US Army Customizes Communications Equipment for Regional Challenges


WASHINGTON — U.S. military officials tasked with revamping the service’s networks and information-sharing tools are tackling a question intrinsic to the Pentagon’s preparations for possible conflicts with China and Russia: how to ensure the reliability and security of communications in radically different environments.

To simultaneously provide critical liaisons across the Indo-Pacific and challenge an increasingly dynamic Beijing while keeping a belligerent Moscow under control across Europe, the military is emphasizing flexibility – a set of basic equipment that can be adapted to whatever a commander needs, wherever he or she may be.

“It’s a big army,” Nicholaus Saacks, deputy program director for command, control and tactical communications, or PEO C3T, said in an interview. “We have to be ready to fight in many different places.”

Chains of islands, expanses of water, verdant jungles, cities, valleys and mountains all impose their own challenges on military chatter. The extreme distances inherent in the Indo-Pacific, often considered an Air Force and Navy domain, will strain connections between ground units. And towering buildings, mountains, and foliage can hamper signals, making coordination even difficult at close range.

PEO C3T, the Army Future Command Network Cross-Functional Team, and other groups must consider everything when doing their jobs, improving data sharing, strengthening lines of communication, and making troops more mobile and less detectable.

“We are thinking of a common operational picture, but two commanders will want to see their operational picture a little differently. So we’re not as concerned about the screen being exactly the same, because they’re going to fit it,” Saacks said. “They might want the icons a certain way. Or, this one isn’t as interested in that part, this one is more interested in that part, depending on where in the world they are.

“But the ability to scale it, and then the data behind it, is what we’re looking for,” he continued. “We want that data to be common and accessible, and then give them the tools where they can adapt it to their mission.”

Army organizations dedicated to the network and its modernization use feedback from different areas of operation as well as from different levels to shape their products.

PEO C3T, in particular, is working closely with I Corps and other West Coast elements to understand what data centrality and distributed command and control might look like.

I Corps is an Army headquarters that manages more than 44,000 soldiers stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and across the Pacific, including Hawaii and Alaska. Earlier this year, he flew four Stryker combat vehicles and about 20 people to Guam to test integration with Navy systems and see how a smaller, more independent force would perform in a nautical environment.

“They need to be really distributed,” Major General Jeth Rey, director of the network’s cross-functional team, said in an interview. “And they really need to figure out how they communicate in this distributed environment.”

PEO C3T also collected feedback this summer on Stryker-mounted communications tools from 3rd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment at Grafenwohr Training Area, Germany.

The assessment precedes a second, larger event months later. But together, the results will inform what are called capability sets, compounding the technology upgrades rolled out every two years.

“In the Pacific, the challenges are different than in Europe, just geographically,” Saacks said. “If I’m commanding a brigade in the European theater, whatever my mission, I may have to look at that data a little differently than if I’m in a similar brigade in the Pacific theater.”

A larger JADC2 picture

The Army’s considerations come as the Department of Defense pushes for seamless connectivity between land, air, sea, space and cyber – the so-called Joint All Domains Command and Control, or JADC2 .

Such ambitious networking, according to US officials, is driven by technologically advanced adversaries, namely China and Russia, and will provide a boost. Both countries would have to interfere or intercept US communications and data in the event of a fight.

“If you take a look at the global security environment, it is becoming more and more complex every day. And it will continue to be more complex with the rapid advances in technologies, as well as the rise of our close competitors,” said Lt. Gen. Maria Gervais, deputy commanding general of Army Training and Doctrine Command. , August 16 at the AFCEA TechNet Augusta Conference. “The current operating environment represents a significant challenge for the U.S. military and joint force, as well as our allies.”

This year, senators, in a National Defense Authorization Bill, recommended spending an additional $245 million on JADC2 as well as establishing a related headquarters alongside the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, based in Hawaii. They also looked for at least one realistic demonstration of JADC2 capabilities per quarter starting in fiscal year 2023.

In doing so, lawmakers looked beyond the current bloodbath in Ukraine, favoring the development of fully integrated responses to the longer-term dangers posed by Beijing.

In separate statements, the chairman and senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee — Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, respectively — said the annual defense legislation supports what is needed to ensure continued American dominance.

“This bill was crafted with input from all senators to address this critical moment,” Inhofe said in July. “As the Chinese Communist Party accelerates the already historic modernization of its military, as Russia continues to destabilize security in Europe, and as record inflation jeopardizes our purchasing power, Congress must do all it can to its power to give our army every advantage on the battlefield.

The global digital domain

The network is one of six modernization priorities set by the Army as it targets multi-domain operations, the ability to deter and defeat an enemy, with the assistance of partners and allies, in n any environment. Other priorities include long-range sniper fire, future vertical transport, and air and missile defense.

Lt. Gen. Maria Barrett, head of Army Cyber ​​Command, on Aug. 17 described the network as “the army’s weapons system of the 21st century.” The data that Saacks and Rey are trying to transport safely around the world, she said, is “the precision ammunition for this weapon system.”

“It’s fair to say that our networks and cybersystems no longer add to our ability to wage war,” Barrett told TechNet Augusta, “but are the center of gravity and primary vulnerability to the United States’ capability. United to wage war with our partners and allies.

Over the next year and a half, the command plans to transform one of its regional cyber centers into a hub capable of effectively coordinating digital operations across the globe.

Five poles, points of convergence of cyber resources and responsibilities in different theaters, currently exist. Two are in the United States, in Arizona and Hawaii. Three are overseas, in Germany, Kuwait and South Korea.

“Our adversaries know no borders. They operate worldwide. So we approach all of these things with a cross-regional look at what we can do and put in place to be competitive,” Barrett said. “We know that by putting our abilities together, we can achieve greater effect than parts.”

The philosophy of multi-domain operations also influences what weapons and equipment the military purchases, where and when soldiers are needed, and the training they receive.

Under Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth and Undersecretary Gabe Camarillo, the service coordinates with other branches to spend wisely and avoid duplication, according to Rey, who in the past has stressed that operating alone is no longer relevant.

“We are not duplicating efforts between services, we are actually talking to the Marines, Navy and Air Force. We know they have their own requirements, but are the abilities equal? ” he said. “It’s this shared modernization environment that we have.”

Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networking, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely the Cold War cleanup and the development of nuclear weapons — for a South Carolina daily. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.


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