Army gives battlefield networks high priority

The leader of the Army's tactical command and control efforts discusses initiatives involving network architecture, technology transmission and the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical program.

The Army Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (PEO-C3T) provides networked battle command applications intended for an on-the-move environment. Before becoming program executive officer of C3T in November 2009 — and the Army’s first female PEO — Brig. Gen. Lee Price was responsible for network integration as a deputy program manager for Future Combat Systems.

Before that, she was deputy acquisition executive for all special forces at the Special Operations Command and project manager for Defense Communications and Army Transmission Systems. She spoke recently with Defense Systems contributing editor Barry Rosenberg about network architecture, technology transmission and the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) program.

DS: What are your priorities as PEO-C3T?

Price: The priorities of PEO-C3T can be defined in five major areas. First and foremost is support to deployed forces. Our objective is to provide proven, mission-essential support, reachback, technical support and echeloned field support to meet their mission requirements. We adapt programs of record and integrate commercial technologies to ensure that the immediate, networked battle command needs of soldiers in the fight are met.

Of special note is our work with our partner, the Program Executive Office for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors, to transition to theater the Afghanistan Mission Network. Each separate coalition nation's network extension is integrated into this network, allowing them to collaborate the battle in a synchronized coalition environment. Each Combat Training Center in the United States can access the U.S. extension of this network from Afghanistan. This means units can train on the U.S. extension, called the Centrix International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), prior to their deployment.

Next, through the Unit Set Fielding process, we support the rotational readiness model, modularity, Arforgen (Army Force Generation) modernization strategy and Army equipping strategy. This five-phased approach to fielding is tailored so deploying and preparing forces receive battle command capabilities and training in accordance with the Arforgen cycle and the Army equipping strategy. By being synchronized as we equip and train units, we minimize disruption to them during dwell time.

Building the network of the future remains critical, even as we field networked battle command solutions to the current force. PEO-C3T continues to develop both the network and applications to support the joint and coalition forces of the future. A lot of our time right now is focused on working with the Army staff to define the network architecture of the future — including applications and radios.

I am also focused on transitioning our workforce to Aberdeen as part of Base Realignment and Closure. It is absolutely critical that we ensure our support to the warfighter will not be affected as we transition this team to its new home in Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. The buildings are well under way, our main body will move late summer, and we are excited to begin occupying our new complex in November 2010.

As we transition the workforce to APG, we are looking at ways we can improve our business processes to increase the speed at which we deliver new capabilities to the field while reducing the costs of development. One of these processes is technology transition, where we incorporate and use science and technology deliverables into acquisition programs in order to fill technology gaps. The PEO-C3T’s Systems Engineering Integrated Process Teams also play critical roles in diminishing network redundancy and ensuring proper configuration management on the network.

DS: You've attained Milestone C on WIN-T Increment 2. What's the next step, and what are the technical challenges associated with meeting your next milestone, the initial operational test (IOT) scheduled for early 2012?

Price: Obtaining Milestone C for WIN-T Increment 2 was a significant achievement for the program and the Army. It has the potential to overcome some of the really tough challenges of today's wars. But before we can put WIN-T into the field and fully realize this potential, the program must complete a rigorous set of equipment and network-level qualification tests, culminating in the IOT. The recently awarded low-rate initial production contract is the mechanism that will enable production and testing of the equipment to meet requirements.

DS: How are you using networked battle commands to get inside the enemy’s decision-making cycle?

Price: Working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has greatly enhanced PEO-C3T’s ability to address challenges associated with fielding capabilities to users. Command Post of the Future (CPOF) from Project Manager, Battle Command (PM BC), and Tactical Ground Reporting (Tigr), which PM Force XXI Battle Command Brigade-and-Below will adopt, are two great examples of capabilities that are clearly focused on responsiveness within the enemy's decision cycle.

With CPOF, commanders have a tool that allows them to visualize the battlefield data and collaborate in real time. They can make their decisions while remaining synchronized in a singular command-and-control environment. This allows them to collaborate as they prepare for enemy actions, before they occur.

Soldiers on patrol use Tigr to collect and share information over the Secure IP Router Network. Its Patrol View function will give warfighters an advantage over the enemy by providing them with a 360-degree view of their surroundings. With this, commanders can plan a mission in advance by seeing the infrastructure that surrounds them. They can preplan fire support positions and predict sniper hideouts.

Presently, in the source selection process, the Blue Force Tracking II Communication System will provide situational awareness in seconds and much more rapidly proliferate improved command-and-control applications to the user.

