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US Army’s Network strategy for Army Network Modernization includes Dynamic Transport, Computing and Networked Edge capability

In 2016, The Army’s chief information officer announced the release of the Army’s new, long-term, network strategy called “Shaping the Army Network (2025-2040).” The document discusses the projected operational environment and required capabilities to set the context for what the future network must enable; describes what the network of 2025 is expected to look like, and serves as the baseline from which the network of 2025 to 2040 will be built; It contains a description of the network of 2040, including the capabilities that it will provide and the future technologies that may enable it.

 

“Shaping the Army Network: 2025-2040 provides the long-term strategic direction for Army enterprise network modernization within the context of the Army Operating Concept,” Lt. Gen. Robert Ferrell, the Army’s chief information officer/G-6, writes in the new strategy. “Using the IT baseline described in the Army Network Campaign Plan as a starting point, the intent is to guide development of science and technology requirements to get to ‘what’s next,’ in the evolution of the Army.”

 

Army Directive 2017-24 established the Network Cross-Functional Team pilot. The team formed and achieved initial operating capability in November 2017. The cross-functional team consists of a core team of experts in acquisition, science and technology, testing and evaluation, development, training, and integration and engages with multiple organizations, to include industry and academia, for coordination and support.

 

The Army strategy created a process by which it experiments and learns about a broad array of technologies. The Army created the Network Cross-Functional Team (N-CFT) to augment traditional acquisition through rapid prototyping and experimentation. The N-CFT is a subordinate organization to the Army Futures Command, combining people, responsibilities, and funding from the requirements, research and development, and systems analysis communities. The N-CFT experimentation informs requirements and design for future
acquisition programs.

 

The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act directed the Army to submit to the congressional defense committees a report on the Army strategy or “modernizing air-land ad-hoc, mobile tactical communications and data networks.” The Chief of Staff of the Army developed a
strategy intended to enable the Army to “fight tonight” while seeking technical solutions in order to modernize the Army’s communications. The Army’s strategy recognized that its network had not evolved to enable decisive action against a peer threat in a highly mobile and contested environment. To correct this, the Army seeks to pivot away from traditional acquisition by including non‑developmental items and commercial off-the-shelf technologies with programs of record to build its tactical network

 

The Army’s new network modernization strategy is designed to enable the Army to “fight tonight” while also actively seeking next-generation solutions to stay ahead of potential adversaries. This strategy is a fundamental change in the Army’s approach to tactical network modernization, which is aimed at keeping pace with threats in the near-term and developing a future network through rapid insertion of new technology and focused science and technology efforts.

 

This new network-modernization strategy, known as Halt, Fix and Pivot, aims to: Halt the programs that do not address operational requirements; Fix the programs that are necessary to fulfill the most critical operational needs now; and Pivot to a more agile “adapt and buy” acquisition strategy.

 

The 2019 Senate Appropriations Report 115-290 directed the Army to submit to the congressional defense committees a “network acquisition roadmap” that addressed six objectives, a “test and evaluation plan,” and a notification of “completion of cyber and vulnerability test and evaluation of the enabling [secure but unclassified] capabilities.” The Senate Report required this of the Army prior to fielding any additional secure but unclassified systems to operational units after FY19.  The Under Secretary of the Army submitted the Army Tactical Network Acquisition Strategy Roadmap on March 1, 2019, that detailed the acquisition roadmap. This document expanded upon the 2018 Army Network Modernization Strategy by including a more detailed description of the four lines of effort that compose
the network strategy, specific ties to operational needs, and alignment of funding details.

 

The Army initiated a Capability Set acquisition and fielding model to modernize the network over time. Starting with Capability Set 21, the Army has a goal to modernize components within the four lines of effort to make the network more expeditionary and intuitive. Capability Set 21 includes existing fielded systems (i.e. Warfighter Information Network – Tactical), programs beginning full-rate production (i.e. Manpack and Leader Radio), and the MTA rapid prototyping systems. The MTA rapid prototyping effort will transition to a rapid
fielding or program of record. The focus of Capability Set 21 is Infantry Brigade Combat Teams. The Army intends to field a new capability set every 2 years. The Army submitted the ITN test and evaluation strategy to Congress in September 2019. The test and evaluation strategy supports the ITN rapid prototyping MTA program and the fielding decision for Capability Set 21. The capstone event of the test and evaluation strategy is a Soldier Touch Point with an infantry battalion during a field training exercise. DOT&E is engaged with the N-CFT and ATEC to develop a plan to collect the data required to support the development of the ITN requirements and the decision to field Capability Set 21. Follow‑on strategies will be required for capability sets for FY23
and beyond.

