Army establishes structured approach to BCT modernization

New network foundation built atop ashes of Future Combat Systems

What a difference four years can make in the world of Army modernization. After all, it was just that long ago that the Army was characterizing its Future Combat Systems (FCS) program as “the Army’s core effort to modernize the force for full-spectrum engagement in the 21st century.”

It was just four years ago, on June 11, 2008, that the Army staged a Capitol Hill unveiling of its first FCS Manned Ground Vehicle, the Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon (NLOS-C). That Capitol Hill unveiling was also accompanied by static displays of five more FCS systems: the Class 1 and IV unmanned aerial systems (the Honeywell micro air vehicle and the Northrop Grumman Fire Scout, respectively); Multifunction Utility Logistics Equipment (MULE) vehicle from Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control; MULE Armed Reconnaissance Vehicle; and the Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle (SUGV).

Well, at least the iRobot SUGV has made it to the field.

However, summer 2012 finds the Army not only four years older, but much, much wiser in the modernization of its Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs). In fact, it could be easily argued that the ill-fated FCS program established the foundation for a structured modernization supported by agile acquisition processes that are integrated and verified through the Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) activities.

Most significantly, the success of those processes has resulted in the validation of a complete capability set of modernized systems, as the Army calls it. That set, known as Capability Set 13 (CS13), will begin to reach soldiers’ hands on Oct. 1.

The Building Blocks

According to BG John Morrison, director, LandWarNet/Mission Command, Army G3/5/7, CS13 can be seen as four primary building blocks that are held together by supporting systems best viewed as glue.

The building blocks include Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 2 (General Dynamics C4 Systems); Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2) Joint Capabilities Release (JCR) (Northrop Grumman Information Systems); a Mid-Tier Radio augmentation to the architecture (initially the Harris AN/PRC-117G); and the AN/PRC-154 Rifleman radio (General Dynamics C4 Systems/Thales).

“Riding over the top of all of that, because you have to have the Mission Command applications, is Software Block 11 and 12 from a variety of mission command software application programs,” Morrison explained. “And we also have some things, that we call the glue that bring it all together.

“Those include some things that we learned at the NIE that we are also going to field as part of Capability Set 13. For example, we are working towards the procurement of some SRW (Soldier Radio Waveform) applique radios to flesh out what we call the lower tactical Internet – that portion that connects to the dismounted troopers.

“And because it was only during NIE 12.1 and 12.2 where we really started bringing the entire network together there were also some other gaps where we found we needed to put some tactical routers, and some cross domain solutions to provide connectivity specifically down to the dismount level, that will augment those four building blocks,” he added, referring to fall 2011 and spring 2012 NIEs, respectively.

“I will tell you that Capability Set 13 is a fielding unlike anything the Army has done in the recent past,” he said. “The complete communications architecture – with the exception of a few legacy voice radios – is going to be replaced and modernized. “

Reiterating that “it is unprecedented what this capability is going to bring,” he continued, “lf you take a look at what Capability Set 13 will provide, we just did a rough count and found that it addressed 10 or 11 outstanding Operational Need Statements that the theater has been asking for.”

Mission command on the move

The first of two of the most critical needs addressed involves providing mission command on the move.

“For the first time we are going to provide a robust mission command on the move capability for our commanders and key leaders,” he said. “In the past a commander had a limited capability once he displaced away from his tactical operations center. Now, while that commander is out on the road or conducting operations he will have the ability to access just about any information that he would have inside his command post while he or she is still moving.

“The second thing we are doing is extending the network down to the dismounted trooper. So, for the very first time, we will be able to have situational awareness of where our troops are on the battlefield. That is a significant increase in capability. And to the key leader level we will be able to push critical information such as imagery, orders, graphics and those things that will give a small unit leader real-time mission command as they are maneuvering their force. It’s not just voice communications. Now it’s the network.”