DS: Very-small-aperture terminals are a key communications tool for the Army. What's new in this area, and where are you in developing and acquiring man-portable VSATs for special operations?

Price: One of the biggest challenges with VSATs is the satellite antenna. As antennas become larger, more data can be transmitted and received. Although receive-only systems such as a Rucksack Global Broadcast Service (GBS) can provide 23 megabits/sec or more to users, there is no formal Army requirement for this yet. Most users, including special operations, need two-way communications.

In recent years, the commercial world has seen significant improvements in reducing the weight and number of transit cases required for VSATs, while simultaneously improving the antenna performance to take advantage of the new Wideband Global Satellite Communications satellites.

In addition to the antenna, new modem technologies can help increase the data rates into small apertures while also sharing bandwidth. The SIPR/Non-SIPR Access Point (SNAP) VSAT is an example. Program Manager WIN-T’s Commercial Satellite Communications Terminal Program has fielded over 400 SNAP terminals to deployed Army users within the past 18 months [as of April 2010].

DS: What are the challenges associated with bringing satellite communications to soldiers who lack network connectivity, and how are you addressing that? In other words, how are you getting broadband to the foxhole?

Price: A principal characteristic of the disadvantaged soldier is mobility. He is mission-driven to travel light and move often. Technology improvements have made it possible for single-channel satellite terminals to be used farther forward than ever before, but the capability of broadband to the foxhole has been elusive due to the large aperture required to maintain higher data rates. Broadcast technology evolvement over the last 10 years or so now makes it possible for systems such as the GBS to provide up to two 45 megabits/sec streams into apertures of 1 meter in size. Smaller, flat-panel apertures have been shown to receive up to 29 megabits/sec.

The GBS Joint Program Office is performing development work for a sub-20-pound rucksack-portable receiver suite that will permit delivery of up to 23 megabits/sec to the front line. Use of adaptive coding and modulation techniques in the new broadcast waveform standards will permit these smaller, lower data rate terminals to coexist with larger apertures without the need to reduce the overall system data rate.

DS: What are soldiers telling you they want to see in next-generation systems, and how are you addressing those requests?

Price: Today’s soldiers have requested: improvements to size, weight and power; communications improvements comparable to commercial systems; and the ability to adapt new applications like those found on the iPhone store. We are already beginning initiatives that will allow the introduction of software from multiple developers, similar to that of the iPhone store. Project Manager Battle Command is collapsing each of its systems to a common infrastructure and Joint Battle Command-Platform has an evolutionary development strategy that will enable multiple vendors to develop and deliver applications.

DS: Under your Technology Transition initiative, project managers can request that science and technology be inserted into their programs of record. What requests have been made in this area?

Price: The Army Team C4ISR community uses the Technology Transition process to focus our science and technology efforts to meet warfighter needs. Once a year, a general officer-level panel with representatives from the Office of the Secretary of Defense and other services determines the most important technology needs. Our community has listed affordable, on-the-move antenna technologies; hybrid communication networks; integrated command-and-control/electronic warfare suite; and multiplatform distributed collaborations as examples of high-priority S&T investments. A key one we are working with Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center right now is the development of an X-Band transceiver for our Blue Force Tracking system.

DS: You're working on integration between the elements of the Command Post of the Future: Battle Command Sustainment and Support, Tactical Airspace Integration and Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System. What are you doing, and what are the technical challenges associated with that effort?

Price: PM BC is initially collapsing the logistics, fires and airspace product lines onto the CPOF application. CPOF offers a good channel for human-centered collaboration and provides the core capability the commander and staff need in the field. Based on the evolution of CPOF from an application to a broader development framework, future collaborative capabilities will be developed and deployed in this environment.

The government and the CPOF prime developer have also reached an agreement to transition the CPOF code baseline to the government in the near future. This will allow the opportunity for the government to guide the product baseline and supporting applications in a more open, competitive environment.

PM BC, in collaboration with the Army chief information office, has also launched a complementary Web services development environment. This effort recognizes that not all battle command functions need to be in the collaborative environment. A government-driven effort based on open standards and products provides an operationally relevant alternative to support the collaborative activities, as well as maximize competitive opportunities on this baseline. Our hope is that the combined approach also motivates nonstandard developers to begin in the Battle Command collaborative architecture.

If a product developer has sufficient momentum with a product, building in this common environment provides the opportunity to scale successful solutions Army-wide. This approach to development will maximize the boundaries of innovation for the Battle Command capabilities we will field to the operational Army and bring a significant impact to the future, modular force.