ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (March 12, 2015) — From live operational updates onboard a C-17 aircraft, to satellite terminals the size of a briefcase, to wireless command posts, new communications technologies will support the Army’s “ability to get there faster with a lighter footprint,” Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Daniel B. Allyn said.
Allyn visited Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), the Army’s hub for tactical network development, acquisition and support, on March 11 to meet with Soldiers and view new systems that will support an agile and expeditionary force and strengthen cyber security. Describing himself as “passionate” about communications because of his own operational experiences, the vice chief advocated an incremental approach informed by Soldier feedback and urged program managers to move the capabilities to the field “as fast as possible.”
“What you really want is the capacity to conduct mission command at every phase of your life cycle,” Allyn said, citing the Army Operating Concept’s emphasis on a globally responsive force that can “Win in a Complex World.”
“No matter where we’re going in the world, enabling us to maintain situational awareness en route, and even do in-stride changes, is invaluable,” he said. “And likewise with our early entry forces — the ability to immediately expand their mission command capacity upon initial entry, and eventually build to a network that’s mature to fight the follow-on phases, is critical.”
Allyn praised recent progress Army organizations have made on integrating the strategic and tactical networks, which provides a more consistent user experience and reliable reachback connectivity throughout various stages of operations. And by weaving together evolving technologies such as secure 4G/Wi-Fi, virtualized hardware, web-based mission command applications and intelligent power, the Army is working to deliver leaner, more mobile command posts.
“We’ve made a lot of headway over the last couple of years on understanding that you have to have one network that you operate on all the time,” he said. “With the way that our command posts are deploying forward these days, [that is critical to] being able to be more expeditionary and leverage home station to deliver that which can’t be taken forward initially.”
Given the constant proliferation of commercial communications technologies, the Army must be flexible to incorporate those advances, while also maintaining the requirements discipline to incrementally field improved systems — not always shooting for “the Lexus experience” when “the Ford F-150 experience” may be all Soldiers need right away, Allyn said.
“One of the key points of discussion was getting our requirements discipline so we field ‘good enough’ as fast as possible, and one of the ways we improve the product is involving the users interactively in the process of developing what ‘good enough’ is,” he said.
In addition to refining systems based on Soldier feedback, the Army is finalizing standards that will allow industry to more smoothly “plug in” their innovations to a system-of-systems architecture — enhancing interoperability across the network while also strengthening cyber protection.
“We are trying to describe the standards, not describe the box,” said Lt. Gen. Robert S. Ferrell, Army Chief Information Officer/G-6, one of several senior leaders who traveled with Allyn.
Cyber defense and the speed of operations will also benefit from technologies that allow Soldiers to update security keys and join new radio networks over the air, rather than inputting changes manually.
“Executing these processes over the air makes us more cyber aware and cyber secure, as well as more expeditionary,” said Maj. Gen. Daniel P. Hughes, program executive officer for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical, the organization that manages the Army’s tactical network and mission command portfolio.
Soldiers had the opportunity to give the vice chief hands-on demonstrations of several components of that portfolio during a tour of key APG laboratories and integration facilities. Allyn tried on a new rucksack developed to help lighten the load of the dismounted Manpack radio, listened to a cross-country call to Fort Bliss, Texas placed through the Manpack radio and the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) satellite network, and inspected new suitcase-sized satellite dishes designed for early-entry teams.
Soldiers also explained components of the En Route Mission Command Capability (EMC2) that are now being installed on C-17 aircraft for the Global Response Force at Fort Bragg, N.C. EMC2, a transport plane-integrated communications package providing mission command applications and satellite connectivity for continuous synchronization from garrison to theater, is on track for initial operating capability in May of this year.
“It was a great overview of all of the efforts that are underway to enhance mission command, and improve both our cyber protection and the effectiveness of our leaders at every echelon,” Allyn said.