As early as this fall, officials working to fix the Army’s battlefield network will propose to senior leaders a baseline package of technologies for a deployable computing environment that will then compete for primacy and funding with other modernization needs.
“There are difficult choices, particularly in this area, as we try to keep up with the pace of adoption of commercial technologies, adapt them to the military environment and really understand how tactical networking is really different than networking...on your cell phone,” Maj. Gen. David Bassett, program executive officer for Army command, control, communications-tactical (PEO C3T), said May 10 at the C4ISR Conference outside Washington, D.C.
Bassett is working in tandem with Maj. Gen. Peter Gallagher, who runs the Army’s network cross-functional team (CFT), to devise a way to modernize and sustain a secure, robust battlefield communication system.
“Inside of our PEO and with the engineering team of both the CFT and PEO, we are looking at bucketing those capabilities so that we can begin to tee-up a set of discreet decisions and options for the Army as it prioritizes, within the available resources,” Bassett said.
Though the CFTs were created to overhaul and meld the Army’s research, development and acquisition communities, Bassett insists there is no tension between the officers or their staffs. They and other stakeholders at the Army Cyber Center of Excellence and elsewhere have created a collaborative working group after a single goal: Delivering near-term capability improvements to the field that will become enduring capabilities for soldiers now and in the future.
“The reason it works so well is because we have the same common goal in mind, which is delivering capability,” Bassett said. “It’s not about his tribe and my tribe,” Bassett said. “It’s about what we can do to bring the best of both of our skill sets together to deliver capability.”
Ghallagher and the CFT are focused on the “what” of the Army network. It is identifying a set of technology options that are available in the near term to improve battlefield connectivity and situational awareness for soldiers in the field.
Bassett and the PEO are “all about the how,” he said. “How, given all the constraints that we’re all under, can we deliver capability quickly, legally, in a way that moves at an operationally relevant pace?”
“That partnership between the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ I think is healthy and we’re moving forward very quickly,” he said.
The Army already is providing an Integrated Tactical Network to the Army’s new Security Forces Assistance Brigades (SFABs) that includes a secure-but-unclassified portion, for instance. Operating at a lower level of classification has allowed better interoperability with allies and integration of commercial technologies and systems that are easy to employ, he said.
“Just that change in security classification makes those radios easier to use, easier for users to handle … and provides capabilities that we would have never accomplished without that shift in security classficiation,” he said. “I’m not sure, absent the change in culture that we got from Gen. Gallagher and the CFT, that my team would have been willing to take the risk to put a less-than-fully-mature development system into the hands of those soldiers.”
Now, network officials are considering whether the U.S. tactical network should become a coalition-releasable secret network at the mission-command level, so the Army can connect directly to allied mission command systems, Bassett said. Experiments with the new command post computing environment at that classification level have already show remarkable improvements in mission command interoperability with allies, he said.
The traditional PEO culture would have kept it in development at a laboratory until the system is foolproof, because no one was willing to show up to testing and have the system fail, Bassett said. The new process encourages experimentation by both developers and operators to test and then improve a technology after fielding rather than fail it for non-performance.
“The thing that was wrong with the old culture is we would start out early with a set of requirements that were created before we ever knew how hard it was to build or how expensive it was to deliver,” Bassett said. “We’d lock in firm requirements and then we create programs to go out and deliver on those requirements regardless, almost, of what the tradeoffs were between them.”
Instead, Bassett and Gallagher – the PEO and CFT – look first at what is technically possible that can be fielded quickly and begin with a “statement of leader intent,” Bassett said. This way requirements are set later in the process once developers know what is actually possible within the desired timeline and available budget.