Electronics Transform the Army

August 2001
By Robert K. Ackerman
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The information technology community may be driving the land warriors of the next conflict.

The dominant agenda item in the U.S. Army is its ongoing transformation, and the dominant element in this transformation is the Army’s information systems. Empowered by new electronics technologies, these systems and their capabilities are defining the service’s configuration and missions.

This effort encompasses the full range of communications, computing and information systems and will blur the dividing lines between traditional disciplines such as logistics management and warfighting. All elements of the Army will tap each other’s expertise and capabilities in a network-centric environment.

At the heart of this technology thrust is the directorate of information systems for command, control, communications and computers (C4). Its leader sees the directorate as being a key enabler in virtually every aspect of the Army transformation.

Lt. Gen. Peter M. Cuviello, USA, is the director of information systems for command, control, communications and computers (DISC4) and the chief information officer (CIO) for the Army. Gen. Cuviello also serves as the military deputy to the Army acquisition executive for C4 and information technology (IT) programs.

“The Army is going through its transformation, and it’s much more than the interim brigade combat team at Fort Lewis. It’s more than the interim armored vehicle and its options. It is truly an environment where, from the lowest level to the highest level, we need to do business differently,” he declares. “The environment is changing around us—whether the environment is the spectrum of conflict or the business of how things are done—and we have a different generation of people. So, all these changes must deal with what transformation is all about.

“We [the C4 and IT community] feel that what we are trying to do is to be the change agent,” the general warrants. “We want to be the Army’s strategic change agent for the world-class, network-centric, knowledge-based capabilities enabling the Army’s transformation and ensuring warfighting dominance in this decade.”

The general’s efforts do not constitute a shopping spree in the ultimate technology toy store, however. Developing and implementing the information systems that enable the Army transformation will require meticulous assessments of capabilities and interoperability. And, above all, cost remains a factor. Even with careful planning and economizing, funding increases will be necessary to achieve transformation IT goals.

“As we develop more into a knowledge-based organization, as we try to figure out how to do best business practices, we are going to find out that the investment in C4 and IT is going to have to increase,” the general warns.

Gen. Cuviello lists several strategic goals that fit under the transformation vision. He identifies the first as “infostructure,” which encompasses the C4 and information technology infrastructure. The goal is to acquire and deliver assured access “anywhere, any time throughout a modernized Army enterprise managed information technology infrastructure.” The general describes this endeavor as “the Army’s part of the Global Grid.”

This includes the Army tactical internet, a two-part upgrade at the tactical level. The lower tactical internet connects at the brigade level and below, while the upper tactical internet covers the brigade level and higher. This will permit the command and control and the combat service support systems to work together.

Two major programs compose the lower tactical internet. One is the Joint Tactical Radio System, a multiservice program for which the Army is the executive agent. This radio system is being designed for jointness, as opposed to existing equivalents that have jointness capabilities added to them. Creating a joint system from the start is a difficult challenge, Gen. Cuviello allows. “Right now, we have 30 legacy waveforms that we must incorporate into this radio before we can even get to the strategy of a wideband networked waveform,” he states.

The second, or upper, tactical internet program is the warfighter information network-tactical, or WIN-T. This program will replace mobile subscriber equipment (MSE) and the triservice tactical communications (TRI-TAC) equipment, and it will improve the Army’s wireless and mobile capabilities. Being able to do command and control on the move is “the real change” in these technologies, Gen. Cuviello relates. It raises mobile communications to a higher level permitting advanced voice, data, collaborative planning and shared information.

Reach-back capabilities are essential for lessening the footprint of light mobile troops deployed in a theater of operation. In the cognitive pyramid concept, knowledge is actionable information that will allow decisions to be made by the commander. Instead of needing more bandwidth, forces will rely on smarter bandwidth that delivers the correct information to the commander.

