WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army is nearly finished fielding an initial package of communications upgrades and networking enhancements known as Capability Set 21, and officials said they are preparing to dispatch the next iteration, Capability Set 23, beginning this fall.
The improvements are meant to make battlefield communications more intuitive and more reliable, with size, weight, cybersecurity, bandwidth and advanced cellular technology, like 5G, chief among the considerations. Capability Set 21 focused on infantry, whereas Capability Set 23 focuses on Strykers amid a return to the division as the unit of action.
The 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 11th Airborne Division in Alaska is the final unit to receive the Capability Set 21 integrated tactical network. The package is comprised of radios, variable height antennas and small satellite terminals.
“The ITN creates a resilient network that allows tactical commanders the ability to communicate with joint and coalition partners, provides a robust primary, alternate, contingency, and emergency plan for both line-of-sight and beyond line-of-sight, allows the battalion to operate independently of the brigade and provides situational awareness down to the platoon level,” Jerry Harper, a product manager at the Army’s Program Executive Office Command, Control, Communications-Tactical, said in a statement.
Hands-on training kicked off in August. Once complete, soldiers will use the upgraded kit in multiple military exercises, including a bilateral one in India known as Yudh Abhyas.
Fielding of Capability Set 23 will begin with a brigade combat team in the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky, according to Paul Mehney, the PEO C3T communications director. The gear was also sent to the 3rd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment in Germany, where it has undergone live-fire testing.
The Army in April completed a critical design review for Capability Set 23, signifying the gear was relevant, conceptually sound and cost effective. The approval also greenlighted procurement.
“With each one of the design reviews, there are four things we take a look at,” Army Maj. Gen. Robert Collins said during a media demonstration at Fort Myer, Virginia. “We look at the requirements, we look at the concepts, the technology maturity and the affordability.”
Network modernization is a focus for the Army as the service transitions to multidomain operations — the ability to deter and defeat an enemy, with help from others, in any location — and contends with communication environments jeopardized by adversaries such as China and Russia.
Elements of Capability Set 23 will be included in the 2022 iterance of Project Convergence, an Army effort meant to advance the Joint All-Domain Command and Control concept by putting cutting-edge tech to the test and evaluating how well U.S. forces can exchange information with allies and partners, like the U.K. and Australia. Lessons gleaned from the experiment, officials said, will inform the armor-focused Capability Set 25 more so than 23.
The capability set initiative kicked off in fiscal 2021, with compounding upgrades expected in 2023, 2025, 2027 and beyond. Army leaders in 2019 likened the stepwise approach to Apple’s iPhone strategy: newer, better hardware rolling out shortly after the last release.
Collins, who is now in an acquisitions role at the Pentagon, months ago said those working on network modernization have their hands full.
“I would say right now, we have four of our capability sets that are going on in parallel,” Collins told C4ISRNET at the time. “The Capability Set 21 effort has provided us a tremendous amount of feedback as we get ready to head on into, and embark upon, the Capability Set 23 fielding process.”
Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.