WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army has been racing down separate tracks to modernize its tactical and enterprise networks, but now the service is undertaking efforts to link them under a concept known as the unified network.
The goal? To ensure users can have resilient, reliable and secure communications and access to data across the entire globe.
Lt. Gen. John Morrison, the deputy chief of staff of the Army for G-6, met with C4ISRNET to discuss the ongoing effort and the unified network plan, which was published Oct. 8 and formalizes the alignment of various efforts to implement the vision.
This interview took place Sept. 22 and was edited for length and clarity.
What is the unified network and the plan to implement it?
The unified network plan really is a framework. That framework is bringing together capabilities, people, organizational design and then CONOPs [concept of operations]. It’s aligning it in such a way that we can see ourselves as we work our way toward this journey of a unified network that really does two things: It is global in nature, so you don’t have artificial theater divides; and then it also takes away those architecture and technical boundaries that we’ve put in place between what we do at the enterprise level — our strategic and operational capabilities and our headquarters and tactical formations.
From a capabilities perspective, [the unified network operations requirements document] is foundational because that really is the underpinning of making sure that we don’t have architectural and technical barriers that inhibit the integration of our tactical formations or those strategic and operational capabilities they’re going to need. Underpinning that will be building from the edge all the way back to the enterprise — strategic and operational, which is not necessarily how we’ve done it in the past.
But it shows that no matter where you go inside the Army’s unified network, you’re operating on common capabilities, and you have common visibility no matter what echelon you’re at as you are operating, maintaining, securing, defending and then most importantly maneuvering the unified network.
We are now in the process of moving forward with developing those capabilities that I described. The other piece of it is that the Army has made pretty significant force structure decisions that really were based off of our transformation from expeditionary signal battalions to expeditionary signal battalions-enhanced that use proven capabilities but allow the support for about 60 percent more command post, but with a lot less people inside those formations.
We reinvested as significant portion of the bodies that were previously inside our expeditionary signal battalions to go do missions that allow us to establish a global DoDIN [Department of Defense Information Network] ops framework to maneuver this unified network.
We are reinvesting personnel to reenforce our regional cyber centers so we have that theater-level capability. We are reinvesting those personnel efficiencies into Army Cyber and NETCOM [Network Enterprise Technology Command] to establish that global DoDIN ops capability that will nest over the top of the theater structures. We are transforming our theater tactical signal brigades into corps signal brigades to support corps maneuver and provide that DoDIN ops for the corps.
We’re doing the same with our theater strategic signal brigades, and they are now becoming theater signal brigades, but with that enhanced DoDIN ops capability to really be able to do the command and control of their formations both at the installation and theater level but also the organic tactical formations that are assigned to them.
I say all that because we are already in the process on several fronts of executing toward the unified network. What the unified network plan does is it just brings that all into alignment so we can see ourselves in time and space as we move along toward actually implementing it both architecturally — capabilities — and then from a people and organizational design as well as a CONOPs perspective.
How have operations informed the need for this unified network and concept?
As a unit would deploy from one theater to another theater, it was not necessarily always the easiest transition. Some of it was bureaucratic challenges, but a lot of it was technical because they were theater architectures, not necessarily global in nature. A lot of that we can fix through optimizing our the network. This is not necessarily designing something completely new, it’s optimizing what we have.
The other piece of it is we’ve had tactical network modernization efforts and enterprise modernization efforts. They were really focused in two different directions: at the tactical level, very much focused on the mission command networks and enabling our tactical formations to do what’s needed on the battlefield. Our enterprise investments, again at that strategic and operational level, was really focused on installation modernization, not necessarily bridging the gap between those strategic and operational capabilities that we need to provide the tactical formations to enable maneuver.
More importantly, it’s where do we want to go. You’ve heard about the Army’s transformation to a multidomain-capable force by 2027 or 2028. To enable the chief’s vision of being able to apply strategic, operational and tactical effects at the time and place of a maneuver commander’s choosing, against a near-peer adversary in a highly contested multidomain fight across all five domains, we need to address the first two that I just mentioned. It’s not just fixing things that we’ve seen today, it’s really enabling that multidomain-capable force of tomorrow.
What input are you receiving from other services and partners?
It’s almost continuous dialogue that we’re having with the Joint Staff J6, all of our service counterparts, because we’re all in similar challenges but we all want to have the same outcomes in terms of being able to actually do Joint All-Domain Command and Control and maneuver to enable our combatant commands.
There are obviously some friction points that we always need to work our way through, but I think a level of collaboration across the department right now is really good.
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.