• A U.S. Army specialist monitors satellite communications (SATCOM) at an observation post in Afghanistan. The Army is looking to leap ahead in connectivity by unifying its entire system of networks through modernization, particularly SATCOM.  U.S. Army
     A U.S. Army specialist monitors satellite communications (SATCOM) at an observation post in Afghanistan. The Army is looking to leap ahead in connectivity by unifying its entire system of networks through modernization, particularly SATCOM. U.S. Army
  • A U.S. Army sergeant installs a network multifunction device on a tactical operations center computer during a civil support exercise. The Army’s effort to unify its network environment aims at modernizing hardware and software across the breadth of field, base and post facilities.  U.S. Army
     A U.S. Army sergeant installs a network multifunction device on a tactical operations center computer during a civil support exercise. The Army’s effort to unify its network environment aims at modernizing hardware and software across the breadth of field, base and post facilities. U.S. Army

Unification Through Modernization Drives Army Networking

June 1, 2019
By Robert K. Ackerman
E-mail About the Author

DCATS aims to pre-empt adversaries with industry’s help.


The U.S. Army is going for a clean sweep in its efforts to modernize its network. Instead of taking an item-by-item approach, the service is striving to modernize its entire network enterprise by introducing new and compatible technologies from bases to battlefields.

“The Army is going to be doing a huge modernization, and the network is on the priority list,” says Col. Enrique Costas, USA, project manager, Defense Communications and Army Transmission Systems (PM DCATS). “And we are going to achieve a lot of these successes with the help of industry and our sister services—it’s a joint fight and it’s a joint environment.”

DCATS provides all the enterprise network transport capabilities for the Army and, in some cases, the Defense Department. These include satellite communications (SATCOM), wired long-haul installation campus networks and base safety communications. It also includes classified acquisition capabilities for the national command authority, the U.S. Special Operations Command and other government agencies.

DCATS recently deployed the 10th and latest satellite in the Wideband Enterprise Satellite Systems (WESS) constellation. The colonel explains that PM DCATS is responsible for augmenting and supplementing the payload control verification test. DCATS also is working with the Air Force and Boeing on development of WESS-11, which will drive the ground segment modernization of the architecture. This will affect both transmission and payload control, he points out.

Soldiers deployed at Fort Gordon are using the Wideband Control and Training Certification System, which simulates WESS and allows them to learn outside the actual constellation. The next step, Col. Costas says, is to reduce the complexity of the applications used by operators to manage payload control. A simpler system would give operators an easier task to manage three different blocks of satellites—employing wideband, X band and Ka band—in the constellation, he notes.

DCATS also is working to advance the state of very small aperture satellite (VSAT) communications. In response to an 8th Army request, it is building an inflatable satellite antenna in Korea. Describing this antenna as a remarkable capability, Col. Costas explains it has tri-band access for X, Ka and Ku bands and is very user-friendly. Concurrently, its development has impelled DCATS to alter the ground segment of X-band links so that logisticians have access to all the constellations.

The Army is working to validate a requirements document to replace the existing legacy Combat Service Support (CSS) VSAT fleet and radio wireless architecture. If approved, this document will compel DCATS to look ahead for the next commercial solution.

The colonel notes that DCATS also is striving to maximize the potential of all the switching and routing equipment in the part of the Installation Campus Area Network (ICAN) that is software-defined capable. This could increase potential throughput, he says.

Army post telephony “is in a state of disrepair,” Col. Costas states. So, the service will begin investing in fiscal year 2020 to replace TDMA switches within a couple of years. The Army also has directed DCATS to examine replacing the ICAN “in a holistic way,” he says. The goal is to modernize the system across the board instead of piecemeal.

The Army is looking to determine how much of the telephony should be Internet protocol compliant and how much should be a unified capabilities solution. This depends on the user base and the services needed for day-to-day operations, Col. Costas offers. The commercial sector could provide unified capabilities instead of resorting only to hardened voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) for secret and nonsecure links. The Army will conduct a series of pilots to explore voice technologies provided by the commercial sector. These pilots will show if the Army can commercialize its telephony quickly and which aspects will still need protection in layers in an installation network.

