Adversaries are increasingly utilizing the proliferation of sophisticated commercial communications and information technology (IT) on the battlefield allowing them to leverage advanced wireless technology like 5G and smartphones while actively moving in ground vehicles. They are also able to execute cyber and electronic warfare attacks in tactical settings that can cause substantial, intermittent, and lasting damage to U.S. defense forces’ ability to communicate.
As Army leaders develop a new approach to the tactical network, which allows soldiers on the battlefield to communicate with their commanders, to improve connectivity, bolster resiliency, and keep pace with technology. Tactical Network is one of the critical technologies for future soldiers. First, it enhances the lethality of the Future Soldier, providing advanced information technologies to ensure reliable, wideband, networked communications over an area commensurate with evolving battlefield environments. Second, for the Future Soldier 2030 to maintain information dominance, the situational awareness data set must reflect higher-level tactical internet and global command and control system network intelligence.
The US Army recognized the need to embark on a new network modernization strategy to better keep pace with commercial IT development and to ensure we remain ahead of our adversaries. The Army’s approach to tactical network modernization is focused at keeping pace with threats in the near term, while simultaneously developing an optimized future network through rapid insertion of new technology. The strategy contains four supporting efforts focused on institutional reforms, policy and governance, research and development, and more experimental and exploratory science and technology.
Today, as part of its modernization strategy, the Army is delivering a network that addresses the most critical operational shortfalls and enables Multi-Domain Operations through network capability sets. Capability Sets (CS) and associated technology are fielded on a two-year basis starting in FY21. Each set builds off the previous by adding commercial technology and aligning Army Science & Technology programs for transition into programs.
Today, through CS fielding and development, the Army is actively inserting industry capability to enhance the network to give commanders multiple communication choices (both military and commercial networks), make it more user friendly, harden it against cyber and EW threats and provide easier methods to share information with collation partners.
Army’s Network strategy execution
In order to incorporate real-time operational feedback and generate less prescriptive requirements, the Army is utilizing the proven industry practice of developmental operations (DevSecOps) and robust operational experimentation, which places developers side-by-side with Soldiers in operational units to evaluate potential technology solutions. Additionally, these developers are working with the industry to make real-time program improvements as part of the DevSecOps construct. These assessments will inform Capability Set network design, future capability requirements, resourcing and acquisition decisions, and help the Army and its industry partners to evolve the network at the pace
of warfighter demands and commercial innovation.
The Army’s network modernization strategy focuses on four modernization priorities, known as lines of effort (LOEs): (1) creating a unified network transport layer; (2) building a common operating environment (COE) for mission command applications; (3) improving Joint Force and Coalition interoperability and (4) improving command posts’ mobility and survivability.
LOE 1: unified network transport layer
WHAT: Establish available, reliable and resilient network that ensures seamless connectivity in any operationally contested environment.
WHY: The Army must be able to communicate through an assured network and operate in contested and congested environments.
Integrated Tactical Network | Tactical Radios ESB-Enhanced | Tactical Network Transport Signal Modernization/SATCOM
LOE 2: Common operating environment (COE)
WHAT: Provide a simple, intuitive, single common operating picture through a single mission command suite operated and maintained by Soldiers.
WHY: Commanders must be able to make decisions quickly while commanding distributed forces, utilizing rapid decision making skills.
Handheld | Mounted | Command Post
LOE 3: Joint Force and Coalition interoperability
WHAT: Ensure Army Forces can more effectively interact (technically and operationally) with Joint and Coalition partners.
WHY: The US Army does not fight alone–the Army needs to achieve and sustain a level of interoperability within the Army, Joint and Unified Action Partners to enable Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2).
Mission Partner Environment
LOE 4: Command Post (CP) Mobility/Survivability
WHAT: Enable commanders to lead and fight in their formations from anywhere they choose. Ensure command post deployability, reliability, mobility and survivability.
WHY: Command Posts must be mobile and survivable to meet today’s operational needs – Fast, Agile, Lethal.
Additionally, innovations in the cloud, “internet of things,” sensors, robotic and autonomous systems, analytics, artificial intelligence and deep learning are driving tactical network developers to consider deploying warfighting systems that are highly reliant on high-performance computing and storage
Four capabilities that enable DOD and warfighters to modernize their tactical networks and maintain overmatch through communication and IT are command post mobility, secure wireless communications, cybersecurity and edge computing. Advances in mobility and secure wireless enable DOD and warfighters to quickly relocate command posts in theater and give commanders more flexibility and options to maneuver.
Edge computing enables warfighters to gain access to data and software previously available only at large data centers-including access to cloud services even when wide area network (WAN) access is down. Tactical cybersecurity solutions are increasingly important for warfighters, especially in light of increasing cyberattacks on our tactical networks.
Army Integrated Tactical Network
The Integrated Tactical Network (ITN) provides a simplified, mobile network availability down to the small unit dismounted leader to facilitate mission command, situational awareness, and air-to-ground integration. It is comprised of a kit of flexible commercial solutions that can be rapidly inserted into the existing tactical network. The ITN operates in both a SECRET and Secure-But-Unclassified (SBU)
enclave to provide commanders with the flexibility to balance security and connectivity based on mission need, including the ability to
securely transmit data to Army and coalition forces in an unclassified environment.
