The Army Quickens its Innovation Pace
The service pursues next crop of advanced tactical network technologies from the industry.
The Army is two years into its aggressive front to modernize and shift to be a more agile, lethal force, moving away from counterinsurgency warfare. One of the service’s major priorities as part of that modernization effort is to create an integrated tactical network that can support soldiers fighting anywhere at anytime against near-peer adversaries in a contested environment, explained Maj. Gen. Peter Gallagher, USA, director, Network-Cross Functional Team, to the audience November 20 at AFCEA International’s Alamo Chapter ACE 2019 event in San Antonio, Texas.
“The world is changing,” he said. “Peer competition and global threats are emerging, and we’ve got to change to address the threats. The Army Futures Command is in a state of perpetual modernization to address those threats. Multidomain operations and this, the new concept of Joint all domain command and control, which is going to be the glue that stitches all that together, is absolutely critical for us to win against a peer adversary. We’ve got to win, and that's what the nation is counting on us to do.”
Up the road in Austin a day later at the Army Futures Command, Gen. Gallagher, joined by Maj. Gen. Doug Crissman, USA, director of Mission Command Center of Excellence; Brig. Gen. Robert Collins, USA, program executive officer for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors (IEW&S); Mike Monteleone, director, Space and Terrestrial Communications Directorate, C5ISR Center; Col. Garth Winterle, USA, project manager, Tactical Radios, Program Executive Office C3T; and other staff, hosted the Army’s fourth technical exchange meeting (TEM) with industry.
Speaking to reporters by phone about the Futures Command event, the Army intelligence and network leaders shared that they were seeing great response from the industry about the emerging technologies that could next fit into the Army’s comprehensive Integrated Tactical Network (ITN). The Army is looking to field solutions in Fiscal Year 2023 across four lines of effort: unified network, common operating environment, Joint interoperability and coalition accessible, and command post mobility and survivability.
“We’ve had four focused tech exchange meetings, and the first three were really about what could we do right away to close some immediate gaps,” said Gen. Gallagher, explaining their strategy to field the first iteration of solutions in so-called Capability Set 2021. “A lot of those were influencing ongoing pilots and improving network transport, improving our mission command systems and focusing on air-to-ground integration and partnering with industry to work on solutions.”
The Austin event “is the biggest one we've ever had,” the general continued. “We have 672 people here today, which is fairly significant. This tech exchange is focused on the next ridge [of tactical solutions] for Capability Set 23. We are reaching out to industry with our preliminary network design goals, along our four lines of effort, on what we are trying to accomplish. Yesterday was focused on very technical working groups and we have a lot of good engineers asking really hard questions. We are very pleased with the dialogue, which really set the stage for today where we had an operational focus.”
For Capability Set 23, the service is looking to harness industry innovations in integrated assured position, navigation and timing for mounted and dismounted applications; masking radio frequency signatures; low-profile antennas; artificial intelligence and machine learning; data management; cloud solutions that support training and improved readiness; and streamlined software, hardware and data for kill chain and decision making, among other capabilities. The unified network must also support operations across all domains and offer Joint interoperability and coalition use, including network separation mechanisms that manage both trusted and untrusted user access.
Additionally, the Army wants to utilize commercial low-earth orbit and mid-earth orbit “mega” satellite constellations. “We want to be postured to leverage where industry is going in space with low-earth orbit and mid-earth orbit satellite constellations and make sure we have that capability definitely at the halt, but also see if we can get it on the move, especially for those armored brigade formations,” Gen. Gallagher said. “We're not sure if that'll be ready by 2023, but we're definitely going to put a lot of effort and focus on that. We're going to start some preliminary experimentation with mid-earth satellite constellations over the course of the next few months.”
Interested companies should look for a call for white papers in December and be prepared to respond to the solicitation with capability solutions very quickly, within 30 days, Col. Winterle clarified.
“We're asking industry to partner with us in a very accelerated timeline through the use of an other transaction authority (OTA) consortium,” the colonel stated. “Basically, [consortium] are mechanisms for industry to pay a nominal fee and be part of a broader group of potential vendors that can conduct prototyping efforts on a small scale through the use of that OTA consortium. In December we are going to be releasing a call for white papers, which basically is, ‘Here's a description of a problem we want solved,’ and then within a very tight 30-day timeline, the industry is going to come back by mid-January with their proposed solutions that they want to prototype or an existing technology that solves that problem in new ways.”
The Army will then quickly review the proposals with internal stakeholders and announce the specific candidates invited to come to a Shark Tank-like panel in February that will further select or prioritize which proposals are approved to move forward, Col. Winterle noted.
In the meantime, to prepare to field a hardened ITN—that is “optimized for speed and distance,” offers additional data throughput, and has fewer size, weight, power and computing considerations—the service will start moving capabilities to Stryker and Armored Brigades, beginning first with a Stryker unit selected by Army Forces Command, as early as this year, with large-scale experimentation in FY 2022, the colonel stated.
To inform the process, the leaders also have been in close dialogue with soldiers, Gen. Gallagher noted. “What was more important and probably most compelling was that we heard from an armored brigade commander from the 1st Cavalry Division, Colonel Mike Schoenfeldt, who really gave us a warfighter's perspective in terms of his ability for his brigade to fight and some of the things he really needs,” he shared. “And as you know, a lot of the initial focus on the integrated tactical network was really on infantry brigade combat teams and the security forces assistance brigade, so hearing from an armored brigade commander was absolutely critical at this point. And he gave a compelling argument for why we need to do what we're doing here, and I think it generated a lot of interest.”
Currently, the Army is rolling out technologies as part of its Capability Set 21. However, both iterations are dependent on Army funding and may be delayed, due to the stalled action by Congress to pass the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020.