Army Pursues Revolutionary Network Environment
Connections must be expeditionary, mobile and hardened to deal with near-peer threats.
The U.S. Army is revamping its approach to networking, and its scientists are working on a multitude of complementary technologies and capabilities that will empower future Army networks. According to an article in the March issue of SIGNAL Magazine, researchers at the Combat Capabilities Development Command’s (CCDC’s) Army Research Laboratory (ARL) are pursuing the state of the art while keeping an eye on capabilities emerging from the commercial sector.
The command’s laboratory established a cross-functional team in networks and command, control, communications and intelligence to help field new capabilities to the warfighter quickly and effectively. This effort encompasses requirements that are based not only on the threat but also on acquisition approaches.
Brian Rivera, chief of the CCDC ARL Network Science Division, says the Army’s network modernization effort springs from a widespread recognition that the service’s current network is insufficient to meet the challenges erupting around the globe. The Army is transitioning into a force designed for conflict with a near-peer adversary, and its network must be “expeditionary, mobile and hardened to work in an active electronic warfare environment,” he states.
Any work upgrading networks must be evolutionary, and the ARL’s efforts in this arena are no exception, Rivera allows. The goal is to roll out capability sets more frequently rather than wait to assemble the ideal network.
The ARL’s research tends to be for the longer term—2030 or 2035, although the lab is aiming to transition capabilities earlier if possible. By then, soldiers should have hybrid networks that are predictive and proactive, and warfighters would be able to manage their connectivity with more control.
Because of these advances, the Army will be able to introduce more autonomous systems, Rivera predicts. The service will need fewer soldiers to provide hands-on network management, and network automation will allow robots to operate much faster than the human decision cycle.
While the Army is marching forward with these technologies, it also is revisiting established capabilities it used in the past. Another SIGNAL Magazine March article, titled “Army Reintegrating Electronic Warfare Into Force,” describes how the service will take several steps this year toward reintroducing cutting-edge electronic warfare (EW) systems to counter near-peer competitors.
In late 2018, Col. Kevin E. Finch, USA, project manager for EW and cyber, and the Rapid Capabilities Office quickly fielded prototypical EW technologies to Army forces in Europe. This year, the team plans to head back to Europe to upgrade those capabilities.
“As you give soldiers capability, they get very vocal on what they want. So, we took the feedback they gave us on the first round, and we’re going back in the second quarter of this year to field phase two capabilities to European units,” Col. Finch reports. In the third quarter of the current fiscal year, the team will begin fielding equipment to other units under another operational needs statement.
In addition, next month, the project manager could award the first round of other transaction authority contracts for prototypes of the Terrestrial Layer System–Large, which the colonel describes as the first integrated ground signal intelligence, EW and cyber platform that will be in the Brigade Combat Team formation.
“We’re actually looking at proposals right now as we speak. If the schedule holds true, based on funding availability, we’re looking at first units equipped in the first quarter of 2022,” he says. “That’s always subject to Congress providing funds. That’s the one thing we really can’t affect from our foxhole, but it’s hard to bend metal without money.”
The Army’s ongoing effort to modernize its networks and integrate new technology into its operations will be among the topics discussed at the 2020 AFCEA Army Signal Conference, which takes place March 24-27 in Springfield, Virginia. “Data: The Ammunition of the Future Fight” is the theme of the event in which service leaders, including Lt. Gen. Stephen G. Fogarty, USA, commanding general, U.S. Army Cyber Command, will explore cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, networks and cloud computing as they relate to data.
Source: AFCEA International