The ITN’s first iteration includes single-channel commercial radios with advanced networking waveforms, high-capacity line-of-sight
radios, voice and data gateways, tactical cross-domain solutions, small aperture satellite terminals, expeditionary servers, variable height
antennas (via a quadcopter drone), 4G commercial technology and applications, and associated ancillary devices integrated with Program
of Record systems to enable commanders with resilient communications as part of their primary, alternate, contingency, and emergency
US soldiers have started using a new platform, called the Integrated Tactical Network, which revolutionizes the way tactical leaders are able to communicate in congested environments, improving the lethality of small units, while at the same time increasing safety and situational awareness for soldiers. By merging systems, Army leaders have said the new approach will allow forces to be more expeditionary and mobile, a key attribute in a future conflict. It will also allow for more opportunities for connectivity and allow the Army to keep pace with frequent commercial advances.
These systems include advanced networking waveforms, Android tablets that the Army calls “end user devices,” small aperture satellite communications, tactical data centers and data link gateways. As the Army works through its network modernization efforts, improvements are coming to the individual’s soldier kit. These include a two-channel radio that allows soldiers on the ground to switch frequencies if one is being jammed by adversaries. Improvements also include what the Army calls the “end-user device,” an Android tablet mounted to a soldier’s chest, providing geolocation and mapping services.
Ultimately, the kit empowers the soldiers to take control of their environment, which is a critical attribute for future operations as the Army prepares troops to operate on sophisticated and evolving battlefields. For platoon leaders, such a kit replaces the need for a radio telephone operator, someone at the side of the platoon commander who handles the radio communications. “You can talk to your commander, and you can talk to your platoon at the same time,” Lt. Tim Inman, a platoon leader under 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, told C4ISRNET during a January battalion event at Camp Atterbury, Indiana.
Inman added that the biggest benefit may be the end-user device. “What the [end-user device] really does is [it] gives you situational awareness. That’s really the benefit of it,” he said. “You can see your little icon on the display of where you’re at, where your platoon’s at, where your battalion is at. That makes it a whole lot easier.”
In addition, soldiers can use the device for land navigation, setting waypoints on the GPS much like the interface of a tablet or smartphone. This is an improvement over the multistep process of terrain analysis and grid plotting. When the battalion used the kit during a rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center in fall 2017, Inman said they moved 8 or 9 kilometers at a time without ever breaking out a map, which is a major departure from the norm. “We were also during execution capable of dynamically re-tasking ourselves incredibly quickly because we could go from the point of identifying the problem to putting the problem up for decision or finding resolution and then communicating that decision or resolution to the entire force almost instantaneously,” he added.”
On a less tangible level, this system empowers junior leaders to know their mission and react quickly as the situation on the ground changes. With the platform, leaders are able to track the positions of the units all around the battlefield, as well as share text messages, voice communication and even pictures. “Besides each of us having access to the mission graphics, we will be able to battle track each other,” said Army 1st. Lieutenant Michael Austin, a platoon leader in Attack Company, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment. “If we’re in a movement to contact and we take chance contact, we can use this to very accurately shift fires, and have more fires on the enemy while being very safe because we know our exact front-line trace.”
Additionally, future conflict will require more than the U.S. Army. Its ability to operate in a joint or coalition environment, no matter the scale, requires interoperable systems. Interaction with anyone, at any time, with little delay, requires technical interoperability.
Systems should be technically and procedurally interoperable with joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational (JIIM) partners and create a wholly integrated tactical network (ITN). When implemented, the ITN construct must be technically flexible, resilient, and adequately robust for all foreseeable future operations and programmatically sound for future acquisitions. If properly resourced, prioritized, and executed, the new network would mitigate threats and provide excellent expeditionary and on-the-move (OTM) communications.
Mobile command posts
U.S. Army and Marine Corps tactical networking and command post programs widely acknowledge the critical need to improve mobility. The current state of the art for tent-based command posts requires hours of setup, including thousands of feet of copper wiring, which delays network availability and results in a dangerous lack of situational awareness for commanders.
It currently takes about 50 hours to break one down and about as long to get one up and running and re-establish communications once a new location is located enhancing the risk of being attacked. Currently, troops who jump from one location to another typically do so in phases, with tent infrastructure, generators, network servers, and satellite links going up first, followed by the running of cables to provide the local area network command post support. This process translates into long delays in the availability of critical information services, which, in turn, can lead to increased vulnerability of people and their systems.
Defensive postures of the past applied to a much more stationary battlefield environment. It was simply assumed that communications would be limited as warfighters moved from position to position. But technology advances by adversaries demand that our warfighters have the same secure communications experience while on-the-move as they do at-the-halt. At the same time, communications solutions must be delivered in a smaller form factor-whether to fit on the back of a Soldier or in a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle.
And the fight does not stop just because you are moving. This is why defense forces need networking on-the-move capabilities. On-the-move means communications components that are smaller, ruggedized to adapt to mobility over any terrain, and reliable in the face of unanticipated conditions such as poor power sources and extreme temperatures.