Enabling this reach-back will require upgrades at Army posts, camps and stations. Implementing many defense reform initiatives, such as paperless programs, also will mandate base infostructure improvements. For example, all logistics programs must be Web-based by 2004, which will require improved capabilities at many facilities.

The second strategic goal is knowledge management. Establishing an Army management culture will require championing enterprisewide strategies and capabilities, Gen. Cuviello states. While not a new idea, knowledge management is a prevailing concept throughout the cognitive pyramid, he adds. Implementing a more agile effective warfighting capability mandates that the Army become “a more efficient business organization,” he notes.

Information sharing must occur in more than just a technical sense. The information age is requiring people to become multidisciplined, and to become smarter, they must share information. Gen. Cuviello states that the Army is spending a considerable amount of time on knowledge management, and a road map known as the Army Knowledge Management Strategic Plan aims at “better posturing the Army to doing the sharing of information,” he says.

The Army can draw important lessons from the commercial sector. Gen. Cuviello notes that, as industry adjusts for the new information age, about 17 percent of its transformation has involved technology. The rest largely have involved human capital and process and culture. Building a knowledge-based organization requires spending a lot of time with people and working through cultures and the processes that have evolved over time.

“If we’re going to become an e-Army, we must implement e-business practices,” the general declares.

The third strategic vision goal focuses on human capital. This encompasses recruiting, training, retaining and continuously refreshing the Army information technology management workforce, the general relates, and it applies to both military and civilian staff. “With all the outsourcing going on, we are now calling this the information technology management force,” he says. The technical elements at the installation level likely will be outsourced, which makes management the key item, especially on the civilian side.

Gen. Cuviello states that the Army does not have any problem recruiting information systems personnel. “We have waiting lists of in-house military wanting to transfer to information technology specialties,” he says. No bonuses are needed to recruit computer specialists because so many people want to work in that job area. Those who become specialists in that discipline must serve a six-year commitment.

However, retaining these trained experts—both enlisted and officer—is the real personnel challenge. Several initiatives are underway to keep these valuable employees. The biggest one is education, the general allows. Personnel are willing to remain in the service for continued education, so the Army is committing energy and resources to that activity. One new program, the Army University Access Online, allows personnel to receive certification or a degree based on education entirely on the Web. Each participant is given a computer and an Internet service provider to facilitate this virtual education.

The Army long has sent its military personnel to train with industry for a year to learn commercial sector skills. Gen. Cuviello notes that this program is being extended to civilian employees as well.

The fourth goal is strategic partnering. The general explains that this entails serving as a change catalyst supporting Army functional communities and organizations “to capitalize fully on the capabilities of technology to streamline their business processes and migrate them to a network-centric Army.” Logisticians, personnel directors and financial experts all will be helped under this approach. The general says that they will be helped by “a single grand integrated database” that would have all their needed information without having to deal with the hundreds of discipline-specific systems currently in operation. About 99.9 percent of this information will be Web-based and shared. All of it will be accessible through the Army’s single portal.

Capital planning is the DISC4’s fifth strategic item, and it involves a C4 and information technology investment strategy that integrates requirements, incorporates best business practices and obtains the needed resources. The general relates that his directorate is involved in the budget, program objective memorandum and Quadrennial Defense Review processes. The goal is to package these processes into a single element.

“In the past, we have been very platform oriented,” he relates. “What we are trying to do now is to lay it across horizontally so that when we buy a capability, such as a tank, it has the right C4 capability, the right logistics pieces, the right training packages, and the right simulation and stimulation capability so that the parts are all together. It works all the way from what we need to buy from the foxhole up to satellite capabilities,” he emphasizes. The result will be a “cohesive and comprehensive capability package that is evaluated based not on the need of training, logistics or simulation, but on the capability of what it is you want the vehicle to be able to do.”

