NEWEST MODEL: Project Manager Tactical Network completed Phoenix E-Model satellite terminal new equipment training for Bravo Company, 50th Expeditionary Signal Battalion-Enhanced, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in November 2022. These versatile transportable, quad-band, satellite terminals enable operational flexibility and multipath diversity. They provide large division and corps headquarters with agile high-bandwidth network communications. (U.S. Army photo)
The Army is shaping its satellite communications portfolio to support multi-domain operations more efficiently while enabling technology advancements.
by Col. Shane Taylor, John Anglin and Amy Walker
The Army is working to consolidate the variety of ground satellite equipment in its portfolio, using a more versatile family of systems approach, while retaining the acquisition flexibility to insert new technologies as they evolve. In this new approach, fewer system variants will provide more capability and be able to support a broader range of mission sets.
During past conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army designed each of its ground satellite terminals to support specific missions and phases of operations—from early entry to network buildup, to more mature operations with huge static command posts. Each system had to go through laborious and antiquated testing and acquisition processes that took years to get new capabilities into the hands of Soldiers.
Currently, there are over a dozen and a half different ground satellite terminal variants in the Army’s satellite communications (SATCOM) fleet, with well over 10,000 terminals fielded globally, which doesn’t include thousands of combat service support logistics network terminals. Army investment dollars used to sustain this large SATCOM fleet have been eating into the service’s limited resources.
A CATALYST FOR CHANGE
In early 2022, Gabe Camarillo, the undersecretary of the Army, initiated the network capability portfolio review to accelerate digital transformation and the modernization of the Army’s network. The capability portfolio review process evaluates and aligns system requirements and resources with Army priorities and creates a sustainable coherent and flexible strategic path for transformation, leveraging feedback from network stakeholders Army wide.
As part of capability portfolio review outcomes, Project Manager Tactical Network (PM TN), at the Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications ‒ Tactical (PEO C3T), is looking to reduce the number of SATCOM terminal variants and equipment through multiple approaches:
- Going after solutions that can meet more than one mission set.
- Separating the baseband solution from the terminal solutions.
- Changing business models.
The program office is working with Army stakeholders to address several challenges and opportunities along the way, such as how to consolidate similarly sized platforms; how to identify the optimal baseline requirements where potential trade-offs can be made to enable variant reduction; how to insert new technology from the network modernization roadmap; and how to align the acquisition and contract strategy across PM TN, while providing flexibility for technical insertions of new technologies.
KEEPING IT IN THE FAMILY
One of PM TN’s ways to streamline the Army’s SATCOM portfolio is to implement a “Family of Terminals” strategy, which PM TN anticipates will reduce the current number of terminals by more than half by fiscal year 2025.
This SATCOM Family of Terminals would be operationally flexible, modular, scalable and tailorable, providing a variety of expeditionary terminals to units worldwide to best support different formations, echelons, mission phases, requirements and locations. There would be fewer terminal variants that would come in different sizes: extra small, small, medium, large and extra large. The strategy is expected to realize substantial cost savings and avoidance, while delivering the right array of solutions to enable the needed operational flexibility, signal path diversity and enhanced capability to support multidomain operations while easing sustainability and training burdens.
Industry has significantly expanded the options available in today’s commercial market, offering DOD new and more scalable and tailorable solutions without specific operational phase limitations. For example, terminals that once would have only been used for early entry are now more generically considered “light” terminals. They can be tailored to different missions at all stages of operations and scaled up or down to support different-sized units. Today’s expeditionary light SATCOM terminals are easy to deploy and can be set up or torn down in under 30 minutes, for rapid mobility and survivability in a near-peer fight.
One of the critical linchpins to making a “family of” approach is the normalization of requirements. The Common Transport Layer Capabilities Development Document—which specifies the operational requirements of current and emerging integrated, unified network components—is a critical enabler to do that. In the past, requirements traditionally would lead to a program of record solution that the Army would field across the force and sustain for decades. Now, the service is normalizing the requirements between all of the disparate requirement’s documents, which could lead the Army to an optimal range in terms of the number of different satellite terminals and corresponding baseband equipment used to transmit data in the field.
PM TN will ensure that the Family of Terminals is continually updated as new commercial solutions become available and that units don’t have technology that is over five years old. As technology advances, the Army would have the flexibility to modernize current systems through technical insertions at any point in time. Every two years, as part of capability set reviews, industry would be able to compete to become one the newest members of the Family of Terminals, replacing outdated capability.
BREAKING UP THE BASEBAND
Following the adoption of the Family of Terminals approach, the Army is also looking to introduce a Family of Baseband equipment. As in the Family of Terminals approach, the service would normalize requirements to reduce the amount of baseband equipment, while delivering enough capability to ensure network resiliency and network transport diversity to support congested and contested environments. The biggest differences in baseband will be in how many users each system can support, including constraints such as port density. Like Lego blocks, terminals and baseband can be scaled up or down as needed to meet different mission requirements.
To keep up with baseband technology advancements as they evolve, the continued virtualization of hardware—which turns hardware into software—will provide needed network capacity and make it easier for the Army to insert new capabilities, while reducing size, weight and power-cost. When systems are virtualized, simple modernization and security software upgrades can be rapidly implemented across the fleet, versus potentially having to add more hardware, as the service would have done in the past.
