U.S. Army Soldiers and Enginers are evaluating currently available and maturing industry solutions for potential armored formation network integration.
According to a press release from 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, Army recently conducted a pilot to evaluate new and emerging commercial network on-the-move, technologies integrated onto available surrogate armored vehicle platforms, as well as expeditionary at-the-quick-halt satellite communications. The pilot effort was conducted to inform the Army’s Capability Set 25 network design, the concept of operations for On-The-Move, or OTM, networked armored formations from division to battalion, and market research to determine currently available and maturing industry solutions for armored formation network integration.
The pilot unit – the “Spartan Brigade,” 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division – used and provided feedback on several commercial prototype equipment sets, as well as operational tactics, techniques and procedures, during the pilot at Fort Stewart, Georgia, from Jan. 24 to Feb. 11, 2022.
Of the three battalions in the pilot, the 3rd Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment, 2nd ABCT, 3rd ID, was tasked to assess the first of the three equipment sets in the pilot. This equipment enabled upper tactical internet, or TI, mission command while moving in military armored vehicles. This technology empowered us to set up its operation centers faster and with greater ease than our current capabilities allow.
As the 3rd Bn., 67th AR, network and communications officer, it was my responsibility to help train Soldiers on the new communications equipment, work with the industry team who integrated the equipment into the platforms, ensure we conducted all of brigade’s thread assessments, while ensuring the Army collected the data they needed. My role was often as a liaison who connected the Army project leads, the brigade operations team and my battalion staff. Months of preparation, training and planning came down to eight days in the field at Fort Stewart, validating what this equipment could do for an armored battalion.
For the pilot, 3rd Bn., 67th AR’s focus was to assess a battalion line-of-sight, or LOS, mesh and a commercial flat panel satellite terminal link. The battalion participants can confirm, the equipment focused on flexible, sustainable and fast communication systems that benefitted the formation from the company to the brigade level.
The satellite communications, or SATCOM, link that we assessed was facilitated through a flat panel, mounted on top of our communications vehicle. This SATCOM link enabled upper TI services between our battalion and brigade. With the flat panel, we could successfully use our mission command systems, including Command Post of the Futures, or CPOFs, Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data Systems, or AFATADs, and Command Post Computing Environment, or CPCE, as well as tactical operations center intercommunications voice calls. Currently, the network and communications command post node, or CPN, team has a long setup process to provide services in the field. This setup includes connecting and grounding our Satellite Transport Terminal, or STT, configuring our network stacks, connecting a generator and running fiber to our clients. A benefit of the OTM pilot equipment is that from a cold start, it takes one third of the time to pull services for clients. The OTM equipment does not require a STT, grounding and generator services and is easier for my Soldiers to operate. With this faster set up time, my network and communications team allowed for our field artillery and maneuver operations Soldiers to begin sending fire missions and reports to brigade faster than ever before. The ease of not needing as much support equipment and having simplified operator tasks freed up our team to focus on the fight at hand.
At one point, while assessing the OTM upper TI connection, operators noticed the SATCOM link was down. Once the unit took a short halt, the SATCOM link reestablished automatically within a few minutes. At a battalion level, 3rd Bn., 67th AR, does not currently require the operation of mission command platforms on the move. However, this mobile equipment now gives the unit the ability to alter how they currently operate to use increased communication speed between the brigade and battalion levels.
The pilot also used a subsidiary ottoman-sized satellite dish that sits on the ground and connects with fiber to the CPN stacks, as an alternate SATCOM link from the flat panel. It deploys quickly and can be stationed away from the CPN. This allows the unit to push deep into the wood line for proper cover and concealment. The satellite dish can sit at the edge of a clearing, allowing a direct SATCOM link, while maintaining low visibility and far distance from the unit. This could be a tactical accessory for a battalion network and communications officer to keep handy.
My battalion’s favorite pilot feature was the battalion LOS mesh. The mesh is a reliable communication tool that enables clear voice and data between vehicles. Not only does the mesh work battalion internal, it also allows each node to talk directly to the brigade with voice and data through the SATCOM link. If a node is within the battalion mesh, it can reach the brigade. The LOS mesh facilitates tactical operations center network, or TOC-Net, capabilities. The TOC-Net capabilities were used due to the ability of all nodes having fast and smart-phone level audio connection within the mesh and back to brigade. As long as there is a low electromagnetic signature, the battalion LOS mesh is a communication advantage that greatly benefits an armored unit, such as 3rd Bn., 67th AR.
The Armored Formation On-The-Move Network Pilot provided a glimpse of the future for Army command and control nodes and how the formation is empowered through developing network and communication technology. During the pilot, the 3rd Bn., 67th AR, experienced faster, redundant and simplified communication equipment reaching from company to battalion nodes.