Each individual drone and ground robot needs its own narrow AI to navigate over terrain, analyze data from its sensors, and communicate with the rest of the force. But the most important AI is an overarching artificial intelligence to coordinate the whole platoon – an AI that doesn’t reside in any one physical location, but exists in a wireless cloud.
Instead of a single, central supercomputer that could be blown up, hacked, or have its communications jammed, the coordinating intelligence is distributed across multiple mini-servers carried by robotic vehicles and, potentially, individual soldiers. If one server is destroyed or loses communications, there are still others on the platoon network.
Battlefield networks have to overcome problems no commercial system faces, such as an extensive arsenal of electronic warfare systems to detect and jam transmissions. Army decided its tactical network was far too vulnerable to hacking and jamming, so it rebooted the entire modernization effort.
One factor that makes this easier is the limited range involved. A five-kilometer radius from the platoon commander is a long way for traditional infantry operations, but it’s pretty short compared to many military communications systems. What’s more, with 40 soldiers and about as many unmanned systems spread throughout that area, weak signals can be relayed from radio to radio to radio, crossing long distances in several shorter hops.
Another crucial factor is limiting the bandwidth required. First-generation drones like Predator require human operators remote-controlling everything they do. Basically, they still have a human crew, the crew’s just not inside the vehicle, so that requires an uninterrupted full-motion video feed from the drone to the operators to see what they’re doing, and an uninterrupted stream of moment-to-moment commands from the operators to the drone.
As part of its tactical network modernization strategy Army is reducing complexity for users at the tactical edge and arming them with the network capabilities they need to defeat increasingly advanced adversaries.
To accomplish certain missions in today’s fight, commanders may need to reassign certain units, such as moving a company to a different battalion. But such a move requires signal Soldiers to re-provision the unit’s vast number of network systems with new data and software, including new applications, firewall configurations and initialization data products. These products are assigned to each unit before deployment or training events, to enable the systems to run on the network.
When a unit is reassigned, new data products are needed to support the new assignment. These products include unique identifiers, roles and Internet Protocol addresses, taking into account a unit’s specific mission, personnel footprint and mix of networked mission command systems. The Army refers to this process as unit task reorganization.
In the face of potential peer and near-peer threats, the Army needs dynamic and flexible network re-provisioning capabilities to reflect changes in mission and assigned units. In the past, signal Soldiers manually conducted the provisioning and re-provisioning process one device at a time, with physical cables connecting each node to the network, which took many weeks, depending on the equipment and size of the unit.
More recently, new Army capabilities are enabling over-the-air provisioning and security patching, which could, for example, speed the time it takes to provision a brigade’s worth of on-the-move, network-equipped vehicles without having to take the entire system offline in the process. The implementation of an Army software-defined networking design could speed that process even further..
The Army is also looking to leverage software-defined networking to increase security in the tactical network by enabling rapid response patching and configurations in support of offensive and defensive network operations.
“Data and Defense: How to Boost Readiness”
Defense and intelligence agencies want to leverage the data they collect so they can use artificial intelligence to enhance readiness – but most who run these programs don’t know how to get started and find it difficult to make the business case to their leadership. So what do we mean by readiness?
It’s the ability to execute on missions critical to national security and keep Troops safe. Current readiness enables units to do two things – execute core functions and perform assigned missions. Measuring a variety of data, including various personnel, equipment, equipment serviceability and training statuses, is important to ensuring this readiness.
Based on incoming operational data, decision-makers want to know how best to respond based on a globally integrated understanding of both demand and capacity, and the impact on wartime readiness.
To develop options, redirect mobility efforts based on changing priorities, or find alternatives when operations are disrupted, component commands depend on analysis that transforms data into useful information.
The integration of analytics into command processes and decisions capture and integrate data; create visual representations of key indicators; forecast workload, network, or asset availability; and account for constraints so that energy is focused on the most important work.
“Above all else, leaders must be able to deliver insightful products and recommendations, with unwavering confidence in our credibility. The data is absolutely necessary, but we’re in the business of delivering analytic products and enabling a broader community of analytic practitioners to transform the data into actionable information on complex issues and address challenging problems.”
“Warfighting readiness and enabling consequential decision-making are at the top of the list. These priorities are critical components for future success and, thus, the target of our analytic efforts.
“Searching for Specific Tactical Network Design Solutions Enable Tactical Operation Decisions”
As the efforts gain steam, teams plan to leverage an open-standard design for easy integration and promote innovation while keeping costs down through increased competition. System developers need to ensure that they understand the degraded signal challenges in the Army’s network, which are much greater than in commercial networks, as well as other specific objectives to include:
Assisting the Army in rapidly provisioning tactical network nodes:
Software-defined networking experimentation has shown decreased provisioning time, especially when paired with virtualization and containerization, which further reduces the overall data size and speed of provisioning.
Supporting rapid unit task reorganization:
The Army needs dynamic, flexible re-provisioning to reflect changes in mission and assigned units. This functional gap extends beyond the traditional software-defined networking capabilities and needs to allow for the tailoring of each tactical network device.
Optimizing routing in the tactical network:
There is a need for software-defined networking to behave opportunistically. Because of the Army’s degraded network challenges, software-defined wide area networking solutions must enhance the network when the remote network controller is available, and enable nodes to operate independently when it is not available.
Simplifying network management:
Experimentation reveals that automating network configuration changes makes it easier for the network node operators on the ground. However, network management, including configuration changes, can still be quite complex for the signal Soldier team to execute. There is opportunity to automate many of these functions.