The directorate’s strategic outreach goal is to engage other government organizations, industry and academia to promote the Army’s CIO goals and objectives. “In our business, our real goal is to adopt capabilities that are already out there,” Gen. Cuviello says. It sometimes is necessary to adapt these commercial off-the-shelf capabilities, and this requires engaging industry and academia. Information assurance especially depends on developments emerging from academia, the general notes, and the Army is seeding its capability for obtaining certification and degrees in that discipline. “One thing that has not been well developed in industry is experts in computer network defense,” he states.

The seventh goal is to establish a new way of governance. The general emphasizes that the Army is a highly decentralized organization, which is an approach that works well on the battlefield. In the business practices that the new transformed Army must adopt, however, this decentralization approach is less than ideal. “Part of this effort is that we’re building a business case now that will show what is better—being totally decentralized or being totally centralized,” Gen. Cuviello relates. “We already know that the answer lies somewhere in the middle, but we’re not exactly sure where. So, we have a process team working with industry, other government agencies and Army agencies to come up with what will be the business case on the best way to govern the information technology business.”

The Army chief of staff and the secretary of the Army already have approved the establishment of an Army CIO executive board, which met for the first time in April. Its charter is to make enterprise solutions and recommendations to Army leadership. Gen. Cuviello emphasizes that this group will not make functional or major command decisions.

For example, the Army has more than 6,300 mail servers all run by different administrators. Any attempt at an enterprise decision “takes forever—if ever—to implement a change or modification,” the general observes. Part of this new business case will question whether it is necessary for separate elements to run their own e-mail. The Army will be moving to Web mail in its single Web environment, and this will involve a single portal.

Robust Web capabilities for battlefield applications are at the top of Gen. Cuviello’s technology wish list. “We will be moving in that direction; whether it be e-mail, logistics, sharing data—we are going to move toward a Web environment,” he says. “When one does that, a communications challenge goes with it. How it is deployed and how the architecture is laid out will be critical.”

The other key battlefield technology is mobile communications. This goes beyond current cellular 2.4 to 4.8 kilobit capabilities, the general emphasizes. “We’re talking about the need for greater capability on the move, so that one can do the necessary command and control using the collaborative tools that we are designing,” he says. “We can’t be laying fiber on the battlefield, and we can’t have GBS [global broadcast satellite] to every platform out there. So, the techniques that are used in communications are going to be very critical to us.”

Two other technologies must improve substantially. One is antenna technologies. Current antennas are too big, the general offers, and this poses a significant challenge in the Joint Tactical Radio System program. “Industry is out there bending physics right now to get us a scalable, networked, multiband radio, but their real challenge is antennas,” he states. A card- or software-reprogrammable radio can change from one frequency to another, but these frequencies call for different antennas. “What happens when you have the physics to put it all in one box—are you going to have 30 antennas on it?”

Batteries are the other existing technology in need of vast improvement. Mobile electronics systems need onboard power to prevent warfighters from dragging generators all over the battlefield. “Right now, battery technology is very slowly moving along,” Gen. Cuviello says. The alternative to improved battery technologies is for industry to build systems that use less power. Both approaches must bear fruit, he adds.

Funding always is a challenge, even with the increased emphasis on information technologies. “The investment in C4 and IT is going to have to increase,” Gen. Cuviello warrants. “There are a lot of good ideas that are still out there in the good idea standpoint.”

The Army also must determine which of the many new technologies currently being tested in its Fort Hood Force XXI development will be deployed, and to what degree. The general notes that the Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below program, or FBCB2, originally was earmarked for “platoon plus” fielding in the 4th Infantry Division. In this deployment, it does not go to every single platform. FBCB2 was so highly successful in the Division Capstone Exercise I that planners now must consider whether to expand that degree of fielding. However, not enough money is available to expand FBCB2 deployment significantly, even though the system gave experimenters a glimpse of the transformation’s future.

“We actually saw the merging of technology with people’s thought processes,” the general relates. “Decisions were being made based on knowledge that showed up on a screen and without too much human interface.”

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