Your greatest strength can become your greatest weakness if you fail to adapt to the changing conditions of your environment. The Army’s lethality is underpinned by an unrivaled culture of decentralized execution and enabled by mission command capabilities that have been far more powerful and reliable than those of any opposing force to date.
Unlike recent operations, the Army’s long-assumed strength of command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) dominance is at risk of being a potential weakness in the emerging operational environment. In this environment, sensor-rich adversaries are committed to limiting U.S. access to space, cyberspace, and the electromagnetic spectrum.
To win now and in the future, especially when facing technologically advanced adversaries, leaders trust the Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM) to ensure that their C4ISR systems are sustained and ready as conditions change throughout a complex, highly lethal, multi-domain environment.
TODAY’S BATTLEFIELD AND BEYOND
In Multi-Domain Battle, modernized and reliable mission command capabilities enable the shared understanding required to outmaneuver sophisticated adversaries. The Army’s reliance on C4ISR systems will continue to grow with the unprecedented and increasing dispersion of small, yet more interconnected, units conducting decentralized operations.
Ahead of this challenge, CECOM is finding innovative ways to simplify sustaining the most advanced C4ISR systems ever used by U.S. Soldiers. CECOM’s overarching mission is to sustain the readiness of C4ISR hardware and software in support of Army priorities and combatant commander requirements.
Sustaining C4ISR materiel readiness requires an aggressive and collaborative approach by CECOM, program executive offices (PEOs), and industry partners. CECOM, the PEOs, and more specifically program managers (PMs) must be integrated and synchronized from program acquisition inception through the transfer of C4ISR systems to the CECOM sustainment portfolio.
The decisions that PMs make early in the process significantly affect what happens in sustainment because 55 to 70 percent of a program’s life cycle funds is spent on post-acquisition operations and sustainment. The other 30 to 45 percent is spent on research, development, testing, acquisition, and fielding. This ratio is understandable when you consider how long the Army typically sustains programs after initial fielding.
LIFE CYCLE SUSTAINMENT PLAN
The life cycle sustainment plan that the PM develops in coordination with CECOM must anticipate future requirements to modify the sustainment of C4ISR systems as technology, threats, and the operational environment change.
Going beyond the plan, the CECOM Research, Development and Engineering Center developed a uniform open system architecture to future-proof systems. The center created a method to upgrade software quickly by simply replacing a capability processing card.
This method not only will eliminate the number of boxes on platforms but will also reduce redundant parts, save time and money, and diminish the logistics burdens associated with retrofits off the battlefield.
Taking future-proofing a step further, the C4ISR Electronic Warfare Modular Open Suite of Standards lays out guidelines for a universal A-kit that eliminates the need for platform-specific integration. Capabilities can be fielded as circuit cards for common chassis and components that use existing cables.
The concept of a universal A-kit is a game-changing approach because it ensures commonality across multiple platforms while allowing for rapid insertion of the latest C4ISR systems. The universal A-kit better enables Soldiers for the next fight while simplifying training. It also provides significant cost savings during the sustainment phase of the life cycle.
The C4ISR Electronic Warfare Modular Open Suite of Standards will revolutionize sustainment. It will shorten logistics tails by having a greater number of common spares and reducing costs through competition and economies of scale. Sustainers will no longer need to purchase enough spares to last more than 30 years; they will be able to perform modernization through spares and upgrade to the latest hardware every five to 10 years.
Keeping mission command capabilities ready requires that all C4ISR supply parts be available. This is an astounding challenge given the myriad systems and component parts required. There are many ways to attack this problem; among them are prompt and proactive divestiture of obsolete hardware and software.
The relationship between CECOM’s Integrated Logistics Support Center and each unit commander is key to ensuring that the Army removes outdated legacy systems from its inventory. Divesting legacy systems and establishing pure-fleet solutions with backward compatibility will ultimately reduce the overall sustainment and supply footprint.
As technology advances and systems become more software-defined rather than hardware-defined, the most rapidly evolving facet of the multi-domain sustainment challenge is software. Every piece of modern hardware requires thousands, if not millions, of lines of software code to operate.
Unfortunately, software sustainment has often been the last consideration in acquisition planning. Historically, the Army has not placed a high priority on the long-term software sustainment challenge. As a result, a growing and underfunded requirement to renew hundreds of thousands of disparate, legacy software licenses is competing with the Army’s ability to modernize and sustain better capabilities.
By addressing software sustainment early in the acquisition cycle and securing the appropriate intellectual property rights to the software code, the Army is significantly improving its future ability to address software modernization and sustainment.
A significant factor of the software sustainment challenge when facing a technologically savvy adversary is the constant need for protection against cyber vulnerabilities that an adversary could exploit.
Distributing information assurance vulnerability alert software patches to dispersed units around the world has been difficult because it involves physical delivery. We are changing that paradigm by employing over-the-network information assurance vulnerability alert patching.
A joint effort between CECOM’s Software Engineering Center and CECOM’s Tobyhanna Army Depot delivers protection against vulnerabilities securely and almost virtually–as quickly as those vulnerabilities are discovered. This ability to rapidly react to remain operable is exactly what Soldiers need for reliable, secure operations.
NEW ACQUISITION CONSTRUCT
CECOM will be decisively engaged in the new acquisition construct of “adapt and buy.” CECOM, along with the Army Materiel Command, will provide science and technology, contracting, and sustainment expertise to the cross-functional teams that are the cornerstone of the new acquisition construct. In the area of sustainment, the focus will be on reducing the demand on Soldiers and the Army’s operational formations.
CECOM will reduce demands on Soldiers by collaborating early with PMs on strategies that will make sustainment intuitive. These sustainment strategies must focus on not burdening Soldiers while, at the same time, not sparking force structure growth.
This will require the milestone decision authority to make tough decisions early in a system’s life cycle regarding intellectual property and technical data rights. These two components are critical to the Army’s ability to sustain a system organically.
To meet the challenges described above, CECOM’s amazingly capable individuals and teams and its industry partners will continue to meet the nation’s needs through innovation, collaboration, and low-tech elbow grease–100 percent of the people doing 100 percent of the work.
CECOM is on the leading edge of the evolving relationship among Soldiers, machines, and software, and the risk of meeting technologically advanced adversaries is increasing. The stakes are high, and the time has never been more critical for CECOM to get C4ISR sustainment right.
Maj. Gen. Randy S. Taylor is the commander of CECOM and Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. He holds a bachelor’s degree in systems management from the University of Maryland and master’s degrees in telecommunications management and national security and strategic studies. He is a graduate of the Naval War College.
This article was published in the January-February 2018 issue of Army Sustainment magazine.