Increasing security in the tactical network:
The Army is looking at software-defined networking to assist in rapid response through centralizing the ability to conduct changes to security policy, patching and configurations to support defensive network operations. This would enable Soldiers at the remote controller location to send out patches or updates throughout the entire network.
“Demand and Capacity Use Case”
Efforts to develop predictive demand forecast capabilities across multiple mission domains are aimed at maximizing effectiveness and efficiency in the use of limited assets and constrained networks and nodes, which are a reality in daily, as well as wartime, globally integrated operations.
The resulting analysis is aligned with component capacity assessments and arms decision-makers with information that will justify actions to meet mission needs and support the warfighter.
The demand and capacity forecasts will be linked across multiple command activities from rate setting and budgeting, to operational projections to develop optimized transportation solutions and readiness management.
The services have successfully applied demand and capacity analytics using modeling and simulation. Leaders must identify any mobility capability gaps and shortfalls, describe the associated risk in conducting operations, and recommend mitigation strategies, where possible; and will also include the near-term mobility implications of emerging warfighting concepts.
“Aerial refueling capacity and sealift recapitalization analysis are among the most compelling analytic needs of the enterprise and are major focus areas functional team training.
The assessment is expected to identify potential mobility capabilities, operational approaches, and necessary mitigations to shape how we think and posture for the future. “We’re studying how we adapt and think differently in terms of both technology and operations to ensure our systems are capable and relevant in the future.
“Mainstreaming data analytics into operational planning efforts will create actionable information for decision-makers. “The time and energy previously directed on lagging, low-value activities can now be applied to proactive, higher-order decision making options where commander judgement is most appropriate and useful.”
“Troop Assessments Determine Potential of Integrate Networking Tools”
Networking in tactical military environments improves capability by moving data storage from a device to a data storage facility, software-defined networking is a network modernization approach that relocates network routing control functions at a secure remote location.
The Army understands that to receive better, more tailored solutions it needs to share open application programming interfaces and use cases to include interfaces for accessing initialization data; integrating to network operations tools; accessing network condition information; application-aware routing that allows applications to respond to the network’s availability; and application self-provisioning.
As part of the basic networking, before information is transmitted, it is broken up into smaller digital data packets. The network then chooses the best path, or route, to send each data packet and, once packets reach their destination, the network reassembles them.
The network performs two basic processes on the data packets-one process focuses on forwarding the packets to their destination and is referred to as the “data plane,” and the other focuses on routing the packets and is referred to as the “control plane.”
In the Army’s current, traditional network, these two process planes are located and implemented together at a local level by a tactical network node’s hardware networking operating systems. On the other hand, in a software-defined networking design, these two process planes are separated. The data plane forwarding functions remain with the local network device, but the routing control pane functions are extracted, turned into more dynamic software, and centralized at a network operations facility, or in n installation network environment, where they can be managed collectively by experienced signal Soldiers.
The remote routing controller knows all of the nodes that it can manage, and it can sense when there is congestion in the network or when there are dropped data packets, due to things like bad satellite connections or enemy jamming.
Through metrics embedded in the software, this intelligent controller can sense the most efficient path available and tell the nodes in the network to route around the issues. The Army’s current software-defined networking efforts are setting the stage to optimize routing even further by leveraging machine learning when the required technology becomes available.
“Overcoming a Degraded Network Environment”
A software-defined networking design could enhance system and network simplicity for tactical users, since it moves some of that network complexity to network operations center. However, the Army will have to leave enough of the routing control functions locally, within the tactical device, to get through network challenges found in degraded signal environments. These degraded network challenges include network transport environments that are highly latent , disconnected, intermittent and with low bandwidth.
The tactical network is an interconnected mesh design, with different-sized line-of-sight and beyond-line-of-sight systems that exchange data over different frequencies and multiple transmission paths. Together these unified systems enable secure network connectivity and data exchange across the force, from a large command post down to the Soldier on the ground with a handheld device.
But degraded network challenges are inherent in the Army’s tactical network, and not just because of its size, breadth and complexity. Connectivity issues can also be caused by topography like mountains or buildings that block signals; on-the-move communications; or, increasingly, enemy jamming.
In recent pilot efforts with operational units, the Army has been experimenting with both software-defined networking and software-defined wide area networking. These laboratory experiments and operational unit pilots are underscoring the need for solutions to detect and route around network interference and congestion, and to load-balance flows across multiple transmission paths, to increase network speed, performance and reliability.
Additionally, the network will need to have a fallback to compensate for degraded network emergencies, when the tactical network systems on the battlefield can’t “talk” to the remote network routing controller. To offset these scenarios, software-defined networking solutions will need to incorporate capabilities such as initialization data products and basic router configurations that reside locally, which the tactical network system can leverage until stronger network connections to the remote intelligent routing controller are restored.
If the Army switches to a software-defined wide area network design, the remote network controller will need to include software that implements a strong and automated primary, alternate, contingency and emergency routing plan, so that it can automatically route and reroute signals over multiple transmission paths, choosing the strongest available paths for optimal connectivity and resilience.
Army wants to ensure continuity of operations, to enable network routing to be seamless and transparent to the tactical user, so Soldiers can focus on the mission and not the network. Networking goals include:
1. Reduce complexity for the tactical user
2. Simplify network management for communications officers
3. Achieve ability to rapidly provision and re-provision network nodes
4. Configure nodes based on mission
5. Prepare nodes for operational use on the network.
6. Improve network resilience
7. Include automated primary, alternate, contingency and emergency routing plan.
8. Increase network security.
9. Facilitate network management/administration
10. Make signal prioritization easier, more flexible and effective