DOD looks at new ways to field tactical networks

Services seek creative ways to deliver new technologies to warfighters.

The Defense Department is rapidly redesigning and modifying its data and communications networks, and the services are learning to be creative in how they allocate resources to develop new systems, top military officials said during the MILCOM conference in Baltimore, Md., on Nov. 8.

Although the military is modernizing, it must work within growing fiscal constraints, said Army Brig. Gen. Michael Williamson, the joint program executive officer for the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS). But even as the military learns to operate with less money, it must be aware of how the operational environment is changing. “Our enemies do not stand still,” he said.

To keep up with changing technologies, DOD must alter how it develops and acquires systems, Williamson said. He said the JTRS program is a good example of a development effort that took too long to deliver capabilities to warfighters. The military must find a better model to get new technologies to users, he said.

The Marine Corps is using new equipment and novel programs to modernize its force, said Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Kevin Nally, director C4, Deputy Department of the Navy Chief Information Officer (Marine Corps). For example, the Green IT program recently equipped Marine units operating in Afghanistan with folding solar panels that warfighters on patrol could carry with them. The panels allowed a battalion to operate without the need to have its batteries resupplied because the panels charged them. “It saves lives because we don’t have to resupply batteries any more,” he said.

Another capability is the Harris AN/PRC 117-G radio that allows units to link back into secure and nonsecure military networks. This allows small unit commanders to have better situational awareness because they can access reconnaissance and other data about their area of operation. “We want more of them,” Nally said.

The corps is also acquiring networking on-the-move technology in the form of the Cobra system. This vehicle-based satellite communications system links back to DOD networks and allows commanders to get out of vehicles and maintain communications up to several hundred yards away from the system. Three Cobra-equipped vehicles are in theater but the corps plans to build and deliver 40 more, he said.

Meanwhile, the Army has been actively redesigning its networking capabilities, said Army Col. John Morrison, director of the LandWarNet Battle Command. “We have fundamentally changed the way we’re going to deliver network capability to the force,” he said.

The Army is achieving this goal is through capability set management that aligns capability management to the way the service does business, Morrison said. Through programs such as the Network Integration Evaluation (NIE), the Army seeks to integrate new systems into units before they deploy to theater, he said.

NIEs run every six months and allow the Army to quickly test and integrate new systems into its baseline. Morrison said during the second NIE, which is running this month, the Army’s networks are all up and running. This is allowing 11 industry groups to test their systems in the field, which will lead to the next NIE in spring 2012. “The days of monolithic programs are over. We can’t afford it,” he said.

About the Author

Henry Kenyon is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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