The Soldier's Network - PEO C3T Prioritizes Network Simplicity


PEO C3T aims to deliver more capabilities and simpler interfaces to soldiers, said MG Daniel Hughes. (Photo Credit: Rob Curtis/Staff)

MG Daniel Hughes is the program executive officer for the Army’s PEO Command, Control,Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T). He spoke to C4ISR & Networks Editor Barry Rosenberg about simplification of tactical networks and radios, as well as how the Army can maintain its edge in comms when commercial technologies give our adversaries similar capabilities.

With support of the war fighter a given, what’s your top priority?

HUGHES: My No. 1 priority is the simplicity of the network. We are working toward that every single day. It is at the top of my to-do list when I walk in the door. How can we make the soldiers’ network simpler and more capable as we walk through the development of the capabilities of WIN-T Increment 2, and the Handheld, Manpack, and Small Form Fit (HMS) program?

I hate to use the word seamless because that is an overused phrase. But how can I get more capability in the hands of the soldier at whatever echelon with less for the soldier to do as they use the equipment? When you pick your cellphone up you don’t turn around and say, “I’ve got to connect to the Verizon cell tower down the street.” I do not want soldier to have any of those steps. We are getting better every day, but we still have a lot to do.

Much of the simplification has been related to simplification of WIN-T Increment 2, the on-the-move aspect of the WIN-T program. You just mentioned the HMS radios. What are the simplification issues relating to tactical radios?

HUGHES: We want to take a look at the interface on every one of our radios and every one of our systems, even across the mission command applications. When we look at the password you have to type in on an HMS Manpack or on a Rifleman radio, [we need to ask whether] it is too complex for a soldier in the middle of combat and in the middle of the night, in freezing weather or in the rain, to do? How hard is it? Can we get biometrics to do that so a soldier swipes two fingers on it and it works? We are looking at what the cellphone industry is doing right now with the simplicity of, say, a Samsung GALAXY 5 or an iPhone. How can we apply that and have the same level of security that we need for the Army’s tactical network for the future, but yet to make it easy enough for a soldier to not have to remember a 16-digit password? I go to my iPhone every morning and click on the AccuWeather app to see what the weather is going to look like that day. I do not know if “appify” is a word, but how can we appify some of the things in radios, too?

Besides simplicity, what is the next gripe on the top of the soldiers’ list as it relates to the network?

HUGHES: Every time I add something to an individual soldier in the field, I will say this: It had better not weigh a lot. I will use the word lighter, but the question is: How does it fit into the ensemble that they have? With our Rifleman radio and the Nett Warrior ensemble, for example, how can I lower the weight and reduce the heat generated? How can I reduce the battery usage — because that is a big deal to tactical radios. We want to make the screen bigger to see, and improve the interface for changing the radio presets. Why can’t I put that on a Nett Warrior device? The answer is we are doing that.

So you offload the commands onto the mission command platform for the radio sets. And therefore you have one interface for the soldier to use not only do their mission command planning but to do their comms changes. We want to make it intuitive so that the mission execution and the radio execution are the same thing, and we do it in one play.

Where do you stand on the acquisition plan for tactical radios?

HUGHES: I like to call it the radio marketplace where the vendors produce systems that we go and buy as nondevelopmental items. They meet our standards so we can use the taxpayer’s money for maximum capability for our soldiers. And also provide the standards to industry so they can compete. Really, that is all they have asked me to do is to give them a competitive marketplace to do that.

In the short term, we need to buy radios to support the capability sets that we are producing every year. In the short term, we have some sets that we have bought already such as WIN-T and the Rifleman radio. But the end of the year we will have request for proposals on the street for both the Rifleman radio and the Manpack radio, so we can get to the competitions and delivery orders and have radios on the street by the late 2016 or early 2017 time frame.

What have you seen that’s new and interesting in the world of tactical radios?

HUGHES: Let’s talk about waveforms to start with. We are getting to the point where we are using the Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW) and the Wideband Networking Waveform (WNW), as well as the MUOS [Mobile User Objective System] waveform, to provide better capabilities. With SRW, we are looking at getting better range and better throughput. The WNW waveform will be in MNVR [Mid-Tier Networking Vehicular Radio] radios. We are finally getting to the point where that network is stable enough for us to increase bandwidth utilization. MUOS is getting to the point where the call completion rate is getting to where soldiers will be able to use that in a very short period of time frame. That is on the HMS Manpack radios.

On the other hand, the processing power inside each one of these sets increases based on the rate of Moore’s Law. This is why the radio marketplace concept is so important. Every time we go out for delivery, we will get better processors, better power management and better capability in each one of these sets. The radios will not look exactly the same. You may have the same form/fit/function, but you will have a lot more capabilities.

That is why competitive buys on delivery orders, and having a strategy to refresh these in a certain amount of years is critical. That is one thing we are approaching right now. What is the refresh cycle? How long is it going to take to get us there? What does the budget look like to do that? What I am hoping for is that through competition we drive the cost of the material down so that refresh in five to seven years on each one of these sets is a viable option for the military.

How does the Army maintain its edge in comms when commercial technologies give our adversaries similar capabilities?

Hughes: I tell my PMs to watch “Black Hawk Down.” Watch the enemy, which used cellphones and cell towers to report where the helicopters were going from the tops of buildings. How do we get our communication equipment to be able to do that right away … to be at least as good and better. How do we create overmatch?

I think we can create overmatch through enhancing our capabilities and by building redundant systems, and then looking at what the threat is doing and what commercial technology can bring forward. I love to leverage commercial as much as I can to save money. But there are some places where we are going to invest in science and technology to get leap-aheads on that technology. We need to do that on a regular basis.

What is the future of mission command?

HUGHES: When soldiers want to do specific things like shoot artillery, they click on an app. That is going to revolutionize how we train and how we execute the fight in the mission command space. We will follow the folks that are building our doctrine — the TRADOC [Training and Doctrine Command] guys — to make sure that our systems are doctrine-driven and they do not drive doctrine.

I will tell you, the ability to build apps quickly will allow the Army to keep up on where mission command is going to go.

Do not let the tail wag the dog.

HUGHES: You’ve got it. Too many times we had built systems that the Army had to structure themselves around. We want the Army doctrine to drive the systems that we are building. I believe we are at an inflection point right now that as we look toward the future. After we came out of 13 years of this fight, we can take a look at how we want the Army to operate in the next fight.

I believe that because we have the ability to build apps quickly, we might be able to keep up with doctrine and not drive the doctrine. I think it is there now. There will be some of that because physics make us do certain things. The big fight on radio is always how can I make the thing weigh nothing? But it is going to weigh something. It is going to take power. Soldiers need to eat, too.

But if we can really build our systems fast enough to keep up with doctrine and keep up with the current fight, I think we are a lot better than putting something on the field 20 years later and trying to fix it.

Excerpt from a C4ISR & Networks article. 

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Source: Barry Rosenburg, “PEO C3T Prioritizes Network Simplicity,” C4ISR & Networks, 10/7/2014