Army unveils far-reaching network strategy

The service’s plan for 2025-2040 focuses on incorporating "leap-forward" technologies, including the Internet of Things, software-defined networks and a variety of sensors and analytics.

With an eye toward integrating new technologies, the Army has released its new Network Strategy to provide a long-term strategic direction for enterprise network modernization. The document was announced by the Army’s CIO, Lt. Gen. Robert Ferrell, at an AFCEA NOVA hosted event last week. 

Titled “Shaping the Army Network: 2025-2040,” the strategy seeks to serve “as a guiding document to provoke thought and a means to inform and shape research, development and experimentation by both government and industry entities to ensure that the Army maintains a technology edge in future conflict,” exemplified by a fictionalized, yet realistic war scenario in 2040 that prefaced the body of the piece. 

“What I challenged my team to do is to, OK, assume that all of this [Joint Regional Security Stacks], [multiprotocol label switching] and all this effort of modernization is done, what’s next,” he told the audience of mostly defense contractors. “If you remember back the first time I chatted with this group I asked you all to help us figure that out. Well we’ve got the S&T community together, some think tanks together, in a room and we asked them to – I posed that question to them, and we put together a document that I put online for the community today.”

The document focuses on five main focus areas, including dynamic transport, computing and edge sensors, data to decisive action, human cognitive enhancement, robotics and autonomous operations and cybersecurity and resiliency. These focus areas dial in on specific concepts within two broader ideas: Operational Environment and Required Capabilities 2025-2040 and Network 2025-2040. 

With the force growing smaller and adversaries proliferating and becoming more diverse, the Army’s “ability to remain the most lethal land force in the world will depend upon how well it responds to this operational environment and whether it can sustain both operational and technological advantages over its adversaries,” the strategy says.

Additionally, the network will continue to consolidate with the eventual vision of a single network that “enables soldier, civilian and mission partner connectivity through a global, secure environment.” Deployed units, the plan states, will use global Regional Hub Nodes to connect to the Department of Defense Information Network’s core optical fiber network and enable enterprise services such as email, collaboration, portal and voice over Internet Protocol.

The network strategy falls in line with the Army Strategy and the Army Campaign Plan while simultaneously building on the Army Operating Concept. “Given that predicting the long-range future for IT and how the Army will employ it can be difficult, this vision is based upon and extrapolates existing Army vision, strategy, doctrine, requirements and operating concepts, including the 2015 Army Network Campaign Plan and the supporting 2015-2016 Near-Term and 2017-2021 Mid-Term Implementation Guidance,” it reads. “The vision addresses Network 2040, from the dismounted soldier at the farthest tactical edge to supporting forces at home station.”

The document and five focus areas “really gets at the capability of Internet of Things, software-defined networks, advanced analytics, diverse sensors and actuators and self-healing networks,” Ferrell said.

Ferrell also talked about untethering soldiers, describing what he called a unified capability. “If you think about our state of where we are in technology, you’ve got your iPhone and it has everything in one spot. For the soldiers, we’re locking into our data that’s on our desktop, our phones in our office, you talk about the [video teleconferencing] quality and things of that nature, we’re moving or untethering the soldier from that office,” he said. Having briefed the Army’s acquisition officers, Ferrell said this plan is on path to issue an RFP in 2017.   

“The battlefield and Army of 2025-240 will be shaped by so-called leap-forward technologies. We have made great progress toward the current vision of a secure, integrated, standards-based environment that ensures uninterrupted global access to the network, and enables collaboration and decisive action throughout all operational phases regardless of location,” Ferrell wrote in the preface to the document. “However, the Army must continue to seek and evaluate emerging technologies in order to constantly modernize our network and maintain our technological edge.” 

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