Army has been experimenting with breaking up and dispersing its forward-deployed command posts to make them more survivable.
Army leaders have been concerned about the survivability of command posts that are placed close to battle zones. A series of experiments started to break command posts up into a series of dispersed nodes. This is a different approach to previous efforts that had the command post all in one place, but concentrated on tearing it down and packing it up quickly before an enemy attack.
Combatant commanders can choose the best option based on the circumstances. “Command posts are incredibly important to the Army formation. “However, they're in a tough spot now with needing to do the complex operations they will need to do in the … multi-domain operating environment where they will also be under a lot of stress from adversary capabilities to try to target and destroy them.”
Network modernization is one of the command’s top priorities along with long-range precision fires, next-generation combat vehicles, future vertical lift, air-and-missile defense, and soldier lethality.
Other technologies tested included protected satellite communications, cyber defense, soldier-to-soldier communications and hardened waveforms.
The idea was to geographically disperse a single command post into separated nodes to make them harder to find and allow them to fare better against an attack if they are targeted. The main problem was maintaining connectivity.
“As we disperse the command post, the people physically disperse apart and they get farther from their data and services infrastructure that they're used to working with.” The project worked on providing continuity of mission-essential functions through data resiliency and data replication so the information that the users need at their platform is there for them should they be disconnected from the other nodes.
The Army used new communication technology to transport the data to the nodes. The experiment sought to discover how far it could extend, if the wireless tech functioned in a military environment, and "what needs to be changed to enable that. To add realism, the experiment transmitted data using current command post software.
As far as the number of nodes and how far they can be dispersed, those are the kinds of questions the Army is trying to figure out the answers to. “We're helping to further that discussion, inform those requirements, and in this case provide the science and technology … first step toward better dispersing the command post.”
Meanwhile, the experiment did not offer any new technologies to mask the command posts’ electronic signatures, but had a goal not to add any new signals that could be detected by adversaries.
In the future dispersed command post concept will undergo a series of operational field tests where soldiers can provide feedback. They will integrate the dispersed command post with the command post integrated infrastructure program of record, which will be the new command post’s technological backbone.
Dispersion won’t be the only way you would employ your command posts in the future, but that will be one more way that you can achieve a more survivable posture when needed and still have an effective command post.
Whether that is at the battalion, brigade or division level is “yet to be determined. At a minimum, division-level and below, should have coders there in uniform, not contractors, fixing the computer problems that we have, the computing problems that we have, the communication problems that we have, the aided target recognition problems that we have because the enemy will evolve, they will change and if we don’t have the rapid capability to correct or to counteract what the enemy’s trying to do to us, well, then they’re going to be able to make decisions faster than us and that is totally unacceptable.”
“It was very complex and took us weeks of hard coding. “What was really, really powerful was when we identified something that wasn’t working …we had the computer expertise on station to recode the algorithms … to make it better on the spot.”
When dealing with a “living, breathing, thinking threat, we have to provide capability that can be able to adjust on-the-fly at that pace. But having coders on the battlefield isn’t simple because networks have to be configured so they are secure and such a possibility will still require a hard look at tactics, techniques and procedures.
“There are things that we can do with open systems architecture,” which means the we need to own the data. Often what folks get focused in on is the ownership status and as long as we control the interfaces, we can provide things like a ‘Pep Boys toolkit’ so that soldiers out on the edge can have a developer’s kit.”
Then as the threat, information and sensors change, “whatever the process may be, they can tailor that based on their mission without having to go all the way back to the factory of the industrial original equipment manufacturer to make that change.”
Having such a capability is “well within the art of the possible., “We have to think through the configuration management just to make sure that we continue to keep our systems hardened on the battlespace.
For future battlefield operations, speed is the name of the game. The side that can make decisions faster has the advantage .A new, AI-enabled effort can give operators the ability to detect, identify, process and engage targets quicker than ever and at longer ranges than before.
The Tactical Intelligence Targeting Access Node, or TITAN, offers frontline forces, as well as headquarter commanders, a resilient tactical ground station capable of rapidly sifting through massive amounts of incoming sensor data to find and track potential threats. TITAN can connect to the future Joint All-Domain Operations enterprise, an all-domain, interconnected network to plan and execute operations in a synchronized, collaborative and streamlined manner.
“The goal of TITAN is to link Army commanders at all echelons to timely intelligence data, speeding up the data-to-decision timeline. “Today’s systems limit timely access to the intelligence information needed to engage in the ‘deep fight’ – distances greater than 200 miles.”
Paratroopers communicate using the Integrated Tactical Network (ITN) during a battle drill to clear buildings during a live fires exercise.
When paratroopers with the 82nd Airborne Division’s First Brigade Combat Team landed in the drop zone during a night jump, it took leaders 45 minutes after hitting the ground to locate about 90 percent of their formation.
For contrast, at an exercise early last year, the commander of that brigade didn’t achieve 75 percent accountability of formation until the second day of the exercise.
That’s one of the major improvements that’s coming to three more Army brigades as part of Capability Set ’21, a new set of network tools that will be fully fielded to the First Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd.
The exercise provided a solider touch point opportunity for the Army's Integrated tactical network (ITN) teams, made up of Program Executive Office Command, Control, Communications-Tactical and the Network Cross-Functional Team, to hear what soldiers thought about Capability Set ’21.
