Urgent Fixes Required for Army’s Tactical Battlefield Network

By Stew Magnuson
A soldier sets up communications equipment at a recent Network Integration Evaluation exercise at Fort Bliss, Texas.

Photo: Stew Magnuson

The Army must put its house in order so it can field the best communications equipment the nation has to offer, the service’s point man on information technology said Oct. 9.

There are too many organizations writing requirements and buying communication and network technology. That has resulted in stove-piped systems that are years out of date and have failed to take advantage of the info-tech revolution happening in the private sector, Lt. Gen. Bruce T. Crawford, Army chief information officer, said at the Association of the United States Army annual conference in Washington, D.C.

But before the Army reorganizes the way it acquires its battlefield communications technology it has urgent requirements to fix what is in place, he said.

“We concluded that the network that we currently provide does not meet the operational requirements of our Army, nor will it meet the future requirements based on the path that we are currently on,” he said.

The conclusion was the result of a study of the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, which was ordered by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley earlier this year.

The Army announced in September that it was restructuring the program and that it wanted to re-allocate the money to fix flaws in the program. It had spent about $6 billion on the first two increments of the system.

While it has been called the backbone of the service’s tactical network, Army leaders, such as Milley, said its defenses were not adequate to survive on modern battlefields where advanced adversaries may try to penetrate communications through cyber attacks, or use sophisticated jammers to block communications.

Army officials had told National Defense in July that the program was to undergo a name change at the beginning of 2018.

Both Milley and Congress had ordered studies of the program and both found the system lacking. The Army is asking Congress for $414 million to fix problems identified in the two studies.

“It will not work in a highly mobile, contested fight against a peer adversary,” Crawford told reporters at the conference. Addressing the issue cannot wait, he said. There is “significant operational risk” if the Army moves forward with the current network. 

“The urgency of now is upon us,” he added.

There are some other “quick priorities” that will be addressed in the near term, he said. First, command posts must be survivable and mobile. Currently, peer competitors would be able to easily locate a command post through its electro-magnetic signals, or even those given off by generators. They must be able to move within 30 minutes, he said, or risk being attacked. It takes four hours or longer to  move a command post now, he said.

While Crawford studiously avoided naming rivals such as Russia and China, he said near-peer militaries are rapidly improving their ability to quickly find and fix a target. That worries him the most.

“As we currently operate them, they are not adequately mobile and if you examine closely the electro-magnetic signatures of our command posts, they are not survivable,” he said.

A second urgent fix is making sure that satellite communications are protected from jamming and that battlefield commanders do not have to rely on them, Crawford said.

The much maligned WIN-T will not be going away, although some recent headlines suggested the Army was “halting” the program. In fact, Gary Martin, program executive officer for Army command, control and communications tactical, said the active Army, National Guard and Reserves should all be on a common baseline of WIN-T increment 1B for at-the-halt communications by March 2018. As that is built out, the service will address the cyber and jamming vulnerabilities in the system that has leaders worried, he said.

The Army will then accelerate mounted mission command, also known as the joint battle command platform, with a goal of finishing fielding the system by the end of 2022. The original plan had stretched that goal out to 2026 or 2027, he said.

WIN-T increment 2 has been fielded with some infantry brigade combat teams and three Stryker brigades. The vehicles had to have two seats removed to integrate the system, but it has now been reduced in size so those can be reinstalled, he said.

Another urgent fix is to “thicken” the network, or make it more robust, in the event satellite communications are denied. The Army will modernize an on-the-move radio waveform to add anti-jamming capability by 2020, Martin said.

As for command posts, they have been fielded with several different variations. The goal is to have a common baseline by 2019, he said. There are four main command post applications each with separate software systems. They will all reside on a common system, which will be fielded by 2019, Martin said.

Strategically, Crawford said the Army must change the way it acquires technology. Consolidating requirements is close to the top of the list, he said.

Cross-functional teams made up of military personnel and industry will ensure that the service understands what kinds of innovative products are available in the private sector and that the service knows “the art of the possible.”

It’s “a 16-year problem that is in need of a one-year solution,” Crawford said.


Topics: Army News, Battlefield Communications, Infotech, Information Technology

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