Asked to characterize the scope of the new network paradigm, Morrison returned to these two capabilities, offering, “Now we are truly going to be able to conduct mission command on the move. This is going to be a mobile network that supports mobile operations. And that’s across the full spectrum. It’s not just designed for what we are doing in Afghanistan. It’s also designed for a force-on-force fight. It’s also designed for another contingency operation. And it’s also uniquely suited and flexible enough to be put into Afghanistan.”

Leveraging NIE

Morrison emphasized the linkage between the upcoming fielding of CS13 and the NIE process to date.

“We said all along that we wanted to leverage the NIE to make sure that we do the integration prior to handing a network capability off to an operational formation,“ he began. So 2/1 AD (2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division) became the First Unit Equipped with Capability Set 13 during NIE 12.2.

“As you look at the brigades that we are getting ready to field beginning October 1st, you are starting to see the whole NIE construct and the underlying model starting to work,” said Morrison. “We took all the components out to Fort Bliss. We made sure we had them properly integrated. We validated that architecture, figuring out what was working, what wasn’t, and what we still have to fine tune as we move forward to fielding other units. Then, once we made sure we had it integrated appropriately we were able to make an informed decision toward fielding to brigades in accordance with Army Force Generation requirements,” he said.

“The first two brigades we will be fielding [after 2/1 AD] will be the 3rd and 4th Brigades of the 10th Mountain Division,” he noted. “Those fielding efforts will start this fall. Our acquisition teammates are already conducting fielding meetings and sessions with the effected units as well as with Forces Command.”

The 4th Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division is third on the modernization list for CS13.

A clear alignment

Morrison emphasized that CS13 features a clear alignment between the Army’s network modernization and vehicle modernization strategies.

“The first three brigades will go to the next deployers, and those will be MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected)-based sets. Then we are going to do the same thing for the three units that are going to replace those three units,” he said.

The major systems used by the brigades will include 639 Nett Warriors, 775 Rifleman Radios, 665 AN/PRC 117G Wideband Tactical Radios and 48 WIN-T equipped MRAPs, Army officials said. The brigades also will get the Blue Force Tracking 2 Joint Capability Release on all MRAPs and other vehicles and Tactical Ground Reporting (TIGR) servers at the platoon level.

Going forward

“We have also identified the other units that will be receiving Capability Set 13 a little further out in the fiscal year,” he continued. “One that I would highlight is that we are also providing Capability Set 13 to a brigade in Korea in mid-to-late FY13. So we’re not just focused on Army Force Generation requirements for next deployers [to Afghanistan], but we are also looking in accordance with the new Defense Planning Guidance toward the Pacific as well.”

The brigade in Korea will also receive an MRAP-based set.

Asked how the CS13 fielding to eight brigades might mandate communications architecture changes at parallel or higher command levels, Morrison clarified that CS13 “will actually come in something like two varieties.

“You will have a fully integrated CS13 unit, with robust mission command on the move and connecting dismounted troopers to the network. But, in addition, every other unit inside that ARFORGEN cycle is going to receive what we call Capability Set 13 Baseline. That’s important because we have to make sure that everybody inside that ARFORGEN cycle is completely interoperable. So we define that baseline as: the transport communications systems that will sit outside a tactical operations center to provide interoperability with those other eight brigades; the components inside that TOC that give the commander the latest mission-command capabilities and applications; and a minimum mission command on the move capability, which we have defined as the Joint Capability Release program.

“So it’s really not just fielding to those eight brigades. It involves fielding across an entire Army Force Generation cycle,” he added.

“So we are going to get these capabilities into theater as quickly as we can,” he said. “And we are working very diligently with U.S. Forces Afghanistan to make sure that we do it smartly.

"The thing I would leave you with is that we have moved past planning to have a network modernization strategy to not only implementing it through the NIE construct but now executing it through fieldings,” he said.

“You will see that in eight brigades in FY13 with an additional six in Capability Set 14. And as we move into the fall NIE (NIE 13.1 in October/November 2012) you will start seeing us beginning the hard work to make the smart adjustments from the integrated network baseline that we have now in CS13 – from both a technical and operational perspective – as we look toward fielding Capability Set 14.”

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