And leaders from the Army’s tactical network modernization team received some important feedback: the technology works, but the training needs improvement.
“It does what we thought it would do, which is increase situational awareness up and down. “That’s the critical thing … we don’t know where people are on the battlefield unless we can talk with them. Now, we can see them and that just speeds up processing.”
That’s good news for the Army as it’s set to deploy Capability Set ’21 to three more infantry brigades. The effort is working to provide a resilient tactical network to enable faster communications and data transfer to enable multi-domain operations (MDO) or Joint All-Domain Command and Control.
“Our obligation is very simple: we have to make this work. And if it doesn’t, MDO, all-domain and everything else, is a pipe dream.”
The network tools fielded to brigades significantly improve communications, but that soldiers need improved training with the batteries and additional cables.
A major difference maker is Capability Set ’21′s End User Device that works in tandem with the soldier’s radio to broadcast their location to all other users across the formation, as well as provides mapping capabilities. On average, the new “revolutionary” capability allows commanders to see his formation 45 minutes to two hours, much improved from last year and a “game changer” when it comes to fighting battles.
We have to resource those companies, troops and batteries in the fight mainly through fires, whether that’s Army indirect fires, or its joint aircraft. If they aren’t visible and there isn’t a real-time data on where they are, then they can’t be supported. And so now we can support them faster more quickly and bring everything in closer to get that into the fight.”
The devices also allow soldiers to mark enemy positions and broadcast that information back through the rest of the formation. Shared understanding and increased situational awareness across the formation will save lives, and the EUDs increase both by an “untold variable , because the capability eliminates the game of “telephone” played between the brigade commander and soldiers spread throughout the field.
Another Capability Set ’21 technology, known as the Variable Height Antenna, a tethered drone flying a TSM radio, successfully extended communications by several kilometers further than a standard, ground-based antenna would reach, the exercise found.
These capabilities are a critical component of the Army’s work evolving its network into a mesh network that gets away from line-of-sight communications and uses individual radios as nodes that extend the range of the network to allow soldiers to talk to each other beyond line-of-sight, across the battlespace.
“We can always talk to the lowest radio to the highest radio because we have this mesh network and in ITN terms, that’s game changing for us. It is moving us beyond line of sight, so for the first time, and that beyond line of sight is movable and fixable.”
While the devices provide greater situational awareness, during the exercise the location data wasn’t coming in with specific identifiers for what dots representing locations meant. But, in a way that highlighted the DevOps approach that the Army is taking to the modernization of its tactical network, the software was updated during the exercise because the vendor was in the field.
In addition, the Army discovered some linkage challenges between the radio and device, finding that the radio and device would lose the link between them if they were switched off. Leaders in the field want the devices to connect automatically so soldiers don’t have to connect them together themselves.
A new approach to training
But one major challenge Army tactical network officials learned from talking to soldiers using the equipment on the ground was that the training process for teaching soldiers how to use the equipment needed to improve.
The radio and EUD are connected together to broadcast location information, but soldiers were trained to use the devices separately. But since the devices need to be used as a system, leaders learned that the soldiers needed to be trained on how the system works.
“What needs to happen is soldiers need to be trained with the equipment as they are worn and functions as an overall network because everything affects everything else.” depending on the terrain.
So while classroom training on the devices is important for the soldiers to learn the technology, they also need to learn how to use the technology in the field and how the terrain can affect it. The big takeaway was adjustments to training.
“It needs to be as hands on as possible. You need to get in the terrain and actually test the radio. The classroom won’t cut it just because it’s no longer programming the radio and walking away.”
These new capabilities also mean soldiers must carry more batteries and more cables with them. The team identified a couple issues with battery life, one that requires training soldiers different configurations to optimize battery life. The other battery life problem was addressed through a firmware update by the vendor. Several Army personnel in the field also noted that soldiers needed to be taught best practices for cable management.
Soldiers “weren’t experts on how it’s powered or how to manage cables and that’s not a fault of the paratroopers. That’s a fault with the way that we were addressing training.”
As the Army perfects Capability Set ’21 and moves forward with Capability Set '23, its next iteration of network tools, it will continue to rely on the feedback of soldiers to ensure that technology works, while being simple and intuitive enough for the user.
“The beauty of it is that feedback we’re going to get because soldiers right now has a really good idea that’s going to make this better? And that’s the feedback we’re really looking for.”
- Maintain reliable network schedule: capture activities, establish duration/sequence, assign resources and integrate schedule
- Establish network ops control, transform service architect, portfolio process and active monitor/report for service level agreements
- Solve network scope problems with directed action for visibility and situation aware, network ops, root cause, log keep, tech refresh upgrades
- Satisfy network requirement goals: identify ops system solutions, establish quant. for evaluation and assess ability of alternate measures
- State network scope cost estimate, disclose ground rules/assumptions, data sources, calculations perform and results for risk rationale
- Implement characteristics of high-quality, reliable network cost estimates: documented, comprehensive, accurate and credible
- Authorize network deploy to support ops testing for achieve mission capability verify with independent tests/evaluation implement at installations
- Plan, program, budget and execute network processes with goals conforming to security, architecture and investment areas
- Assess current tool capabilities for support network service management processes, develop design requirements and tool integration specs
- Evaluate and validate current network infrastructure inventory consisting of tech. data, assets, config. items and system components