Search:  

 Blog     e-Newsletter       Resource Library      Directories      Webinars     Apps
AFCEA logo
 

The Army's Network Revolution Ends

August 2007
By Robert K. Ackerman
E-mail About the Author

 
Two U.S. Army soldiers radio a report on the discovery of improvised explosive devices near Mahmudiya, Iraq. The need to extend greater benefits of the network down to the individual soldier level has compelled the Army to field technologies as soon as they present a coherent capability.
But that activity gives way to more measured progress.

The U.S. Army’s revolution in communications and information systems is winding down, but the frenetic activity that defined it is being replaced by a steadier progress toward a fully networked force. The result is a focus on capabilities rather than on enabling technologies as the Army continues to extend the benefits of the network down to the warfighter.

Many of the transformational changes that have taken place in the Army over the past few years owe their origins to the new networking technologies that appeared over the same time span. In particular, Internet protocol (IP)-based technologies have enabled networking the force to unprecedented levels. This in turn has permitted flexibility in mission and in force configuration.

But that revolution is being replaced by evolution as the emphasis shifts away from theorizing the possible toward achieving the attainable. The attainable includes the ability to maneuver information as one would combat forces, providing enhanced situational awareness to a broader range of users and increasing information access to the individual warfighter in the field.

“We are at the beginning of the end of the revolutionary phase of the battlefield network,” declares Vernon M. Bettencourt Jr., deputy chief information officer (CIO)/G-6 for the Army. Bettencourt, who has been serving as acting CIO/G-6 since the departure of Lt. Gen. Steven W. Boutelle, USA, offers that the Joint Network Node (JNN) technologies that entered the battlefield over the past three and a half years have revolutionized battlefield communications and the way that commanders command on the battlefield.

“To borrow a phrase from a sister service, it was a sea state change when we brought in IP technology onto the battlefield,” he asserts.

These technologies have delivered valuable networked information down to brigade and battalion levels, and the Army now is fielding small points of presence (SPOPs) on the JNN architecture that will take this networking down to the company level. Bettencourt observes that those SPOPs are being used in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Training teams and smaller combat outposts are the prime users in Iraq, he notes.

He continues that five years ago, Army posts usually had an administrative infrastructure that had an IP-based local area network capability. However, training areas and maintenance facilities would have only a circuit-based switched Mobile Subscriber Equipment tactical communications system. Now, instead of two different types of systems, everything is on a single IP-based network enterprise, he points out.

And, as the Army transitioned to a modular force, the new IP-based technologies were being fielded on the battlefield. They played a major role in enabling the Army’s adoption of a modular unit architecture, Bettencourt contends. Both division and maneuver brigade levels, along with expeditionary signal battalions, are fielding JNN capability as they enter combat.

“At the transport level—division, brigade, battalion and now even company—there has been a revolution in Army communications,” Bettencourt states.

With this networking in hand, the Army now is aiming at equipping the force with new capabilities. “The rapid fielding of technologies, as soon as they present us with a coherent capability, is clearly where we are headed for the foreseeable future in the Army,” Bettencourt warrants.

The G-6 office is working closely with the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) office to field appropriate JTRS technologies where feasible. The Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) also is a part of the discussions on where to field which capabilities, Bettencourt relates. Again, the goal is to field these new capabilities down to the company, squad, platoon and ultimately dismounted-soldier levels.

Some of the challenges the Army faces in the JTRS program are between the Army and the U.S. Marine Corps in the dismounted versions of JTRS, Bettencourt allows—“the form, fit, function factors in bringing those waveforms to the battlefield.” Another Army JTRS challenge involves the scale of the effort. The Army has a huge investment in modern battlefield communications systems that in part has been increased by the recent modular transformation.

Bettencourt relates that the modular units have required a greater deployment of Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS) units across the force—the Army soon will be fielding its 430,000th SINCGARS. The Army must phase in JTRS technology, particularly its waveforms, on top of this existing extensive communications infrastructure.

