AUSA News: Army Network Modernization Needs Adaptability, Flexibility

By Laura Heckmann

Army photo

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Army’s Unified Network has been called the “backbone” that underpins the service’s expansive modernization goals. Its success is not tied to any specific technology, but to the ability to adapt, service officials said.

The Unified Network concept targets a “centralized delivery of services” in an effort to remove complexity from commands and “let them focus on the warfighting,” Brig. Gen. Denise Brown, director of architecture, operations, networks and space, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-6, said during a panel discussion at the Association of the United States Army’s annual meeting and exposition Oct. 10.

Brown said the Unified Network underpins the Army’s efforts to transform and reimagine command and control, and is the “capability that delivers the resilient and secure communications to ensure that we have … secure access to our information, and it's a game changer.”

Defining what the future network looks like is less straightforward.

Mark Kitz, program executive officer for command, control and communications tactical, said trying to define the network for the future even five years out is a “fool’s errand.” What it needs is iterative programs, he said.

“So we can embrace innovation, that we can embrace a flexible future network, that we can modernize over time — because there is no end state for our network,” he said.

There is also no one-size-fits-all approach, he added. There is no one contract, capability or application. Kitz said one of the questions he asks as PEO is “how are we building agile and nimble contracts to allow us to have a future flexible network?”

Ensuring a flexible network lies in its design, and part of its consideration needs to be data centricity, he said. “We are delivering a network to move data. We are here to move data … on the battlefield. That's really important.”

Brown said data centricity is “moving away from … network boundaries being our security. We’re going to secure that data. The unified network … will be … built on zero trust principles. And data centricity is absolutely critical to that. And that is going to start removing that complexity.”

Col. Matthew Benigni, chief data officer for Army Futures Command, said it all boils down to adaptability. “We hear words like iterative, tailorable, agile. We think the defining characteristic of this future command-and-control system needs to be adaptability,” he said.

Achieving adaptability relies on three characteristics: being responsive to the warfighter as a design principle; a foundation of secure access to shared operational data; and a modular architecture that can evolve with both technology and warfighter demands, he said.

Warfighter-driven innovation means watching what forces are doing, and “basically what they’re doing is converting manual processes that bottleneck the amount of data we can consume,” he said. “So true capability is delivered iteratively and the tighter we can make that cycle rate go, the faster it is.”

Achieving a faster cycle rate means the network has to be built on shared common data, he said. “To put it simply, we need to decouple our data from our applications.” Data cannot be trapped in the applications and services built by specific vendors within the system, he said.

Lastly, he said a modular architecture needs to be considered in relation to services “foundational” to industry, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, data and applications.

“These things are foundational … in how our industry partners understand the health and state of their systems while in use, and they need to be part of what we develop,” he said. “We think that environment could likely involve multiple vendors as the best in breed contributing to those services.”

But the design also needs to acknowledge “that type of complexity might not be cost free,” he added.

He acknowledged there are still open questions about modular architecture, such as: what is the right amount of modularity in this architecture while keeping integration complexity within reason? What portions of the codebase need to be open? Can the environment be made more competitive where more innovators can contribute?

“We think that we need help from industry defining exactly where those lines are drawn,” he said. “So we get the kind of competitive incentives we're looking for in this evolving adaptive system.”

Joseph Welch, director of Army Combat Capabilities Development’s Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance Center, said delivering the future network is “really about the ability to take risk.”

“I can leverage our [science and technology] portfolio to take risk to demonstrate to the Army how we transition from the art of the possible into what's achievable,” he said. “So in my portfolio, I'm not looking at long S&T programs that are going to take three to five years and then require additional technical maturation. That's just not really realistic in this space.”

What is realistic is “a lot of risk” in the absence of validated requirements, he said. “Some of the S&T work that we're doing is helping to inform requirements and concepts and demonstrate what is achievable now.”


Topics: Army News

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