WASHINGTON — During the last 16 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, networks were housed inside forward operating bases, and mobility was not a requirement, said Lt. Gen. Bruce T. Crawford.
Then Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, beginning in 2014, demonstrated that fixed networks used for command and control could easily be attacked and destroyed by peer adversaries, Crawford said. That revelation was a wakeup call.
Crawford, the army’s chief information officer and G-6, spoke earlier this month at the Association of the U.S. Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition.
“The tactical network in its current state will not work in a highly mobile, contested fight with peer adversaries,” he stated bluntly. “It’s a 16-year problem in need of a one-year solution.”
The tactical network cannot keep up with the maneuver force, he explained. At the start of each combat training center rotation, for instance, it takes 40 to 50 hours just to stand up the network and four to five hours to reestablish the network during movement of a tactical operation center, or TOC.
Not only is the network slow to set up, it also broadcasts its location and the location of its users, with its own electromagnetic signature and that of the generators that power it, Crawford said.
If an electromagnetic, or EM signal can be detected coming from a TOC, enemy sensors can hone in on the TOC and then it can be destroyed by direct or indirect fire, he said. “That’s a real game-changer.”
Other network communications capabilities needed by the maneuver force, he noted, are better satellite protection, anti-jamming systems and communications not dependent on line-of-sight and GPS.
Maj. Gen. John B. Morrison Jr., commander, U.S. Army Cyber Center of Excellence, or Cyber CoE, agreed with Crawford’s assessment, noting that on the future battlefield, a command post “will have to move every 30 to 60 minutes just to be survivable.”
To move at that speed will require network equipment to be containerized and highly mobile. Additionally, systems will need to connect using secure Wi-Fi rather than cables, he said.
To reduce EM signature, traditional generators will need to be replaced by smart power systems that don’t broadcast their locations, he added.
Another problem with the network, Morrison said, is that the common operating picture, or COP, which is used for things like blue-force tracking, is not interoperable with systems used by the other services.
Not only must the network accessible across the joint force, it must also must be accessible to coalition partners as well, he said, with the ability to grant access to the right level of information they need to know.
Morrison said Cyber CoE is working with Mission Command CoE and industry to come up with integrative requirements to answer for all of the vulnerabilities he and Crawford discussed.
He added that there needs to be a periodic review of all requirements “to ensure they’re aligned to emerging threats that are changing almost daily.”
Crawford concluded that the 2014 wakeup call in Ukraine that he mentioned wasn’t the only “thought provoking” thing that led him to the realization that the network had serious issues. There is also an underlying failure in the Army to adapt.
During a recent seminar, an industry leader addressed to topic of why businesses fail. “They fail to anticipate the impact of strategic change in their particular marketplace,” he said, “so when there’s a shift in their marketplace, they’re not postured for change.”
As new technologies become available to address the network crisis, “we’re not agile enough to leverage the technologies” so in a sense, the Army is like one of those failing businesses, he said.
In order to stay agile and keep ahead of the peer threat, Crawford said new, disruptive technologies should be quickly integrated into certain Army units to see how they can be employed.
Also, program managers will need to “migrate away from programs of record to standards of record,” he said, explaining that the current mindset of a program of record is fielding a new system for 35 years. Those systems can quickly become obsolete.
Maj. Gen. Randy S. Taylor, commander, Communications-Electronics Command, added to Crawford’s analysis, suggesting that from the very beginning, language should be written into contracts that will prevent system obsolescence, such as allowing for future enhancements that could come from spiral development.
Also, upfront negotiations should be made to ensure the Army has intellectual property rights to critical components and software so the Army’s organic industrial base can produce them should a contractor or subcontractor go out of business or quit making the parts.
About 30 percent of the cost of a new system goes into developing, testing, acquiring and then fielding new systems, he pointed out. Around 70 percent of the cost is sustainment of that system, so there’s a lot of room to negotiate in the contract up front.
The Army might even need to outsource sustainment, something that Special Operations Command is already doing, he said.
Gary Martin, program executive officer, Command, Control and Communications-Tactical, listed seven initiatives C3T is working on.
Incremental upgrades to Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, or WIN-T, are being accelerated to provide mounted mission command capabilities to the maneuver force by 2022 instead of the planned 2026 to 2027 timeframe.
Network electronic nodes are being miniaturized so they can fit inside Strykers without tearing out seating to make space for them, he said. Additionally, the Army plans for tactical formations to have effective anti-jamming capability by 2020.
Martin also said that C3T is working on getting secure communications to brigade combat teams in event of satellite denial. And for those times when sister services and allies are using Army networks, he said, efforts are underway to provide truly common COPs for everyone.
A new generation of tactical radios is also being planned, Martin said. This will allow for secure air-ground integration. A request for proposal from industry will go out this month, he said. The radio will be Link-16-enabled, facilitating data exchange in near real time.
Finally, he said, the command is working with the National Security Agency to develop and field secure, commercial Wi-Fi to replace all of the cabling mentioned by Morrison.
Pictured above: Soldiers, from the Army Reserve 392nd Expeditionary Signal Battalion, walk past the unit’s Warfighter Information-Tactical Increment 1 Satellite Transportable Terminals on Fort Eustis, Va., Nov. 30, 2015.