One of the key recent changes has involved the JNN system. The Army has integrated JNN into the Warfighter Information Network–Tactical, or WIN-T, program (SIGNAL Connections, July 2007). JNN becomes an early phase of the WIN-T program as its existing fielded technologies are incorporated into WIN-T. This merger of the two systems provides “a clear road ahead” on the technologies and resourcing for the newly combined programs, Bettencourt notes.

He adds that TRADOC and the Army G-3 office provided input on which capabilities of WIN-T need to be fielded and where in the Army, as well as how JNN could be integrated effectively. Now the Army has organizations that will determine where JNN capabilities and additional WIN-T capabilities will be fielded, along with how and where to spiral JNN into WIN-T where appropriate.

“It is important that we understand the incremental vital capabilities that WIN-T brings us on top of JNN,” Bettencourt says.

No revolution lasts forever, and Bettencourt offers that this one is transitioning to an evolutionary phase because the technology is more unified. But with the end of the revolution comes a greater emphasis on evolution, and the fast improvements are far from ending, he states. “We will continue to move forward rapidly in improving upon this capability that we have laid down,” he declares.

This evolution goes forward on several fronts, he continues. One example he cites is the Army processing centers, which are changing the way the Army provides services and stores information. They are the key to prepositioning and maneuvering information, he states. The new modular expeditionary Army will benefit from the consolidation of information at these regional server farms, as they have been called.

 
A U.S. Air Force senior airman embedded with an Army unit in Iraq enters coordinates into a Stryker assault vehicle system as part of his mission as a joint terminal attack controller. The Army has worked within the
joint community as it strives to expand network capabilities.
Just as this global expeditionary Army can deploy combat units quickly, it also must be able to deploy just as quickly the information on which those units depend, Bettencourt explains. The Army processing centers are designed on a global scale to be more than a set of consolidated servers—they also are a set of standard operating procedures and technical standards, he says.

Units based in the United States that deploy to the other side of the world can have their vital information ported to a distant processing center in the general deployment area—in effect, prepositioning information overseas. When the unit arrives in theater, it can plug into that local processing center seamlessly. This eliminates the need for reconfiguring the unit’s information technology (IT) structure.

While the main goal of the Army processing center system is to maneuver and store data, the Army also is interested in how this system will affect resource allocation, Bettencourt notes. Studies and analyses have revealed that the Army conceivably could save hundreds of millions of dollars each year if it can consolidate its servers and services to the maximum extent possible. That also would remove a significant burden from individual post commanders and directors of information management.

And, information assurance also would be enhanced. The information consolidation will vastly reduce the number of interfaces from the Army enterprise, Bettencourt points out. The service will be able to protect data at the centers using the best available technologies and a concentration of well-trained operators.

Training will be easier as well. A force may be assembled from different units located in diverse sites. When brigade combat teams need to fall in at a division headquarters, they could train over the Global Information Grid in place before they deploy.

The IP-based nature of the network also is a key enabler of several evolutionary activities. It provides a user interface that is familiar to the soldiers from the day they enter the Army. That familiarity has enabled many soldiers to provide valuable and ingenious ideas for improvements as soon as they receive new applications, Bettencourt reports.

One example he cites is the command post of the future (CPOF), a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program that was deployed with the First Cavalry Division. Soldiers were providing significant feedback to the Army and DARPA on how to improve that system, he recounts. Because CPOF operated on a network with a Windows-like interface and capabilities, these soldiers could adapt to the system immediately and suggest improvements in short order.

Soldiers also are adapting common-level tools such as e-mail and spreadsheet programs into useful collaboration and communications tools. Bettencourt relates that many of these adaptations take place in combat, and the results are fed back to the G-6 office for incorporation into the Army at large.

These commercial products can improve warfighter adaptability to new information systems, but they also can increase the challenge of information assurance and raise questions about authority to operate. The Central Technical Support Facility in Fort Hood, Texas, validates authority to operate and information assurance of new systems, Bettencourt allows. The Army wants to expand that into a federated capability with entities such as the Future Combat Systems (FCS) integration laboratory in Huntington Beach, California, along with a large FCS presence at Fort Bliss, Texas, and other U.S. facilities.

