Aberdeen Proving Ground becomes the home of high-techology development, validation and deployment.
Consolidating its communications-electronics assets in a single location has given the U.S. Army vital resources and flexibility that it needs to address its changing information technology demands during a time of transition. This transition is twofold: not only is Army communications absorbing new commercial technologies and capabilities, the Army itself also is facing substantial changes as a force that has been overseas for more than a decade is redeploying back to its U.S. bases.
Some long-established programs have evolved to, or have been transitioned into, wholly new programs. These programs lend themselves to the new centralized approach, which is improving their implementation processes. Having research elements in the same location, as well as access to networked laboratory facilities at distant locations, is generating efficiencies that continue to be discovered as advanced communications and electronics technologies are developed for incorporation into the force.
The Base Closure and Realignment, or BRAC, process consolidated several Army elements, including the Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM), at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. They are grouped under the umbrella Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) Center of Excellence. One of these elements, the Program Executive Office (PEO) Command Control Communications-Tactical (C3T), is tasked with providing soldiers with tactical communications and computer systems.
Maj. Gen. N. Lee S. Price, USA, is the Army PEO C3T. She declares that the C4ISR Center of Excellence consolidation “has been wonderful” for the office. The new campus features much of the research community on which the PEO C3T relies, and this community does much of the development for the office. The center also can provide the necessary technology readiness level evaluation, and the laboratories in the integration facilities can provide the assets needed for experimentation (see Communications Labs JOIN Forces Remotely) as well as for testing. In effect, the entire acquisition process can be covered at the center. After hardware is fielded, CECOM provides post-deployment support. The only elements missing from the C4ISR Center of Excellence are the Army depots, the general offers. This consolidation has brought many improvements to Army communications and electronics.
“We can work problems together; we get greater synergy because we’re all located here, and we can bring down other PEOs as well,” she emphasizes.
The general explains that, for some temporary task forces, the different elements of the center of excellence “borrow each others’ folks.” For example, the PEO for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors (IEWS) is leading an operational needs statement that is providing the aerial tier piece for Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 3. PEO C3T is providing the deputy for that effort, she says.
“With the synergies here, it is only going to get better,” Gen. Price maintains.
“If you are an intern coming in, it is such an exciting time,” she continues. “You can come across this campus and you can do research and development, you can actually execute or deliver items to the soldiers, and there are a multitude of jobs in the C4ISR area that you can do here.”
Gen. Price notes that 70 percent of the C4ISR personnel moved with the BRAC to Aberdeen. Most of the people in PEO C3T carry acquisition certifications, and many of those needed to be recertified with the relocation. Amid the move and its consequences, the PEO C3T maintained its around-the-clock support to deployed forces. “Those [deployed] folks didn’t even know we moved,” the general relates.
As the Army’s participation in Iraq and Afghanistan winds down, the force is undergoing a major transition—homeward. PEO C3T support to the warfighter will have a domestic flavor as forces return to their home bases after being in overseas combat for more than 10 years.
“We are trying to find efficiencies in everything that we do,” Gen. Price says. “We’ve been in combat for more than a decade; and some of the things that we’ve been doing, we need to take a pause on and see if we need to change how we’ve been doing them and what to incorporate.”
For example, one way that the office has been fulfilling some of the operational needs statements that come from the battlefield is through redistribution, the general allows. This is one process that may need to be codified to see if any savings will emerge for the elements that must be fielded in the future. “We’re trying to be able to fulfill, without new procurement, the capability needs of our units that are still in the fight,” she attests.
In some cases, new efficiencies can be realized simply through the application of sensible action. Gen. Price cites one example of laptops that needed hardware or software upgrades. Traditionally, field support representatives would mail each laptop back to the repair center—often a contractor—for its upgrades. This carefully detailed process would take 39 days instead of the targeted 30 days. Ultimately, the upgrade process was shifted from a contractor-based implementation to one in which the soldiers in the field performed the upgrades. These soldiers know how to perform the necessary upgrades, and they are able to complete the procedure in one hour, the general reports.