 

The Army has identified four primary lines of effort to modernize its tactical network:

Unified Network – This effort has three components: integrated tactical network, integrated enterprise network, and unified network-enabling capabilities. It includes the development of a standards-based network architecture that unifies enterprise and deployed network capabilities and features a unified transport layer, network operations, and other enabling functions that allow integration of disparate
networks. A unified network could provide resiliency through path diversity and dynamic routing to ensure tactical units can communicate in hostile environments. A unified network is achievable as allied partners have successfully implemented a similar approach.

 

Common Operating Environment (COE) – When complete, the Army intends for the COE to include a set of computing technologies, integrated data and databases, common graphics, and a unified set of mission command applications. It will rely on data standards and virtualization to provide browser-based access to mission command capabilities for at-the-halt and on-the-move leaders.

 

Interoperability – This effort includes joint interoperability and coalition accessibility through a network that enables appropriate collaboration with all unified action partners.

Command Posts – The Army wants to improve the mobility and signature (visual, acoustic, thermal, and electromagnetic) of expeditionary command posts.

 

Network Cross-Functional Team (N-CFT)

The N-CFT is working on several lines of effort in order to continue the Army’s network modernization strategy. The N-CFT is developing requirements and systems to create a unified network for the Army to use. This includes efforts to develop and implement an architecture that will unify the tactical network; finding, developing, and demonstrating technologies to create this network; and the creation of requirements.

The N-CFT defined a working term, the Integrated Tactical Network (ITN). The ITN is the suite of communications and networking hardware and software that provides voice and data communication capabilities to tactical units. It is the infrastructure necessary to support the current and future voice and data needs (namely mission command software). The N-CFT conducted ITN experiments as a part of Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) 18.2. The NIE 18.2 provided an opportunity to observe the use of the ITN by a battalion (-) under operationally realistic conditions that included cyber and electronic warfare threats. The Army Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC) led a team that observed the NIE and published a Capabilities and Limitations Report in January 2019.

 

ATEC recommended continued development of power management options, and improvements in end-user device functionality, training, and troubleshooting. The report recommended that future testing of the ITN should include iterative cybersecurity and electronic warfare testing to find and fix deficiencies.

The Army Futures Command approved the ITN Modernization Abbreviated – Capability Development Document on May 31, 2019. This requirements document does not rigidly define the network in order to enable it to evolve over time as the Army identifies new technologies. The Army Acquisition Executive approved a rapid prototyping middle tier of acquisition (MTA) Acquisition Decision Memorandum in May 2019.

US Army’s Network strategy for 2025-2040

Operational Environment

“U.S. adversaries will include state and non-state military, criminal and terrorist elements, all of whom will present blended physical and cyber threats. Nontraditional combatants and battlefields will continue to emerge as a result of threats from these adversaries, continued urbanization and the spread of advanced cyberspace and counter-cyberspace capabilities.” “The proliferation and availability of commercial technology may allow adversaries to obtain an operational advantage. Technology, including weapons of mass destruction, advanced sensors, augmented humans, autonomous processes and automated decision making, will permeate the battlefield.

 

“The speed at which data are dispersed will create an information-rich environment; however, information quality may be low and extraction of mission-relevant content may be challenging. Misinformation will be used as a weapon”

Required Capabilities 2025-2040

The new strategy identifies required capabilities required by networks and systems, including dynamic transport, computing, and edge sensors; data to decisive action; human cognitive enhancements; robotics and autonomous operations; and cybersecurity and resiliency. In 2040, Army operations will require that the network be continuously available across all echelons and in all environments – from the dismounted Soldier at the farthest tactical edge, from the squad through the Brigade Combat Team, while stationary or on the move, and when deployed and at home station.

 

As part of an agile Joint force, individuals and units must be able to automatically connect, disconnect and reconnect to the network, and aggregate or disaggregate with known and emerging joint, inter- organizational and multinational partners, whether friend, non-combatant, government or non- governmental agents. In all operational scenarios, forces must maintain full interoperability and synchronization with a dynamic set of mission partners in all terrains, from megacities, to canopied jungles, to open plains, to remote rugged mountain and arctic landscapes. The network must also enable the commander to sustain high-tempo operations, and provide extended operating ranges to enable the forward line of troops, which will move with greater speed towards the objective, to maintain situational awareness and mission command performance.

