications services capabilities developed from our technical exchange meetings, and I have the unique opportunity to see the project through on the programmatic side. Since the new product office directly supports the Army’s modernization strategy, the experiences and relationships I developed during my time with the Network Cross-Functional Team will undoubtedly help me in my new role.
The numerous tactical network stakeholders, including program offices, the science and technology community and industry, quickly embraced the concept of cross-functional teams. All are now working as unified teams to modernize the Army’s network, using both traditional and rapid acquisition processes. The Network Cross-Functional Team is responsible for delivering new capability now, while planning and laying the groundwork for the future tactical network.
The network team, like its cross-functional counterparts, serves as key integrators, pulling together the requirements, science and technology, and acquisition network communities of interest. Program offices working closely with the cross-functional teams should consider embedding liaison officers to develop the workforce and to help ensure the synchronization of information, processes and developmental efforts to enable the delivery of timely, innovative capabilities that meet Army requirements.
Network cross-functional teams have many members with an acquisition background, but the team itself is not an acquisition organization. A PM liaison officer can help guide the cross-functional teams in the acquisition process and in identifying which technology insertions are possible. Alternatively, the liaison officer can help the PM and PEO to ensure that funding is aligned via the planning, programming, budgeting and execution process. Additionally, the liaison officer can help identify thorough transition plans for maturing technologies as they transfer over to the PMs from the science and technology community. Regardless of their particular responsibilities, a PM liaison officer in a cross-functional team should prepare to roll up their sleeves, learn fast, answer quickly and do good work.
Some final thoughts on the relationships between PM and cross-functional teams: The teams should consider affordability when developing new capabilities, apply acquisition rigor by leveraging the years of acquisition experience and knowledge available in the PM office, and ensure that requirements are flexible to allow PMs to explore all possible options and plan for the future. PMs should align their efforts with cross-functional team efforts, use all acquisition approaches to refine and ultimately field new technology, keep an open mind on technologies that could enable future capabilities, assume acquisition risk and provide honest feedback on the feasibility of cross-functional team efforts.
The PMs and cross-functional teams are leveraging each organization’s individual strengths to create strong, integrated, holistic teams, thereby promoting collaboration and rapid delivery. Making use of a liaison officer will help ensure that these teams-of-teams are always synchronized, focused on the same modernization goals and aligning them with requirements and best value. Together, PMs and cross-functional teams are building solid, lasting relationships across all levels of leadership, the stakeholder communities and industry, ensuring success in their ultimate mission—to deliver a modernized force capable of multidomain operations by 2028.
TYLER J. COOK is the assistant product manager for integration, assigned to PEO C3T’s Product Lead for Unified Network Capabilities and Integration within the Project Manager for Tactical Network. He will soon complete an M.E. in systems engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology, and he holds a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Penn State University. He is Level III certified in engineering and holds a graduate certificate in systems supportability engineering.