With the Army’s tactical network modernization effort focused now on dropping new capabilities every two years beginning in 2021, officials said Thursday a preliminary design review of the first set of technologies is underway with procurement contracts likely to be awarded next spring.

Joe Welch, acting deputy for Program Executive Office – Command, Control Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T), told attendees at a C4ISRNET conference the first capability set in FY ’21 will include delivering core capabilities to establish the new Integrated Tactical Network intended to improve soldiers’ ability to communicate in contested environment.

The Army Network Integration Evaluation (NIE)

“This is really intended to fill the gap between technologies that you all may have available and our ability to put those together in a meaningful way that can support all of our priorities for the network,” Welch said.

Maj. Gen. David Bassett, lead official for PEO C3T, last month detailed plans for the two-year capability sets that will look to iteratively deliver new capabilities, ranging from mission command applications to low-Earth orbit technologies, and build in upgrades as the Army finalizes its tactical network structure by 2028 (Defense Daily, May 1).

Welch noted the Army has already start rolling out technologies to the 82nd Airborne brigade combat team, based in Fort Bragg, N.C., for experimentation over the next several months, as the PEO C3T and the Network Cross Functional Team work toward an eventual critical design review.

“We’re really encouraged by the progress there. I think we’ve got a better idea now about the capabilities that we’re relatively certain are part of Capability Set ‘21,” Welch said.

Capability set ‘21 will include the first iteration of the Command Post Computing Environment, a new kit of scalable, flexible communications technologies for replacing WIN-T and upgrading waveforms for improve satellite communications, according to Welch.

The critical design review will inform quantity requirements before moving to procurement in spring 2020 and fielding of the first capability set in FY21.

“The core of Capability Set ‘21 is really the initial rollout of the Integrated Tactical Network,” Welch said. “As we look at providing it for the Army’s use, we have a lot of unanswered questions that we need to sort through in terms of what capability belongs where, how does it fit with legacy systems and what’s the right mix to make that effective.”

Lt. Gen. James Pasquarette, the G-8 deputy chief of staff, spoke at Thursday’s conference as well and noted the Army’s latest budget request included $1.9 billion in FY ’20 for the Integrated Tactical Network and a total of $11.3 billion through FY ’24.

“There’s a good rationale for what we’re fielding in each of the two-year increments. Part of it is we know things change so fast that we’re going to have to do this in increments. So part of the drops will be new kits, and the other will be upgrading what was new in ‘21,” Pasquarette told reporters following his discussion.

Col. Rob Ryan, deputy director of the Network CFT, noted that that capability set ‘23 will expand to include capabilities for Stryker and Armored BCT’s and will see the start of experimentation with low and mid-Earth orbit technologies.

Welch told Defense Daily following his discussions the network modernization is open to flexibility between capability sets if officials find a certain technology requires further assessment.  

“Absolutely, there’s flexibility,” Welch said. “For example, maybe we decide at our critical design review there’s a technology that’s just falling short. We’re not confident enough in it. We think it’s too much risk to field it to the brigades, but we don’t want to wait two years to put it out there. It could be an area where we do a technology insert halfway through the capability set.”