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S6 Series: Enhancing Armored Mobility, Speed and Lethality

Armored unit aims to shoot, move and communicate simultaneously.
By Maj. Todd Klinzing-Donaldson, USA

This is the first in a series of online articles written by Army Signal Corps officers.

As an armored formation, our lethality is not just derived from our firepower but also from our mobility—the speed that we can bring lethality into the fight.

During the recent Armored Formation On-The-Move Network Pilot, our commercial network equipment sets enabled us to be both mobile and connected at the same time. We could stay tied to a common operational picture, provide operational input to feed that picture and enable the brigade commander to make informed decisions using near real-time data. Bottom line, it increased our survivability. We did not have to stop to set up at-the-halt systems in a command post configuration to conduct mission command or networked communications. We just did it on-the-move from inside our vehicle platforms.

It is no secret that as an armored formation, we give off a significant physical and electronic signature. Once we get rolling and bring lethality to the front edge, the increased mobility and speed makes us a much harder target to fight and defeat. By remaining mobile, we retain tempo, maintain speed and maintain operational audacity. That translates to our unit being a more survivable and lethal fighting formation. 

Mobility and Speed

During the pilot, when forward, our 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment, was able to provide what we refer to as the red picture, the enemy situational tempo, back to the brigade headquarters in near real-time using their intelligence systems while on-the-move. Previously, working in a brigade operations center, I have often seen a disconnect between timely intelligence and information collection and the dissemination and analysis of that information within the brigade.

Often once received, information has already gone stale. Currently, brigade commanders can maintain acute awareness of the location of their forces throughout an area of responsibility. However, locating enemy forces can prove more challenging. Understanding the enemy’s situational tempo drives decisions. Do we execute operations to plan, or execute a branch or contingency operation? Are our indirect fires targets still relevant, or are we wasting rounds and accepting more risk by firing? Do we have to change our task organization to meet the threat in a way that we had not expected?

Timelier reporting and the ability to see a real-time common operating picture informs commanders on these decisions, providing them more decision space and subordinate units with an increased ability to react to those decisions most effectively. With this prototype network kit, the time from identification of intelligence and information to brigade receipt was decreased to minutes; this can make an enormous difference in shaping success during operations.

Another significant advantage was evident during the pilot. The fires warfighting function was always tied into the network while on-the-move or at a quick halt, which enabled us to execute fire missions in near-real time, versus having to stop to establish upper tactical network communications, then return to the fight. That is a big deal when it comes to providing indirect fire effects in the close fight and units’ ability to expeditiously execute counter-battery fire missions.

To be successful in future multidomain operations, the Army understands that, both culturally and by doctrine, it will operate in a considerably more decentralized manner. During the pilot, the on-the-move prototype equipment enabled units to operate much more decentralized from higher headquarters and other units, to go further into the fight. It also enabled headquarters elements to operate more dispersed within their own specific formations, both on-the-move and at-the-quick-halt, while retaining continued connectivity between each other and the brigade.

Transport Agnostic

We also saw important benefits from the increased network resiliency created through enhanced signal pathway diversity. With the prototype enhancements, fires and intelligence warfighting functions had multiple avenues of upper tactical Internet pathways from which to fight.

In the fall of 2020 during our last Joint Multinational Readiness Center training rotation in Germany, we were constantly focused on upper tactical Internet transport establishment to enable digital communications. If our satellite terminals or other network equipment failed, as the S6, I knew the failure would translate to decreased fire support, knowledge of enemy situational awareness and survivability.

We attempted to address this challenge by establishing the digital network architecture so that it was always on, maintaining the network 213 of 216 hours during the rotation. The challenge was always transport establishment. The on-the-move pilot helped provide additional solutions to this challenge. Subordinate units had an increased number of digital transport pathways and multiple links to maintain connectivity to the upper tactical Internet network, which made a huge difference for our fires and intelligence communities.

In addition, every Army unit supporting a mission always has a communication primary, alternate, contingency and emergency (PACE) plan, but usually that requires switchover, where the operator has to actually move to the next piece of equipment. This pilot equipment not only provided us an upper tactical Internet network PACE, but it did so utilizing automatic failover.

The operator did not have to do anything to switch from the satellite communications to line-of-sight; it was automatic and the operators were none the wiser. I have never had that option before. It creates depth in our upper tactical Internet capability, and I think that is incredibly important in a contested and congested environment.

Soldier-Centric Designs

My unit’s role in the Armored Formation On-The-Move Network Pilot was threefold: to help inform the Army on future Capability Set 25 network designs, the concept of operations for on-the-move networked armored formations from division to battalion and market research to determine currently available and maturing industry solutions for armored formation network integration. At this early point in the Army’s Capability Set 25 design process, we were not assessing commercial systems specifically, but which capabilities have potential and should be pursued for armored formation network modernization. Does the capability meet a current or future operational need against a powerful adversary? That is what we owed back to the Army: our feedback. I was truly grateful for the opportunity for our brigade to learn and provide feedback on the operational importance of on-the-move communications for armored formations and how it can enable what we do and what we bring to the fight. The reality of warfare is that you cannot shoot and move if you cannot communicate, making the importance of the pilot all the more pivotal.

Maj. Todd Klinzing-Donaldson, USA, is the communications and network officer (S6) for the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division. Prior to his current position, Maj. Klinzing-Donaldson served as the battalion S6 for the 3rd Battalion, 321st Field Artillery Regiment, 18th Field Artillery Brigade; the company commander for the 67th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, 35th Signal Brigade; and as an operations officer in special operations.

For additional coverage, please see:

Army Ending Era of Big Tent Ops Centers

Army Hones On-the-Move Communications