WEB EXCLUSIVE: Army Looks to Disperse Command Posts to Boost Survivability
Army photo by Jasmyne Douglas
The Army in recent months has been experimenting with breaking up and dispersing its forward-deployed command posts to make them more survivable.
Army leaders have been concerned about the survivability of command posts that are placed close to battle zones since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014. During that conflict, Russian forces were able to quickly find and destroy Ukrainian command posts by using a combination of unmanned aerial vehicles and electronic signature detection.
The Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Center — a component of Army Futures Command’s Combat Capabilities Development Command — led a series of experiments beginning this summer to break command posts up into a series of dispersed nodes. This is a different approach to previous efforts that had the command post all in one place, but concentrated on tearing it down and packing it up quickly before an enemy attack, Tyler Barton, survivable command posts project lead, said during a briefing with reporters Oct. 22.
Both approaches are still on the table, Barton said. Combatant commanders can choose the best option based on the circumstances, he added.
“Command posts are incredibly important to the Army formation,” Barton said. “However, they're in a tough spot now with needing to do the complex operations they will need to do in the … multi-domain operating environment [where] they will also be under a lot of stress from adversary capabilities to try to target and destroy them.”
The tests were carried out from July to October during the Network Modernization Experiment 2020 (NetModX 20), which took place at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.
Some 30 technologies under Army Future Command’s network modernization umbrella were tested during NetModX 20, organizers said. Network modernization is one of the command’s top priorities along with long-range precision fires, next-generation combat vehicles, future vertical lift, air-and-missile defense, and soldier lethality.
Other technologies tested included protected satellite communications, cyber defense, soldier-to-soldier communications and hardened waveforms, according to an Army factsheet.
The survivable command posts experiment drew from a variety of commercial communications technologies, Barton said.
The idea was to geographically disperse a single command post into separated nodes to make them harder to find and allow them to fare better against an attack if they are targeted. The main problem was maintaining connectivity, he noted.
“As we disperse the command post, the people physically disperse apart and they get farther from their data and services infrastructure that they're used to working with,” he said. The project worked on providing continuity of mission-essential functions through data resiliency and data replication so the information that the users need at their platform is there for them should they be disconnected from the other nodes, he said.
The Army used LTE communication technology provided by two companies to transport the data to the nodes. The experiment sought to discover how far it could extend, if the wireless tech functioned in a military environment, and "what needs to be changed to enable that," Barton said.
To add realism, the experiment transmitted data using current command post software.
As far as the number of nodes and how far they can be dispersed, those are the kinds of questions the Army is trying to figure out the answers to, Barton said.
“We're helping to further that discussion, inform those requirements, and in this case provide the science and technology … first step toward better dispersing the command post,” he said.
Meanwhile, the experiment did not offer any new technologies to mask the command posts’ electronic signatures, but had a goal not to add any new signals that could be detected by adversaries, he added.
Next year, the dispersed command post concept will undergo a series of operational field tests where soldiers can provide feedback. They will integrate the dispersed command post with the command post integrated infrastructure program of record, which will be the new command post’s technological backbone, Barton said.
“I don't think [dispersion] will be the only way you would employ your command posts in the future, but that will be one more way that you can achieve a more survivable posture when needed and still have an effective command post,” Barton said.
Topics: Army News