ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — Learning from the fielding of the first iteration of its modernized network kit, the U.S. Army is maturing the way it tests its tactical network.

The Army has adopted an incremental, multiyear strategy to modernize its network and deliver new capabilities to soldiers. These service plans to field new “capability sets” with upgraded technologies every two years, each one building on the last. Capability Set ‘21 focused on infantry brigades, with Capability Set ‘23 focusing on Stryker brigades and Capability Set ‘25 focused on armored brigades.

Capability Set ‘23 is expected to reach critical design review this April, which will lead to a procurement decision. To get there, the Army needs to conduct a series of tests to ensure the technologies are ready, and it’s tweaking those tests based on the lessons learned from testing and fielding Capability Set ‘21, Maj. Gen. Robert Collins, program executive officer for command, control, communications-tactical, told C4ISRNET during a visit to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland Feb. 2.

One of the biggest lessons learned from the Capability Set ‘21 effort was how to set up the test in order to get better data.

“How do we instrument each one of these nodes, collect the types of traffic, whether it’s message completion, whether its demands and really characterize that,” Collins said.

The instrumentation tools will allow the Army to harvest data, synthesize it and see how it performed.

New instrumentation tools were built by the Army Command, Control, Computers, Communications, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Center that allowed testers to see the entire network, which didn’t exist for Capability Set ‘21. That data allows the Army to do proper analysis and demonstration, ensuring what they’re building fits the Army’s needs.

The Army also built out robust mission threads for the technical test to see if a piece of equipment would deliver the needed network capabilities in multiple operational scenarios. Mission threads focused on the following capabilities:

  • Voice, which focused on analog and digital voice communication;
  • Situational awareness and command and control data exchange, which focused on messages and location information exchanged by various platforms;
  • Data exchanges between electronic warfare and signals intelligence tools that focused on how they pass data of various classifications across the network;
  • Call for fires, which focused on passing data from dismounted and mounted fires platforms across aspects of the network, and;
  • Point to point data exchanges;

Officials said the scenarios were critical to helping get the analysis they needed, allowing them to see how a unit fights with the network over multiple types of events from a threat perspective. Given that it was a technical test, they could inject a simulated threat, which is more difficult during an operational test where soldiers are conducting an exercise.

Test strategy

Officials said that following the critical design review, they will undertake a series of operational tests and experiments with units to inform a fielding decision involving what capabilities go to what units at what echelons. This is part of a multifaceted codified test strategy the Army is developing for its network, something it’s been criticized for not having already. While a multifaceted testing approach was used during the Capability Set ‘21 process, it’s been enhanced for Capability Set ‘23 based upon feedback from around the military, new tools and more mature technology.

“The overall strategy … is a series of operational activities that will lead up in support of the procurement and the fielding decision,” Collins said.

Developmental tests will be conducted on specific components with an eye toward interoperability and integration. Then there will be threat-based tests that include cyber and electronic warfare. These will be phased operational readiness assessments and exercises that will take place in Europe allowing the Army to understand if Capability Set ‘23 is ready to physically give to units.

A fielding decision is expected in March 2023.

Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.

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