Entering a dynamic tactical environment “blind” puts warfighters at a significant disadvantage, which can lead to loss of life and mission failure. There is a need to ensure that transportation vehicles and aircraft operators can communicate directly with a warfighter’s headset-and vice versa-while en route to the destination.
To counter this problem, the Army is currently experimenting with mobile mission command platforms, such as the M1087 Expandable Van Shelter, under the Command Post Directed Requirement Pilot Program and is integrating it into units such as the 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team to assess different configurations. The units will then provide feedback on operational suitability and functionality. “The general purpose of the command post directive requirement was to provide units with expandable vehicles and shelters in an effort to allow them to transition command post capabilities from the currently tent-based command post into vehicles and shelters,” said Jim Bell, who works with U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM).
The DOD shift from wired to wireless battlefield and in-theater communications has been slowed by warfighters’ not being able to securely transmit classified information over wireless networks. Without the confidence to share classified data securely, warfighters lose situational awareness relative to adversaries who can move faster and accept more security risk. This is particularly problematic when it comes to how defense units have historically operated in tactical environments.
Secure Wireless uses the NSA-approved Commercial Solutions for Classified solution to provide classified and unclassified wireless
capability, with Small Form Factor Secure Wireless providing capability inside the Command Post (CP), and Secure Wireless Mesh Remote Endpoint providing vehicle-to-vehicle connections, to enable units to disperse their Command Post vehicles to make the CP more survivable. Following CP setup, units can turn on their Secure Wireless hotspots and the network can come up first instead of last, in as quickly as minutes instead of hours, and Soldiers can stay connected longer when jumping the CP.
Low-cost / low probability of detection
The security of wireless communications could literally be the difference between life or death for Soldiers. The waveforms they use to communicate typically exhibit cyclic properties, and have increasingly become more susceptible to detection — and even classification — by expert signal identification systems that use techniques such as cyclostationary detection. This problem is amplified by battlefields that are increasingly contested and urbanized.
To overcome this impairment, waveforms must exhibit featureless properties under extremely low signal-to-noise-ratio (SNR) conditions in the time and frequency domain for resilient Low Probability of Detection (LPD). Additionally, a low-cost waveform is important to the Army, as this LPD waveform will be paired with existing directional communications systems and must be affordable to the Army as a secondary or tertiary system.
The Army is looking to develop a waveform with featureless properties that results in reduced susceptibility of detection and enables operation under extremely low SNR conditions in both the time and frequency domain. This LPD waveform should serve two primary functions:(1) Low data-rate control functions to be paired with existing Army high data-rate directional system(s). (2) Terrestrial transport for low data-rate applications such as text, chat, and position location information
Specific technology areas outlined by the Army
The Army is outlining specific technology areas that it wants industry to explore for its tactical network capabilities. The Army’s incremental “capability set” build seeks to add capabilities to the network every two years beginning in 2021. Technologies in this area should enhance network capacity, resiliency and convergence solutions that are available for demonstration and experimentation. The Army issued a call for white papers to the C5 Consortium Jan. 2020 for technology areas it wants to insert into the 2023 tactical network, according to an Army release.
Managed multi-orbit (Low Earth Orbit/Medium Earth Orbit/Geostationary Equatorial Orbit) satellite Communications services for forces — the Army is interested in managed services to mitigate bandwidth challenges associated with increased terminals for communications services where existing services are lacking.
C4ISR/electronic warfare modular open suite of standards (CMOSS) compliant satellite communications modem, next generation blue force tracking and radio waveforms — the Army wants open source standards to converge hardware on a common platform.
Non-propriety open suite of consolidated tools for unified network operations — the Army is looking for a smaller suite of tools to assist in planning, installation, managing, fault detection, communication restoral, analysis, security and data collection of the network.
Segregation of data by identity access and management enabling multi-level security with mission partners — the Army wants an unclassified software solution in the prototype phase that can be used in the Mission Partner Environment, a network used by the military and coalition partners, that will include a reliable, protected and configurable network.
Hardened network transport and reduced electronic signature for command post and mounted formations — the Army is interested in mitigating vulnerabilities that impact command post survivability and network resiliency by developing countermeasures within the electromagnetic spectrum.
Optimizing compute, storage and applications on a distributed computing architecture to automate data tagging, synchronization, containerize services and efficiency of compute resources — the Army is looking for a common data fabric to reduce stovepipes, enable automation and improve data context for decision-makers.
Integrated Virtual Augmented System (IVAS)
The Army’s Integrated Virtual Augmented System (IVAS) will feature low-cost, single-channel data radios with a Tactical Cloud Package (TCP). IVAS is a single platform featuring head’s up display next-generation night-vision goggles, which allows the Soldier to fight, rehearse, and train, while improving Soldier sensing, decision-making, target acquisition, and target engagement. Soldiers use the data radios to transmit data to and from dismounted IVAS users. Data is then routed through echelons by networked radios and services on the TCP, which is integrated onto platforms. The result is onsite cloud compute and storage that enhances IVAS capabilities in network-denied environments for artificial intelligence and machine learning, including facial recognition, language translation, speech-to-text, and object recognition.
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