 

Dynamic Transport, Computing and Edge Sensors

Dynamic transport, which provides the commander access to strategic, tactical and locally available information by dynamically discovering and utilizing organic and commercially available resources; Dynamic computing, where the computing infrastructure learns from operational information requirements and anticipates future needs to dynamically deploy applications and information on demand or in response to mission changes; and the Growth of networked edge devices, which will provide real-time information that can be exploited locally, combined, repurposed and/or transmitted for further analysis and exploitation, depending on the needs of the commander.

Data to Decisive Action

Data to decisive action includes a wide range of domains and technologies that share a common goal: to decrease the time it takes to gather data, transform them into high-quality information, validate them and present them in a way that best supports operational decisions.

The ability to transform data to decisive action is critical to success on an increasingly automated and information-saturated battlefield. Soldiers, teams and commanders must be able to make accurate and effective battlefield decisions. Therefore, they must be equipped with large-scale, collective, self-organizing and autonomous decision agents, machine- and application-directed information discovery, and synchronization and integration applications that overcome data flow imperfections to achieve mission command and success on the battlefield of 2040.

 

Human Cognitive Enhancement

The Army must leverage technology to improve and enhance human cognitive, intellectual and decision-making abilities and effectiveness. Human-machine interaction and teaming are critical enablers to overcome an increasingly complex information environment

Advances in human and cognitive sciences, and improvements in machine-machine and human-machine interaction, must be leveraged and incorporated into training programs to enhance Soldier, commander and unit performance.

 

Robotics and Autonomous Operations

Commanders and Soldiers must have the capability to employ, manage and defend against individual, integrated collections, teams or swarms of robots that can act under human control, independently or collaboratively

Robotics will become a critical element of an agile, dynamic and mobile network that will move and fight with the Soldier as part of the unit’s network and operational infrastructure, providing connectivity and continuity within and across all elements.

 

Cybersecurity and Resiliency

Automatic reconfiguration and redundant communication and collaboration must be integrated into a common operating environment (COE) to provide Soldiers and leaders decision-quality knowledge without interruption. In addition, the threat of internal and external attacks must drive changes in how the Army assesses and grants access to networks and information, as well as the development of offensive and defensive cyber capabilities.

Automatic self-healing and self-protecting capabilities must be able to defend against all weapon systems that could impact the continuity and resiliency of the network. This includes the capability to “self-destruct,” thereby preventing data and system capture by a potentially successful attacker; to back up data; and to allow remote locations to operate from back-ups to maintain continuity of operations

The technology that may enable development and fielding of effective network capability solutions between 2025 and 2040 are also discussed.

Enabling Technologies

Dynamic Transport

In order for the Army to capitalize on and leverage commercial network capacity in conjunction with enhanced organic systems, a dynamic transport architecture must be developed. This architecture will allow Army equipment to automatically and rapidly discover available network transport assets, provide options to the commander, connect to them, secure the transport and seamlessly integrate the available capacity into Army operations.

Implementation of dynamic transport capability solutions will require the Army to develop a programmable network fabric (e.g., software-defined networking (SDN)), software-reconfigurable cryptographic devices and adaptive bandwidth allocation technologies to maximize connectivity.

 

Dynamic Computing

The future Army network will be a highly dispersed computing infrastructure consisting of and leveraging the computational capabilities of assets that span Soldier-carried devices, apparel, weapon systems, command post servers and higher-echelon systems.

By 2040, the Army will have implemented a software-defined data center (SDDC) architecture, where all infrastructure components are virtualized and delivered as a service. Control of the data center is fully automated by software, meaning component configuration is maintained through intelligent software systems. The outcome will be a network that can adapt to mission needs, as well as to underlying changes in the operating environment.

With dynamic computing and dynamic transport, the commander will be faced with making network decisions or understanding how automated reconfiguration impacts operations. The challenge for Army research is to develop visualization and control capability solutions to understand and shape a dynamic transport and computing network.

 

Growth of the Networked Edge Device:

The number of devices at the network edge is growing. This includes devices on Army equipment and Soldiers, as well as sensors accessible in the area of operation (AO).

DoD describes PIT as all DoD IT that receives, processes, stores, displays or transmits DoD information, which includes IoT devices. The IoT offers devices that are under machine control and have the ability to act as sensors and/or actuators. The Army has an opportunity to leverage IoT devices as a positive game changer for situational awareness and control of deployed assets.