To manage the evolutionary phase of the Army’s communications effort, the CIO/G-6 office has generated a new 500-day plan. The previous plan, which just ended, was designed to be coincident with the 18-month technology turnover period stipulated by Moore’s Law. That first plan largely was generated internally after interviews with others outside of the CIO/G-6 organization, Bettencourt relates.

But the new plan, which is being released this month, takes a different approach. The CIO/G-6 office tapped representatives of organizations throughout the Army and U.S. Defense Department communications communities. More than 40 general officers, senior executive service personnel and command sergeants major met for a two-day strategic off-site meeting. They included representatives from the National Guard and Reserve Component, signal units, Army Materiel Command, TRADOC, the J-6, the Defense Information Systems Agency, combatant commands and the Marine Corps along with many program executive officers.

Bettencourt states that the new plan reflects a philosophy that “clearly, we have to proceed on an enterprise basis.” That began in the first 500-day plan. “The Army enterprise is the largest corporate enterprise in the world,” he explains. It has 1.9 million users around the world, and it is the largest customer for Microsoft and Dell, as well as for many other companies.

This effort includes institutionalizing LandWarNet from the tactical level to the strategic Army business and strategy levels, he continues. The Army must ensure that it is moving LandWarNet across the doctrine, training, leadership, organization, materiel and soldiers–people and facilities (DTLOMS–PF) construct.

A related concept is to view installations as docking stations. Just as laptop computers can be disengaged from docking stations to serve as mobile stand-alone computers, so too can modular expeditionary Army units be deployed at a moment’s notice with LandWarNet accompanying them, Bettencourt offers. LandWarNet would be available at the unit’s installation, as the unit trains, as it deploys en route, as it reaches a combat zone, as it fights and as it conducts stability operations afterward.

One of the Army’s key elements for making this happen is the Army’s Network Enterprise Technology Command, or NETCOM, headquartered in Fort Huachuca, Arizona. Bettencourt suggests that NETCOM is very under-recognized in terms of its vital responsibilities. It is the Army’s global network command, and it also runs the Army processing centers. Its emphasis is likely to increase as LandWarNet extends its reach.

The Army’s new IP-based network gives it the opportunity for true, enterprise global knowledge management. But the Army is at only the beginning of that road, Bettencourt indicates. Setting off on the right course is one of the key strategic areas of the next 500 days, he declares. To achieve this, the Army has hired Dr. Robert E. Neilson for a three- to five-year period to plot this effort. His task will be to lay out across the DTLOMS-PF how the Army is to be a knowledge management organization.

“The whole area of knowledge management, information management and data strategy is an area that we really want to emphasize over the next 500 days,” Bettencourt declares.

The new plan also emphasizes information assurance for data at rest and data in motion. The Army is buying as many or more laptop computers than desktop computers, and the increased portability adds a measure of risk to information assurance. Many soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq carry laptops, and laptops are in battle command systems in vehicles. It is vital that the data on those laptops is encrypted and protected, Bettencourt states.

While acknowledging the end of the Army network revolution, Bettencourt says that another revolution has taken place quietly—an IT portfolio management revolution. The Army has instituted it within four mission areas: warfighting, led by the Army G-3; the business mission area, led by the deputy undersecretary of the Army; the intelligence mission area, led by the Army G-2 in conjunction with the undersecretary of defense for intelligence; and the enterprise information infrastructure mission area, led by the CIO/G-6. These mission areas comprise 18 functional domains that are led by general officers who report quarterly to the Army Portfolio Review Committee. Bettencourt asserts that the key is to match capabilities, IT programs and resources while eliminating redundancy—all of which are essential for the 500-day plan to succeed.

Web Resources
U.S. Army CIO/G-6: www.army.mil/ciog6
Future Combat Systems: www.army.mil/fcs
Joint Tactical Radio System: http://enterprise.spawar.navy.mil/body.cfm?type=c&category=27&subcat=60
Joint Network Node: http://peoc3t.monmouth.army.mil/trcs/jnn.html
Warfighter Information Network–Tactical: http://peoc3t.monmouth.army.mil/win_t/win_t.html