“How many of these examples do we have out in the field where we could actually start to get things back into a better process?” she asks.
In just the past 18 months, the Army tactical communications programs experienced considerable changes, and some of these changes have reached into the joint realm as well. Gen. Price notes that WIN-T Increment 1 was fielded completely, including in the Reserves, by August 2012. This fielding included installing five regional hub nodes to improve the system’s global reach.
With WIN-T Increment 1 fully fielded, the office has turned its attention to WIN-T Increment 2. The next element in the upper tactical Internet, WIN-T Increment 2 increases current battlefield capacity while also providing an on-the-move capability across the force and down to the company level.
Gen. Price notes that the milestone decision authority resides at the Defense Department level. The Defense Acquisition Board has authorized the PEO C3T to continue with Increment 2 production with concurrent capability set fielding, and the office has been able to field it with two brigade combat teams in the 10th Mountain Division.
Some of this capability set entails components that come from outside the PEO C3T, she adds. The entire set, designated Capability Set 13, will be the first fully integrated communications package in the program. Gen. Price continues that the program is undergoing a follow-on test and evaluation to demonstrate some system improvements, particularly reliability.
One focus of the Network Integration Evaluations (NIEs) is for the PEO C3T to perform larger testing on all of the communications components. This effort has expanded to include non-communication components, she adds. In NIE 13.2 in May 2013, the follow-on test will encompass all of the different types of platforms on which WIN-T Increment 2 will be fielded. Improvements that emerge from this NIE will be incorporated into fielded units. Ultimately, WIN-T Increment 3 will include aerial connectivity.
Another vital communications program involves the continuation of the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) effort. When the defense acquisition executive stood down the JTRS joint program office, the Army assumed four of its larger acquisition category (ACAT) 1D programs. Gen. Price relates that the PEO C3T had been purchasing PRC-117G radios, which are JTRS-certified, and now the Rifleman and Manpack radios also are ready for wide deployment.
These radios reside in the lower tactical tier, which suits the PEO C3T role as architect for tactical communications systems. The office prepares these systems for initialization, the general points out, and this effort is much easier consolidated under the PEO C3T umbrella.
She continues that the Rifleman Radio acquisition strategy has been approved, and it will be a full and open competition. The request for proposals could appear at any time.
Consolidations offer new efficiencies. The JTRS Ground Maneuver Radio (GMR) was cancelled, but it has transitioned into the PEO C3T as the Maneuver Radio. It will be a nondevelopmental item, the general notes. The Airborne and Maritime/Fixed Station (AMF) system also has transitioned to the office.
All of these transitioned programs will be placed under a single project manager, she continues. Many still are being transitioned from their origins, but the PEO C3T will have a single officer managing all of these efforts.
“We can see already what those synergies will be,” she states.
Currently, a U.S. Navy captain is in charge of the AMF program. An Army colonel is working on the Maneuver program. By fall 2013, both leaders will be replaced by an Army lieutenant colonel and a GS-14 or GS-15 equivalent. Gen. Price notes that these two people would be product managers instead of project managers. This is another example of efficiencies that can be realized, she adds.
Another program that has transitioned to the PEO C3T is Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2). In September 2012, the program manager was replaced by a project manager for the new iteration—the Joint Battle Command-Platform, or JBC-P. The office currently is fielding the Joint Capabilities Release (JCR), its current version, and the next version will be the JBC-P. The PEO C3T still must perform considerable testing on the JBC-P, the general allows, but much headway has been made on moving the JCR to brigade units. Approximately 90 of these brigade systems have been fielded.
The PEO C3T is using this opportunity also to swap out Blue Force Tracker (BFT) systems. “We made that one easy,” the general offers about the program transition. “It’s going from BFT-1 to BFT-2.” The new BFT-2 provides about 10 times the bandwidth of the old version, which should alleviate latency issues. This in turn should provide unprecedented future efficiencies, she says.