U.S. Army Modernization Enters New Phase
by Paul McLeary
On Feb. 3, the Pentagon’s Defense Acquisition Board cut several remaining pieces of the Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS) modernization project, while moving the two survivors into separate program offices.
While the Class 1 unmanned aerial system and tactical ground sensors are no longer part of an Army-wide modernization effort—although units may use the sets already purchased—the SUG-V unmanned ground robot and Network Integration Kit (NIK) will see another day, according to the board. The decision also phased out the Early Infantry Brigade Combat Team program, which was the follow-on to FCS.
This doesn’t mean the Army’s modernization effort has evaporated. Enter the Brigade Combat Team Modernization program, the latest iteration of the Army’s ongoing attempt to remake how it organizes brigade structure and will operate everything from new fleets of unmanned aerial vehicles, Strykers and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, to the network that will connect ground soldiers with battalion headquarters.
While the NIK—a battlefield hub made up of the Integrated Computer System, Joint Tactical Radio System and Blue Force Tracker—survived the cuts, it may not be long for this world. “The NIK in its current form is a bridge capability,” Paul Mehney of the Army’s Program Executive Office (PEO) Integration says. “It is not the solution.”
During testing last year at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., soldiers working with the network found that they didn’t want or need to push images and video around the battlefield the way the FCS program thought necessary.
Col. Daniel Pinnell, who commands 2nd Brig., 1st Armored Div.—also known as the Army Evaluation Task Force (AETF)—which tested the communications gear at White Sands last year, tells DTI that soldiers were looking for ways to share information “horizontally,” and “we saw less of a requirement to push live video or still pictures from the squad level to brigade or battalion headquarters.” While that was the FCS vision, and “we’d [still] like the ability periodically to push vertical,” Pinnell says, “it’s more important to us to push horizontal. [Soldiers got great utility] with the addition of texting or chat equivalents.”
The Army still plans to take receipt of the first brigade sets of the now-canceled Class 1 and ground sensors currently under contract, but will not field them. The SUG-V is slated for two more brigade sets, while the NIK will continue for one more brigade set—for a total of two—but at this point there are no plans to continue past that.
The AETF plans a brigade-size exercise at White Sands this summer to test the next generation of network connectivity and how to integrate communications in irregular, hybrid and peer-on-peer conflicts. The 1st Sqdn., 1st Cavalry, Pinnell says, will have three troops in the fight, one equipped with MRAPs, one with Bradleys and one with Strykers, to see how the squadron commander manages those assets in light of “the experiences gained over the last 6-7 years by us and others and as highlighted by the Army Capstone Concept.” The situation facing the 1/1 will be “fundamentally mechanized on mechanized,” but also include “paramilitary as well as a limited number of ‘cops’ in those areas, complicating the blue force commander’s operations. He’s not going to have a simple movement to contact—he’s going to have to move to contact on a dirty battlefield.”
While operating concepts and multi-vehicle network integration proceeds with mixed units, Jerry Tyree, the director of White Sands operations for PEO Integration, says the Army will also test new software for the Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below Blue Force Tracker called Joint Capabilities Release, to provide connectivity to portions of the unit that don’t have a NIK, wideband waveform or ground-mobile radio capability.
While these tests are slated to run throughout the summer, the Army is also contacting industry to solicit ideas for better network integration. It will be looking at two needs, Mehney says: technical readiness and technical maturity. “Is it easily integrated into the tactical network at a brigade level?” he asks. The technologies that the Army wants industry to show could be hardware or software.
“We may need Y still, or a cheaper X solution that’s easily integrated, so we’re going to give the acquisition community a list of requirements” to support the capability set that the Army plans to fully test in 2015-16.