• The PEO panel at the Army Signal Conference discusses technology needs for communications-electronics systems.
     The PEO panel at the Army Signal Conference discusses technology needs for communications-electronics systems.

Obsolescence Looms, Innovation Beckons

March 9, 2017
By Robert K. Ackerman
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The U.S. Army both wants and needs new capabilities from industry.

Not only does the Army want new capabilities to deal with dynamic changes in the warfighting realm, it also faces the challenge of obsolescence in many of its existing communications-electronics systems. Technologies designed decades ago are still carrying the freight for information that increasingly is sent in a format far different from the equipment that must deliver it to the warfighter and decision maker.

Speaking at AFCEA’s March 9 Army Signal Conference in Springfield, Virginia, a panel of program executive officers (PEOs) addressed many of these shortcomings. Panel moderator Maj. Gen. Bruce T. Crawford, USA, commanding general, U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM), described how the Army has one system in the inventory with almost $100 million in obsolescent parts. Citing the example of a formation leveraging four boxes to keep six boxes operational, Gen. Crawford called for a comprehensive plan for going after obsolescent parts.

Douglas Wiltsie, director, U.S. Army Rapid Capabilities Office, related that satellite communications are challenged by both adversaries and incompatibility. He noted that SMART-T is the primary system the Army has deployed, but it has a serial interface originally designed for MSE extension. Saying it has been underutilized for a variety of reasons, he called for a digital capability that can transport Internet protocol (IP) data compatible with new information systems.

The virtual domains of space and cyber become more important every day, said Seth Spoenlein, Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) Space and Terrestrial Communications Directorate associate for Technology, Planning and Outreach. Unfortunately for the United States, our enemies know that too, he added. Addressing spectrum challenges will depend on the physics of the different regions in which the Army operates.

Cyber capabilities can deal with today’s threat, but the Army needs to get to the next step, said Mark Kitz, director for System of Systems Engineering, PEO Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors. The Army must move toward multifunction electronic warfare (EW), as the battlespace is seeing a convergence of EW, cyber and intelligence, he stated.

Gary Martin, PEO Command, Control and Communications-Tactical, explained the Army is working to reduce the logistical footprint of its communications systems to improve mobility, particularly WIN-T. Future radios also will build on the capability of radios to sense the existence of a network. In a couple of years, if a radio can sense a network but cannot join it, it will receive the products it needs to join the network, he said.

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