A soldier assigned to 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, checks for decoy enemy land mines at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Fort Johnson, Louisiana, March 20, 2024.

A soldier assigned to 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, checks for decoy enemy land mines at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Fort Johnson, Louisiana, March 20, 2024. U.S. Army / Pfc. Luciano Alcala

To adapt command posts to modern war, Army wants more commercial tech

Plans include more commercial satellite tech, plus more options to hide within commercial communications traffic.

The U.S. Army must adapt, its chief of staff has said in speech after speech, to a battlefield in which drones, sensors, and satellites will track soldiers’ every move. Among Gen. Randy George’s most prominent targets for reform are command posts—formerly sprawling compounds that must now be transformed into small, roving, camouflaged centers capable of avoiding enemy missiles. 

Many of the technologies that will make that possible will come from commercial or commercially derived technologies, according to Mark Kitz, chief of the Army’s program executive office for command, control and communications-tactical. 

Units are already experimenting with tapping into commercial communications networks rather than setting up military communications links that would be immediately recognizable to an adversary.  

Without better tech, though, units are doomed to stick out, Kitz said. 

At a recent training event at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) in Louisiana, one unit attempted to camouflage itself within commercial communications traffic by using commercial communications infrastructure rather than military equipment. 

But the unit did not blend in because of differences between the commercial tech the Army used and the tech used locally, Kitz said. “That commander at JRTC couldn't see the environment in an effective way. So he didn't realize he was sticking out.” 

Without specifying precisely what the unit did incorrectly, Kitz gave the example of a unit setting up a 4G cell tower that would be immediately noticeable if the civilian infrastructure was using 3G towers. 

To solve the problem, Kitz’s team is working to find a “transport agnostic” communications system that allows commanders to switch between different communications types as needed. 

The Army will issue a contract sometime in 2025 for a pilot program for a new type of command post that will include technology to allow soldiers to switch between different types of communications networks, from cellular to military communication links, he said. 

The Army is also increasingly interested in commercial satellites providers, whose technology gives units radically more data than Army equivalents. The dishes can also be set up and taken down in minutes, allowing units to disperse quickly to avoid enemy fire. 

Kitz said the Army is interested in implementing a system that would allow the service to contract with a variety of commercial satellite providers based on their affordability or prevalence in a given operating environment. One unit might use SpaceX’s Starlink, while another could use Eutelsat’s OneWeb. 

In September of last year, the Army announced it was trialing a program that would serve as the model for the acquisition plan, also known as “satellite communications as a managed service.” 

To facilitate the program, the Army is working to develop the Next Generation Tactical Terminal. It would be an Army-provided satellite terminal that could take inputs from a variety of commercial satellite providers. Kitz said the Army hopes to issue a request for proposal in 2025, with an award for both the terminal and a contract for commercial satellite as a service by the end of 2025. 

The Army will also work with Space Force on the project, Kitz said.

The service would likely acquire core network technology, such as switches and routers, with funds from its procurement budget, he said. 

However, the specific commercial satellite capabilities might be paid for through the Army operation and maintenance budget, a separate acquisition category, Kitz said. Operation funds have fewer reporting requirements, and in certain cases are under the control of unit commanders, such as the colonel in charge of an Army brigade combat team. 

The Army recently announced it will acquire some commercial drones with operations dollars, as it works to get more drones into the hands of soldiers. 

Implementing commercial satellite connections would partially end bandwidth limitations for brigades, Kitz added. “I think you're going to see battalion [command posts] not have a bandwidth problem,” said Kitz. 

As more battalions disperse to avoid enemy fire, though, fewer units will have access to those terminals, he added.  

The Army is also working to bring airspace deconfliction tools into its command posts, said Kitz, a move that comes as the Army increasingly operates its own drones while continuing its traditional cooperation with the Air Force. 

The service is working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency on an prototype airspace deconfliction tool, and is experimenting with Air Force airspace management tools as well. A version of a deconfliction tool may debut “within the next year,” Kitz said.

“I think we're going to see something very shortly that will help us in that 1,000-foot to 5,000-foot” environment, Kitz said. “The technology is right on the cusp.” 

One prototype airspace deconfliction tool operates on the Tactical Assault Kit (TAK) software, Kitz added. 

TAK is an open-source software that can be loaded onto chest-mounted Android phones or Windows computers back in a headquarters. The software allows commanders to track their own forces, drop pins on the locations of enemy forces, send messages, and access a range of other features, like drone feeds. 

The Army will likely move to TAK at some point as the user interface for many command post tools, Kitz said. “I think writ large across the [command and control] systems, you're going to see a consolidation at least at the user interface level around TAK.”

For May’s Technical Exchange Meeting 12, the Army "will offer industry partners more opportunities for strategic government/industry sessions, more technical break-out discussions in smaller settings ... and several opportunities to hear from commanders to gain their perspectives on what is working and what is needed as they continue to plan for future Army missions," Kitz said. 

“It's time to modernize and, and really stimulate industry that may not even have history in the [artillery] community." 

Editor's note: This story has been updated.