The expansion of IoT devices will drive the need to strengthen machine-to-machine local wired or wireless networks, and the dynamic transport infrastructure. Therefore,the Army must focus research and development to create a more robust machine-to-machine communication, discovery and caching architecture that can support connected, semi-connected or disconnected operations; and influence the development of standards that enable the Army’s networks and interoperability.

 

Data to Decisive Action

The critical aspects of this paradigm shift can be distilled down to the concepts of accessibility, availability and interoperability as foundational imperatives.

 

Accessibility

An operational and technical architecture that is focused on a data-centric, rather than a system-centric, approach – the global mesh – will facilitate transparent access to required data irrespective of systems or sources.

To ensure accessibility at the point and time of need, the global mesh will leverage a single authoritative DoD identification system as the trusted global source for role-based access controls. This will simplify access controls and enable automatic segmentation of data as pre-defined roles will be set and the data will be tagged with these roles, down to the individual data element level, at the time of capture.

 

Availability

Global data analytics will prove critical to a wide range of Army missions and warfighter functions, from detecting network-based attacks through subtle anomaly identification, to optimized large-scale mission planning that leverages diverse streaming data and sensor sources.

Effective integration of a broad range of analytics within the network operations domain will leverage advances in machine learning to automate many of the common functions that today require dedicated personnel, thus freeing up future staff to focus on those missions that can only be performed using human skill and intelligence

 

Interoperability

Advances in data synchronization technologies will be required to support the level of data consistency that is critical for certain systems and commander decisions while still allowing for disconnection from and reconnection to enterprise networks and data sources.

Human Cognitive Enhancement

The network’s shared common operating picture will be enriched with background information gathered from all connected systems and enhanced by real-time analytics that expose relationships and patterns, and provide insight into their potential causes and predicted effects.

Model-based, course-of-action planning and decision tools will provide users in-depth analysis of the full space of courses of action, characterizing costs and benefits to the mission in terms of quantitative and qualitative measures.

Situational and option awareness functions will be tightly coupled with workflow management, collaboration, coordination and communication services

Virtual environments will provide troops opportunities to practice perceiving, interpreting and responding to events, including establishing key information to be communicated at critical points within the mission and developing familiarity with terrain and objectives.

 

Robotics and Autonomous Operations

The Army anticipates that robotics will fundamentally reshape the force along four major axes: protection and safety; manpower reduction and logistics; influence and reach; and lethality. Each area presents different challenges to the future network and will have to co-evolve and adapt to support future robotic capability solutions and manned-unmanned teaming.

While future robotics will not need constant and high-bandwidth connections for tactical control, contact and communication will remain essential to coordinate effectively with them as they move into previously unreachable or contested areas. The network must become dynamic to achieve and maintain connectivity in the face of a potential adversary and under less-than-ideal environmental conditions.

 

Cybersecurity and Resiliency

Network 2040 includes the means by which data are transported from one location to another, regardless of which entity owns or controls specific transport methods or components. These means are supported by the following five constructs: achieving data quality assurance; design principles for directed self-organization; intelligent cyber-physical systems; adaptive identity and access management; and novel forms of encryption.

Intelligent architectures, based on hardware root-of-trust mechanisms, including encryption and root-kit detection hardware digital rights management, allow for continuous evaluation of the trustworthiness of the system’s state and operations.

Network 2040 will support multiple risk-aware and context-aware authentication and access control mechanisms – mechanisms that adapt to circumstances and adjust access decisions based on an assessment of the risk involved.

Secure multiparty computation (SMC) protocols will allow parties to compute a function based on their joint inputs without disclosing the individual inputs to each other. For example, coalition partners may each provide pieces of information that would jointly determine targets without disclosing the details of their imagery or methods

 

Cross-cutting technologies

In addition, another class of cross-cutting technologies, must be continuously assessed to determine how they can be adopted and adapted to enhance network operations. These include but are not limited to: nanotechnologies, micro air vehicles, drones and sensors, medical and casualty care, and protective materials to reduce Soldier risk and enhance situational and option awareness; artificial intelligence, which may significantly accelerate decision making and integrate diverse data in innovative ways; and transdisciplinary technologies, which identify and synthesize technologies developed within one discipline that, when merged with developments in other disciplines, provide unexpected solutions to potentially intractable problems from the institutional base to the farthest tactical edge.

 

Ferrell said of the new strategy to an audience of IT industry personnel. “So you have a complete picture of what we are working on today, what we are working on tomorrow, and what we are working on down the road.”

About Rajesh Uppal

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