Network Cross-Functional Team, acquisition partners experimenting to modernize tactical network

By: Justin Eimers, PEO C3T

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Soldiers operate a vehicle with the WIN-T communication system during an exercise at the U.S. Army National Training Center, Calif. The Network Cross-Functional Team, one of eight modernization-focused teams, is part of an Army-wide mission to reduce the time it takes to procure and field new equipment for Soldiers. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo )

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- The Army's Network Cross-Functional Team, or N-CFT -- one of eight CFTs established to tackle the service's modernization priorities -- is tasked with narrowing capability gaps in the Army's Mission Command Network through user experimentation, assessments and technical demonstrations. The outcomes of these processes rapidly transition leader-approved capabilities into the Army Acquisition System. Direct coordination with acquisition and requirements counterparts leverages a team-of-teams approach and drives requirements validation.

"We are partnering with PEO C3T [Program Executive Office Command Control Communications-Tactical] and PEO Soldier to provide us the acquisition expertise we need, along with the ability to deliver solutions rapidly with focused integration and disciplined innovation," said Maj. Gen. Peter Gallagher, director of the N-CFT. "Our team is a group of subject matter experts, from across multiple commands, that has come together as a collective unit to execute the Army's top priorities. And, that spirit of innovation combined with rigorous discipline makes this construct pretty powerful."

Collaboration across organizations is key to streamlining the requirements process, furthering innovation and infusing industry technology into the Army's network design. The first step in the process is to determine why some capabilities being delivered are not meeting total operational needs, something that is typically the result of over-specifying requirements.

"What we are trying to do now is anchor our requirements on the first principles of preparing for and fighting in war. We need to determine what characteristics and standard requirements will help us operationally, and not specify and direct the technical requirements," said Gallagher.

Maj. Gen. David Bassett, program executive officer for C3T, said the PEO brings the structure, workforce and acquisition expertise to turn the N-CFT's good ideas and experimentation into enduring capabilities.

"The cross-functional team is driving what the network is going to be in the future. As Maj. Gen. Gallagher and the cross-functional team define what that future looks like, it is the PEO's responsibility to execute the 'how' so that we are able to deliver those capabilities in an enduring way across the Army," he said.

One such experimentation effort is focused on providing a portable, medium-to-high bandwidth beyond line-of-sight communications and networking capability to allow brigade and below formations to network locally and access mission command voice and data. Known as the Integrated Tactical Network, or ITN, the effort takes advantage of both commercial and military network transport -- to enable communications in disrupted, disconnected, intermittent and limited bandwidth environments.

"As new threats emerge, as new conditions emerge that commanders will have to operate in, the network is going to have to adapt," said CW5 Brian Wimmer, senior technical advisor to the N-CFT. "It won't be a snap-to-chalk line network where we're going to field you all this kit and everyone's going to have the same radio."

Focusing on a simplified, mobile network solution that does not overly rely on a single component, ITN is intended to provide enhanced network availability down to the small unit dismounted leader. The ITN integrates the Army's current tactical network environment (applications, devices, gateways and network transport) with commercial-off-the-shelf components and transport capabilities.

The Army continues to leverage Soldier and leader feedback from joint exercises and operations to inform ITN design decisions. This Developmental Operations, or DevOps, model of rapid adaptation and agile procurement of technology will allow the Army to modernize with speed.

"The Army is working on quick-win solutions for the network while also looking for potential future capabilities," said Gallagher. "We're going to experiment, we're going to demonstrate, we're going to adapt and buy solutions that are already proven."

The ITN began as a company-level DevOps experiment using a secure but unclassified network capability focused on the tactical edge by the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. Success of the company event led to the equipping of the Battalion for a Joint Readiness Training Center rotation last November, followed by platoon-level training exercises at Fort A.P. Hill -- held this March -- that expanded to include Mission Command capabilities.

Program Offices are also working closely with the N-CFT on the experimentation and proof-of-concept efforts underway with FORSCOM units, including the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment; 2nd Calvary Regiment; 173rd Airborne Brigade; 1st Security Forces Assistance Brigade; and 2nd Security Forces Assistance Brigade. Alignment of requirements and capability documents with the Strategic Capability Roadmap helps inform this process.

Throughout fiscal year 19, the Army will leverage brigade level scalability experimentation and Network Integration Evaluation 18.2. The Army plans to accelerate the ITN Information Systems Initial Capabilities Document and ensure the requirements meet operational needs. In partnership with the N-CFT, the acquisition community will continue to identify and deliver the components of the Army's ITN. This will inform technology selection and product development for future tactical radios products.

Leveraging Soldier feedback from events such as Network Integration Evaluations and Combat Training Center rotations, Soldier user juries and pilots, and in-theater exercises -- as well as reaching out to industry partners -- will help the Army to get needed capabilities into the hands of Soldiers at an accelerated pace, keeping them one step ahead as technology continues to evolve.

"Together, we are working toward a common solution, and we are speaking with one voice on behalf of the Army," said Gallagher. "We're not working around the acquisition community, but by, with and through them. It's important for industry to see that unity of effort from the Army and senior leaders as we continue our relationship with industry."


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