Army Seeks Near-Term Fixes, Years-Long Pivot To Modernize Networks

During a multiyear restructuring of the Army’s future battlefield communications network, the service will drop components that do not work, fix those that can be repaired or reconfigured and then “pivot” to a new system that can withstand the rigors of future battlefields.

The service has adopted a three-pronged strategy to address concerns that several programs within the Army’s network modernization effort – most notably the multi-billion-dollar Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) – were eating up funding without producing operational capabilities.

Acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley outlined this so-called “halt, fix, pivot” approach to restricting the network “architecture” during a breakfast with reporters hosted by the George Washington University’s Project for Media and National Security in Washington, D.C.

“It will take us probably several years to fix the architecture and make fundamental changes,” McCarthy said.

Milley directed an analysis of the network “system of systems” that found many of the subsystems either do not function properly or are unsuited to complex battlefields. The Army “went back to the whiteboard” to find how those components should be repaired or replaced, he said.

“I was surprised at how exceedingly complex the network is,” he said. “We learned that a lot of these systems don’t talk to each other in the Army or in the joint force. We learned that the system is very, very fragile and is probably not going to be robust enough to operate in a highly dynamic battlefield with lots of ground maneuver and movement.

“We know that the system is probably vulnerable to sophisticated nation-state countermeasures,” he added.

The Army’s existing communications network has proven sufficient in recent wars where it operates in relatively benign environments where adversaries do not have the ability to target communication nodes or disrupt the electromagnetic spectrum. Combat in Iraq and Afghanistan also takes place in relatively rural areas or cities with little electromagnetic interference, Milley said.

“If we were to go into a conflict against a near-peer or higher-end threat, that environment is going to rapidly change,” he said. “We also know it doesn’t work well in highly dense urban areas. … So there are a lot of downsides to our current system that have built up over many decades.”

Certain development and acquisition programs like WIN-T, the Command Post of the Future (CPOF) and Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System (AFATDS) could be canceled if deemed unsuited for future combat with near-peer adversaries or in urban environments, Milley said.

“What we are trying to do is bring some coherence in terms of restructuring, bring coherence to the program of programs and we want to stop those subsets of the program that we know with certainty will not work, and there are a series of those,” Milley said. “Just stop them, stop putting good money after bad money.”

Other components of the overall network that can be fixed will be addressed through short-term acquisition of commercially-available and non-developmental technologies. Milley would not say which components of the network would be halted and which could be “fixed.”

“What we then want to do is pivot the entire system of systems, program of programs, in order to develop a holistic system that does operate in that environment,” Milley said.

A study detailing how the Army intends to modernize its network is due to Congress by Jan. 31 under the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed Nov. 14.

“The pivot is the longer-term version, that’s the part that takes years,” Milley said. “The fix part is a much faster piece and industry is already working on those parts of the network system that can be fixed in order to operate in a highly dynamic, very lethal maneuver battlefield.”

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