Open Systems Helping Army Get ‘Quick Wins’ For Network Modernization Capabilities

The Army’s shift to a ‘secure, but unclassified’ approach and an embrace of open systems is allowing for greater access to commercial capabilities needed for its tactical network modernization effort.

Officials from the Army’s Network Cross Function Team (CFT) on Wednesday told attendees at an industry event that a move away from stringent requirements to more open, standards-based approach is fueling ‘quick wins’ for new commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) capabilities needed to modernize its network.

Modernizing Battlefield Communications panel at Defense Daily's Modular Open Systems Summit

Modernizing Battlefield Communications panel at Defense Daily's Modular Open Systems Summit

“Whether it’s tactical radios, information sharing within a soldier or vehicle platform, and the computing environment, we’re tying more and more into existing open standards so we can more easily integrate capabilities over time,” Joe Welch, director of technical management for the Army Network CFT, said at Defense Daily’s Modular Open Systems Summit. “We’ve talked about leveraging COTS for a long time, but recently the applicability of COTS in the tactical space has really expanded quite a bit.”

The Army has previously moved to a “halt, fix, pivot” approach as it looks to overhaul its tactical network to fix pressing communication and cyber security needs. Officials have previously cited a need for quick solutions from industry to address short-term technical concerns (Defense Daily, March 20).

“There are more quick wins in terms of the capabilities that we’re after. ‘Secure, but unclassified’ is a major change, and something we’ve been getting around the edges on for quite a number of years,” Welch said.

Col. Ed Barker, senior acquisition liaison for the network CFT, said the move to open systems is allowing for ‘quick wins’ to plug in COTS capabilities as network modernization priorities move forward.

“That’s going to allow us options related to the tactical edge,” Barker said. “Things will be able to be tailored based on theater command mission needs, and will give us a lot of flexibility.”

Network CFT officials are using software development kits through their mission command systems and Nett Warrior Program to move some of their hardware capabilities down into apps on their devices.

The open, software-based approach allows for more innovation with industry partners and reduces the need for heavy equipment with large power requirements.  

“Aside from the benefits from an efficiency standpoint, from a network standpoint we’re actually enabling a broader range across the warfighting functions,” Barker said.

The move to a ‘secure, but unclassified’ environment and away from rigid requirements is allowing Army officials to also look at more COTS capability options for its radio and network waveforms, according to Barker.

“From our standpoint, we were restricted based on the requirements to focus on specific waveforms and the reality was in industry right now there’s a lot of advanced networking waveforms that are probably better suited for what we need to do,” Barker said.

The open systems approach is focused on including common standards and future contracts and making development environments more available to industry partners, according to Welch.

Barker agreed, affirming the Network CFT’s effort to foster an improved environment needed to deliver application-based capabilities that require less training and address network challenges more rapidly.

“The change in the security architecture, and the complexity that’s associated with a secure network, being able to push that off to soldiers and as high up the echelon as we can, that’s huge. It opens the aperture from an innovation standpoint and what you can bring to the table,” Barker said. “In a dev-ops model, and having that early user involvement, that is absolutely critical. We’re getting industry involved in that to help them understand the quick sprints and what we can tweak with the network.”

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