Army pushes capability sets for tactical nets

Battlefield-tested tactical networks are being gradually upgraded as the Army seeks to push more data back and forth across its mobile networks.

U.S. Army tactical networks are gradually evolving through a series of upgrades called “capability sets” that seek to apply lessons learned on the battlefield.

The latest version, Capability Set 13, was deployed last year with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan. Program officials said they are leveraging the lessons learned while “operating in austere environments” along with the service’s Network Integration Evaluation initiative to develop future capability sets.

The goal, according to Brig. Gen. Dan Hughes, program executive officer for Army tactical command, control and communications, is a “tactical network that allows us to [provide soldiers] with something like what they have at their houses.” Hence, there is a heavy emphasis on simplifying the use of tactical networks on the battlefield, Hughes added.

“We’re going to work on a common operating environment” that is “simple to use,” Hughes said. Once users are trained on a common platform, Hughes said they can move on to “graduate-level analysis.”

Another goal, added Col. Mark Elliott, director of the Army’s LandWarNet Mission Command, is integrating Army network components into a “single, holistic approach.”

Hughes and Elliott spoke Oct. 22 during the Association of the U.S. Army exhibition in Washington.

Elliott said the Army’s Network Integration Evaluation is intended to bring “soldiers, materiel developers, engineers and testers together in a realistic operational environment.” NIE was launched in June 2011 and Capability Set 13 was deployed with the 10th Mountain Division in July 2012.

Based on that battlefield experience, the Army office is beginning development of Capability Set 14. Elliott said he remains focused on supporting deployed forces but his office is now looking at tactical network upgrades as the war in Afghanistan winds down. “We’ve got a new set of mandates” and have identified “a new set of [capability] gaps,” he added.

The Army continues to identify capability gaps as it focuses on near-term network modernization. The message to industry, Elliott said, is “You need to get further out ahead of us” to help fill capability gaps.

Ultimately, Elliott said future network capability sets should be designed to push “more and more data to the tactical edge.”

An ongoing challenge is finding greater network capacity as more data is moved from mobile commanders to troops in the field. Hughes said the current tactical network has sufficient bandwidth for some applications but not enough for demanding applications like full-motion video. “We are going to optimize the network,” he added, to squeeze out as much bandwidth as possible.

Elliott added that the Army is “collapsing” networks and making tradeoffs on, for example, intelligence and battlefield operations that he said are probably not operating at full capacity.

Meanwhile, Hughes said, the Army office is looking to create an apps “marketplace.” Tactical networks based on the capability set approach serve as “gateways,” he added, “but we need more apps to push information back and forth.”

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