The Army wrapped up its three-week Armored Formation On-The-Move Network pilot in February, taking with it a treasure trove of Soldier-centric feedback and assessment data that will inform future network modernization efforts to make these units more mobile, survivable, and lethal during multi-domain operations.
“Information is really the key to being lethal, as well as our ability to gather that information and relay it up through higher echelons, and then either process fires missions or react to movement and contact,” said 1st Lt. T.J. Allen, communications and network officer for the 6th Squadron, 8th Calvary Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division. “With this on-the-move network equipment, we have cut down the time to process that information by a significant amount. We don’t have to stop, put up a Satellite Transportable Terminal and a green [full] tactical operations center; we just do it all while moving.”
The Army conducted the Armored Formation On-The-Move Network pilot — supported by Soldiers from the 2nd ABCT, 3rd ID — to evaluate new and emerging commercial network technology from over 20 industry partners integrated onto the unit’s available surrogate armored vehicle platforms. Potential platforms for future network integration include the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle and Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.
The pilot effort will inform the Army’s future Capability Set 25 network design, the concept of operations for on-the-move networked armored formations from division to battalion, and market research to determine currently available and maturing industry solutions for armored formation network integration.
During the pilot, 2nd ABCT, 3rd ID stressed the network equipment during realistic brigade-driven mission threads in remote training areas at Fort Stewart. Soldiers provided user feedback on three different prototype equipment sets with varying degrees of satellite and line-of-sight capabilities. Soldiers also provided operational feedback on how armored formations could potentially fight with these new and emerging systems on a future battlefield.
“[Today’s] command posts are too big and not survivable,” said Maj. Gen. Charles Costanza, commanding general for the 3rd ID. “We know on the future battlefield we’ll have to fight dispersed and distributed. With this on-the-move capability, plus future platforms such as AMPV, we can get there. It is also going to take a big focus on leader development and training future leaders how to [fight like] this.”
Equipment sets included three different integrated variations of commercial network systems, such as mesh network data radios, emerging on-the-move antenna and satellite communications capabilities, advanced cross domain solutions/switches and gateways, and small aperture satellite communications terminals.
The Army also leveraged the opportunity to inform additional modernization efforts, including potential anti-jamming capabilities, signal retransmission, expeditionary next-generation STTs, and QR codes on affixed to systems that enabled Soldiers to pull up corresponding, real-time training materials on an issued tablet.
The pilot was not a formal operational test or acquisition down-select, but an opportunity to inform concepts, requirements, technology maturity, and affordability in support of Capability Set 25 designs, said Maj. Gen. Robert Collins, program executive officer for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical.
“The effort is part of changing the paradigm of how we conduct acquisition, bringing Soldier feedback in earlier in the process; feedback from simplifying cables, to monitoring what our electronic signature looks like with this kit, to how it enables sensor-to-shooter, to intelligence analytics, and everything in between,” Collins said. “We have a tremendous amount of qualitative and quantitative data from the pilot that will be very helpful and impactful in capability set development.”
Final equipment sets need to improve network resiliency and provide more options to enhance primary, alternate, contingency, and emergency communications, or PACE, plans; enable command posts to operate decentralized and move more rapidly for improved survivability; enable commanders to maintain a real-time common operating picture to make more timely and informed decisions; and reduce fires processing time, all while ensuring solutions are simple to operate.
“It’s not so much about the equipment sets, it’s about the capability [they provide] and how we want to fight and increase our chances of survivability,” said Col. Terry Tillis, commander of the 2nd ABCT, 3rd ID. “That is what is really important to me and that is what I am taking away from this pilot. It’s really helped us in instructing our skill sets.”
During the pilot, Lt. Col. Tom Lamb, commander of the 6th Squadron, 8th Calvary Regiment, 2nd ABCT, 3rd ID, explained that his unit’s mission is to be the brigade’s eyes and the ears forward — to observe and make contact with the enemy, capture accurate and timely information and feed that information to higher headquarters. The prototype on-the-move and quick-halt network capabilities that his unit assessed enabled his squadron to setup or tear down a rapid-movement command post in approximately five minutes, compared to 45 minutes for current configurations.
Lamb’s squad moved its command post configuration numerous times each day during the pilot, all the while retaining a high-level of on-the-move communications and mission command en route to each new location. “That [equates to] communicating more to our higher headquarters, while keeping our formation alive on the battlefield,” he said. “From a distributed communications perspective, from this location, if we were being attacked, our warfighting functions can also stay alive and keep in the fight, and that is critical to our support to brigade and our subordinate units.”
Just as information is paramount to the survivability and lethality of armored units, information will also be paramount to the Army’s Capability Set 25 design goals to modernize armored formations worldwide. The Capability Set 25 preliminary design review is scheduled for April 2023.
“As we look at the Soldier feedback and data collected during the pilot and follow-on integration and assessment efforts, we’ll gain an even better understanding of what we will need to deliver in support of armored formation network modernization, decisions such as equipment density, which vehicles should get which solutions; the most affordable balance of SATCOM and line-of-sight for the equipment sets,” said Col. Shane Taylor, project manager for Tactical Network, PEO C3T. “Whatever final conclusions we may come to, they will informed by the Soldier-centric designs drawn from the feedback of Soldiers in the field.”