Whatever voice, data and video services are being provided at the enterprise level in the ICAN must be seamless with the integrated tactical network, Col. Costas declares. “From a services, transport and applications standpoint, the Army is looking at unifying the network.” It must consider how the enterprise, as the parent of the entire domain, services the warfighter in combat, he states.

The biggest challenge to unifying the network the Army faces is “not knowing what we have,” Col. Costas offers. “We need to understand what is our current baseline. Not understanding, what we have and the state of what we have continues to be a challenge because it requires a lot of manpower to survey the state of the architecture and the hardware that has been deployed and modernized at different installations.”

Every installation may require a different degree of modernization, yet industry looks at this very differently, he continues. Industry knows almost immediately the state of its network, because it depends on software-defined network technology—a capability the Army currently lacks and needs, he emphasizes.

Another challenge is to understand the objective performance of the Army’s network capabilities. The colonel allows that DCATS is working closely with the TRADOC capability manager for networks and services to define the integrated enterprise network requirements document. He describes this as a revolutionary approach of how to build the network because the Army now considers it a weapon system. “It’s competing against tanks, helicopters and missiles, and we need to be able to demonstrate the same level of rigor that the other weapon systems are presenting against other resourcing priorities in the Army,” he points out.

DCATS is aiming to incorporate advances brought by FirstNet and AT&T into the land mobile radio (LMR), the colonel says. FirstNet can augment the existing LMR, which will be invaluable in a future disaster. First responders can enter an incident area from outside and have instant interoperability, which is a national driver. DCATS will conduct pilot efforts in some bases to test the concept, he adds.

Several technologies loom as key to the Army’s overall networking effort. With the Army transition from copper to optical fiber, the service needs a reliable pipe. An important adjunct is how to manage transmission and routing capability. The colonel wants to be able to digitize electrical current in a way similar to passive optical network capabilities coming into play. “We need to understand what those capabilities are, what they are not and how they can potentially augment or improve the performance of the existing capabilities that we have acquired,” the colonel states.

Another thrust involves modulation for satellite communications. The Army wants to make sure that when the tactical community receives an X-band satellite signal, the transmission can be load-balanced for an efficient distribution through the control system, he says. Maximizing the potential of this space segment may require a common operating picture for applications.

And, how the Army can leverage 5G implementation is high on the service’s query list. “We’re keeping a close eye on how the commercial sector is implementing 5G technology for wireless use across not only the continental United States but also outside it,” Col. Costas says. “We see the writing on the wall.”

The colonel cites the example of digital maintenance manuals. An aircraft maintenance logbook wireless notebook deployed at Fort Riley suffered from limited wireless throughput in its facility. Having high-throughput wireless connectivity on base—and in a tactical environment—would allow the notebook to be used to its full extent.

Meeting this and other broadband challenges would require risk trade-offs, as adversaries are looking to intercept or jam wireless transmissions in field environments. The Army wants to sit down with industry and discuss options to balance risk and operational control, the colonel says.

The Army has achieved—and is able to sustain—its information dominance, Col. Costas states. But, as technology becomes more diffused, many adversaries can access the same technologies employed by the Army. This will enable them to match the Army in a future conflict. He foresees a perpetual competition in these technologies, especially with ongoing advances by the commercial sector. “The question for the future is how do we protect the technologies we have implemented and employ them to achieve our operational end states, from a performance standpoint, to enable the bread and butter of the Army to communicate?” he asks.

Looking ahead into the next century, Col. Costas foresees increased automation, independent rapid quantum computing and divestiture of people in the loop operating the network. “That’s where we are going, and some of these technologies are going to be disruptive,” he declares. “It’s going to force the Army to rethink ‘how are we going to operate, and what are the things we are going to relinquish to machines to operate—and take ownership of those things that we will never allow machines to own in an operational scenario?’”

The goal will be a high-speed throughput intelligent autonomous network that detects the point-of-need requirement in a contested environment. DCATS would cue and provision the network while knowing how to load-balance it, the colonel says.

Enjoyed this article? SUBSCRIBE NOW to keep the content flowing.


Departments: 

Share Your Thoughts: