Army to roll out new comms capabilities by year's end

After a yearlong assessment, Army tech leaders outline plans to modernize their networks, including a re-tooled risk management framework.

satellite network (Andrey VP/

The Army admits it missed the mark when it came to keeping up with evolving technology, but the service is making up for it with a complete renovation of its tactical networks.

Maj. Gen. David Bassett, the service's program executive officer for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T) drilled down into specifics at an Aug. 2 event, highlighting the Army’s focus on expanding satellite capabilities, fielding a new experimental unit and tinkering with the implementation of the risk management framework (RMF).

“To transform the network we’re going to need more access points and greater bandwidth and lower latency,” Bassett said, at the Association of the U.S. Army’s Cyber + Networks Hot Topic event. He added that the Army also is looking at where it can use commercial cloud services on the battlefield.

Compared to a typical 70 megabit/sec data speed smartphone users get, he said, an average satellite link bandwidth for an Army brigade is 2 Mbps. “If we’re going to think about transforming Army network, we’re going to leverage cloud technologies, we have to provide more bandwidth to headquarters,” Bassett said.

To increase the number of satellite points available to soldiers, Bassett said he was eyeing constellation satellite systems set for deployment in the early 2020s.

Later this fall, Army will field an experimental unit, called the Army Communications Support Battalion, with new connectivity capabilities.  In November, the service also will start testing two new options for the next-generation mission command for movement and maneuver.

The Army is coming off a year-long assessment, which produced a tactical network modernization plan submitted to Congress earlier this year and halted of procurement of the embattled Warfighter Information Network Increment 2 program. Bassett said these new initiatives tie into that plan and are already ongoing.

The Army also is expected to deploy unified communications capabilities -- including voice, video, persistent chat, instant messaging and screen-sharing services -- to a first set of unclassified users in the third quarter through its contract to AT&T, according to an Aug. 1 announcement. The telecom company expects to provide services to classified users early next year.

Additionally, the Army is adjusting security boundaries to avoid over classifying systems and choosing secured unclassified networks where appropriate because, as Bassett said, “where we place those security boundaries is going to greatly determine the extent to which we can share data with our allies.”

Risk management framework refresh

Army CIO Lt. Gen. Bruce Crawford, speaking at the same Aug. 2 event, said during his keynote that the Army missed vital cues when it came to tech modernization.

“We’ve learned some great lessons,” Crawford said. “Probably the greatest lesson learned has been that for the past 15 to 16 years ...  as an institution, we figuratively didn’t have our sensors in the right place. We didn’t really understand the evolutions in technology and commercial industry.”

Crawford also said the Army must adapt the RMF to warfighter needs.

Bassett said he is working with Crawford to revise the RMF process to put more emphasis on “meaningful blue team analysis up front early in the cycle rather than a checklist-based process on the back end of the cycle.”

“We’ve got to make this more about smart cyber engineers doing the critical thinking up front,” he said.  “I’m not looking for it in a [testing] requirements document. I think we can handle that in terms of the overall RMF process that we apply to those systems and do it in a way that doesn’t slow systems down.”