One example aiding in the Army’s reduction of equipment is the innovative Unified Unclassified Enclave (U2E), which PM TN developed and continues to field. U2E consolidates numerous unclassified hardware enclaves—each formerly requiring their own hardware—onto a single multipurpose unclassified hardware platform. U2E enables secure and flexible long-haul transport and tactical access for a variety of unclassified, classified, coalition and commercial networks, with the appropriate levels of security separation between each. It also uses encryption standards that exceed National Security Agency requirements. The enclave reduces size, weight, and power and cost; software and inherent licensing costs; and overall cognitive burden on Soldiers. It also enables the quick integration of other unclassified enclaves.
ONE TERMINAL—MANY ORBITS, MANY BANDS
To combat electronic warfare and cyber threats posed by more advanced adversaries, the Army is enhancing network resiliency through automated agnostic transport diversity, significantly increasing the number of network communication pathways available to units. The more pathway options that exist for data to travel through, the more resilient the network becomes. This includes emerging commercial high-throughput, low latency (HT/LL) network transport, such as low Earth orbit, medium Earth orbit and advanced geosynchronous Earth orbit satellite communications.
Underpinning the Army’s efforts to increase network capability, capacity and resiliency is the need to increase simplicity at the edge of the battlefield, since more and more Soldiers fighting there will be general purpose users.
So how does the service add all of these disruptive new capabilities without significantly increasing its SATCOM portfolio and complexity at the edge?
When fielded, one solution, the Next Generation Tactical Terminal (NGTT), will simultaneously leverage emerging HT/LL low Earth orbit and medium earth orbit constellation providers, current and future geosynchronous earth orbit constellations, as well as multiple frequency bands, with a single terminal. With NGTT, if one link goes down, Soldiers won’t have to change bands or change out any hardware; the switch to different data transport options is automatic and seamless to the user. Instead of having a separate terminal to support each different constellation, as is the case currently, NGTT combines all of these capabilities into one system, significantly reducing the size, weight and power burden, whether an NGTT at-the-halt or on-the-move platform.
The Army’s science and technology community has been developing the on-the-move NGTT solution, while Project Manager Tactical Network is working the at-the-halt NGTT as part of the large solution for the Family of Terminals. Both will use similar technologies with normalized requirements working in partnership with the Cyber Center of Excellence. The on-the-move NGTT solution will eventually transition from the science and technology community to PM TN, and both solutions are targeted to support the Army’s network modernization Capability Set 27.
NEW BIZ MODELS
As part of the Army’s endeavors to reduce its SATCOM portfolio and ancillary network equipment, in addition to the “family of” approach and the introduction of new multiorbit, multiband terminals such as NGTT, PM TN is also pursuing a potential new commercial “leasing” business model. A SATCOM as a managed service model could enable the Army to keep up with the accelerating speed of technology advancement more affordably, while reducing resource and budget burdens, equipment obsolescence and other sustainment challenges.
The Army is currently preparing for a SATCOM as a managed service pilot, which is slated to begin this summer in several regional coverage areas around the globe. The intent of the pilot is to inform decisions on the Army’s potential use of commercially leased equipment and services that would be flexible and tailorable to changing mission needs, versus procuring, fielding, sustaining and modernizing the equipment in-house. By leveraging commercial research and development, SATCOM as a managed service also could enable the Army to integrate new commercial capabilities into the fleet at a much quicker pace and at less cost compared with traditional procurement methods.
One of the key objectives of the Army’s two-year iterative network modernization capability set process is to be able to keep up with the pace of commercial technologies and retain technological overmatch against near-peer adversaries. As part of the process, technology advancements such as distributed mission command, edge cloud capabilities, advanced sensors, artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics will continue to require fast, secure and resilient transmission of large amounts of data—and that requires continued advancements in an HT/LL network transport.
To better support network modernization efforts, the service is changing its mindset, learning how to employ some of these new capabilities by letting the technology shape and drive the requirements, instead of letting requirements drive technology, like it has in the past. As future technology trends come into view, the Army must continue to be forward-thinking in shaping its SATCOM portfolio and other network equipment sets, keeping them streamlined and ahead of the technology curve, without adding more kit.
For more information, contact the PEO C3T Public Affairs Office at 443-395-6489 or usarmy.APG.email@example.com. Go to https://go.usa.gov/xMSNz for the 2021 Army Unified Network Plan, or follow PEO C3T at http://peoc3t.army.mil/c3t/ and https://www.facebook.com/peoc3t.
COL. SHANE TAYLOR is the project manager for Tactical Network, PEO C3T. He provides the direction, management and leadership for the Army’s current and future tactical communications network consisting of high-throughput line-of-sight, beyond-line-of-sight and satellite communications, which enable mission command and secure reliable voice, video and data communications to Soldiers worldwide. He holds an M.S. in industrial engineering and operations management from Clemson University, an MBA from Penn State University, an M.S. in national security and resource strategy from the Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy in Washington, D.C., and a B.S. in business administration from Oklahoma State University. He is DAWIA certified Advanced in program management; Foundational in engineering and technical management, and is a DOD contracting professional.
JOHN ANGLIN is the Technical Management Division chief for Project Manager Tactical Network, assigned to PEO C3T. He has over 20 years of experience, as both a civilian and a Soldier, in Army tactical network communications. He has an M.S. in systems engineering and a B.S. in information technology with a concentration in security, both from Johns Hopkins University. He is a DAWIA certified Practitioner in engineering and technical management.
AMY WALKER has been the public affairs lead at Project Manager Tactical Network for almost 15 years and was the public affairs lead 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.