WASHINGTON — The Army is gearing up for a pilot effort to figure out how its armored brigades will communicate on the move as part of its modernized tactical network.
To date, the Army has focused on infantry and Stryker brigades for its modernized integrated tactical network, using what it calls capability sets to incrementally add new technologies to formations. The Army plans to outfit armored brigades with the new gear beginning in 2025, but to do that, it needs to run experiments to inform some of the specific requirements and technology needs for the heavy vehicles that are additive to the baseline network established in 2021.
“What we’ve been tasked with is what level of capability, what systems or what platforms within the heavies would need what level of tactical network capability,” Col. Shane Taylor, project manager for tactical network within the Army’s program executive office for command, control, communications-tactical, told C4ISRNET in an interview.
The pilot, which is taking place at Fort Stewart early next year with 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, will look at three courses of action, Taylor said, ranging from line of sight communications — both from vehicle to vehicle and vehicle to command post ― and heavy satellite communications for beyond line of sight.
On the multidomain battlefield, U.S. military leaders expect forces to have to move constantly. This means they’ll need to be able to communicate while moving as opposed to communicating at the halt or stopping to set up a network.
The pilot is the first formal effort taking aim at the heavier units for capability set 25. It will serve as a way to evaluate the concepts behind various methods of on-the-move network capabilities to the armored formations while also allowing soldiers to drive requirements prior to the 2025 fielding of units.
However, Taylor pointed out that while this is the first effort focused on armored units, the service is looking at some existing technologies being used as part of the lighter units fielded and set to be fielded from capability sets 21 and 23.
“We do have some systems that are out there that are very mature, that could be fielded tomorrow, but we also have some solutions that are a little more immature that may help us identify areas where there’s opportunity as we move forward,” he said. 2025 is “not a very long time when we talk about the formations and the scale that we’re talking, but it is a long time when it comes to technology maturation. We’re looking at a variety of both, and a lot of the new things that we’re talking about would definitely have play in a [capability set 25] construct.”
Other goals for the pilot include network simplification, seamless failover between line of sight and beyond line of sight, software simplification and allowing network architecture updates, among others.
The pilot will also help inform what systems can be outfitted on these larger vehicles to not overburden soldiers.
“We want to do anything that we can to minimize the amount of work that they have to do to deal with their communications while they’re trying to fight,” Taylor said. “Probably the biggest challenge in my mind is ensuring they have the necessary network capabilities that they need, but also doing it at a level that minimizes impact on their ability to fight. … That’s what we hope the pilot will help inform is what is that level of balance that we need and what are they comfortable with and what the [concept of operation] will be going forward from that.”
The pilot is also a good opportunity for industry to better understand the Army’s needs and how best to support the efforts going forward, he added.
Taylor reiterated that the capability set and overall integrated tactical network approach is a paradigm shift from the past, in which requirements were created, they were delivered to industry, a contract was awarded and the Army would field that system to soldiers.
The process is much more collaborative now, taking into account soldier feedback along the way to ensure the end system is easy to use with multiple levels of experimentation.
“This is going into it a different approach where we focus on interoperability and integration up front from a design perspective and then we march to that,” Taylor said.
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.