A soldier inspects a mobile Warfighter Information Network – Tactical (WIN-T) network node. (Photo by Amy Walker, PEO C3T Public Affairs)

Commentary

Can the Army master information dominance on the battlefield?

Today’s missions are often conducted in remote settings that are detached from the connected, everyday world. Those environments will only grow more lethal and disruptive, according to the National Defense Strategy, which means troops need an uninterrupted supply of accurate data on which to base split-second decisions -- such as determining if, how, and when to engage in combat.

The challenge for the U.S. military is that legacy communications networks aren’t generally designed for harsh, hostile locations and can often leave troops without vital information at the edge. Given this reality, how can the U.S. military pursue a strategy of “information dominance” against its adversaries?

The Army's Enhanced Expeditionary Signal Battalions (ESB-E) will help. The pilot program to provide alternative tactical network equipment to Warfighter Information Network Tactical (WIN-T) equipment will see the development of command capabilities unimpeded by the surrounding environment or disparate communication systems. In addition, ESB-E communication systems will be capable of rapid deployment and portability without extensive logistical planning.

Constructing an infrastructure to support unimpeded, secure communications is critical to the success of any military force. Better technical capabilities will help soldiers make better, more informed decisions, and ESB-E is a significant step toward keeping the Army ahead of U.S. adversaries in the battle for information dominance.

Here are three ways the U.S. military can leverage ESB-E’s true potential:

Deliver uninterrupted communications in hostile environments

Troops must travel light and not carry more equipment than is strictly necessary. This means that their communication systems need to be compact, lightweight and modular so that they can be set up and taken down quickly.

In addition, such systems should be ruggedized to withstand volatile environments, operate reliably on land, air, and sea, and be capable of surviving air drops, harsh surroundings and extreme weather. This technology needs to be built with 810G certification as a goal from the beginning, not as an afterthought.

Scalability is also key. Any solution needs to be capable of extending horizontally as mission requirements or conditions change and vertically as troop numbers fluctuate.

To ensure seamless communications between U.S. troops and allies on the battlefield, technologies must be interoperable with each other and with legacy systems. The capability to integrate multiple communications systems and interfaces is vital. Since communications systems will be increasingly virtualized in the future, much of the interoperability work will be

performed at the hypervisor level with open application programming interfaces to enable agile development and rapid technology adoption.

Securely connect troops at the network’s edge

Today’s battlefields tend to be disconnected, intermittent, limited (DIL) bandwidth environments, but the ESB-E will literally change the communications battlefield. The Army’s communications systems must be able to dynamically and securely connect to Troops at the edge via satellite, Wi-Fi hotspot, commercial and tactical radio, or cellular technology. Dynamically selecting the best path for reach back eliminates the need to reconfigure the system in the field, enhancing warfighter dominance in theater.

In addition, routing modules should support Multi-WAN, Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) and Networking (SDN) capabilities, which are designed for network enclaves. A key step on the way to full SDN deployment in remote areas is Network Function Virtualization (NFV). NFV can be used to virtualize network functions as routing, firewalls, and load-balancing, and abstract them from dedicated hardware. Crucially, these functions can be provisioned or de-provisioned on the fly, using automation tools according to the requirements of a given mission.

Offer world-class situational awareness capabilities

Elevating the situational awareness of a soldier can transform his or her performance and effectiveness on the battlefield. Current techniques will be radically enhanced through quality of service improvements, real-time communications, and integration with sensors in the battlefield. An increasing number of commercial companies are bringing their innovative thinking and practices to the defense space, miniaturizing and virtualizing products to suit the requirements of warfighters at the edge. This means the transformative potential of situational awareness technologies will only get stronger.

In an ideal world, a solider would get all the intelligence they need in DIL environments from a portable device that is just as intuitive and easy-to-use as the Android or iOS smartphone they use at home. But the reality is, specific hardware is required at the edge to make that happen. The Army will need to extend cloud capabilities into the battlefield that would normally be housed in a data center – in essence, creating an infrastructure that can travel seamlessly together with their soldiers, wherever they may tread.

About the Author

Chris Ericksen, Chief Revenue Officer at Klas Telecom Government, Inc.

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