Here’s the Theme Driving the US Army’s New Communications Tech
Pilot programs are seeking ways to keep battlefield data flowing despite the enemy’s best efforts.
A common theme emerges from the U.S. Army's efforts to field several new communications technologies: for the foreseeable future, the service's comms programs are about pushing more data to and from the front lines in the face of increasingly aggressive electronic-warfare activities.
Two Army pilot programs aim to bring cloud storage closer to the front lines by fiscal 2023, say Maj. Gen. Peter A. Gallagher, the director of the Network Cross-Functional Team and Brig. Gen. Robert M. Collins, program executive officer for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical. But the two pilots approach the problem in different ways, they said Tuesday at a virtual event hosted by the Potomac Officers Club.
The goal of the first pilot, which operators have just finished testing, was to move training software from a fixed location into a cloud for use anywhere. That will come in handy as the Army deploys its new Integrated Visual Augmentation System, or IVAS: augmented-reality goggles that will allow soldiers to review and retrain on different operations they’ve experienced.
The second pilot looks at virtual and container clouds — basically, smaller cloud environments within larger clouds. Gallagher said the objective is to sideline data that operators use only rarely, and prioritize access to more valuable data in environments where there is a lot of jamming and hacking.
The Army has built several prototype communication tools using rapid innovation funding. Gallagher and Collins highlighted new prototypes in cryptography alternatives, as in methods for sending secure coms beyond traditional encryption, for tracking friendly military units (also in electronic warfare-heavy environments) and satellite communications tools that rely less on commercial, wideband satellite signals. They’re also working with the service’s Future Vertical Lift team — manned and unmanned helicopters — to build wideband satellite communications gear that can “operate on our platforms through rotor blades.”
The Army is working with industry on prototypes for multi-orbit and multi-path (meaning in low-earth orbit, geo earth orbit, etc.) satellite communication tools, software-defined radio programs for the CMOSS standard, which refers to the modular open suite of software standards that allows for different military vehicles to share the same software platform, unified network operations, identity management, data transfer that’s less hackable or jammable, and techniques for converging disparate data sources into a common fabric.
Finally, they highlighted eight technologies that have come out of the Combat Capabilities Development Command, that they described as ready for wider, experimental use in the field. Those areas include cyber situational understanding, application security, integrated tactical network operations, canceling interference for the TSM waveform, which is commonly used in tactical settings, and greater spectrum awareness “so we can see what our signature looks like and take actions to mitigate against that signature.”
Back in 2017, Army leaders listed communications as a top-five modernization priority. It’s arguably No. 1 — as it will provide the basis for sharing data between a wider array of Army robotic vehicles and device-carrying soldiers. It remains to be seen how well all of those Army pieces will connect to other services as part of the Pentagon’s nascent Joint All-Domain Command and Control networks.