Pentagon parade previews Army network upgrade

Pentagon parade previews Army network upgrade

Army leaders will trot out the latest smartphones, radios and satellites in a demo in the Pentagon courtyard Thursday, to show the rest of the military exactly what soldiers have been doing for the past 18 months down at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.

The new communications gizmos make up the Army’s new network trumpeted as the service’s top modernization priority. Pieces of Capability Set 13 will be on display for military officials to see on their way to get a sandwich or iced coffee at the Center Courtyard Cafe, previously the infamous Ground Zero Cafe.

(Pentagon tour groups are told that the Soviets thought the small building in the very center of the Building was the entrance to some kind of underground bunker, and as such it was an aimpoint for ICBMs. But as we know, it was the snack bar.)


The Army will start fielding Capability Set 13 in October to the 10th Mountain Division, which will deploy to Afghanistan before the end of 2012 or at the start of 2013, depending on deployment schedules.

Parading around Capability Set 13 also gives Army leadership the chance to brag about its Network Integration Evaluation, which service officials credit with developing and testing the network quicker than most expected. Granted, “quick” is a relative term when it comes to Army acquisition. Though Army generals brag about bringing smartphones onto the battlefield, plenty of soldiers’ grandmothers answer their Joe’s calls at home on an iPhone or Android device.

The 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division has done the NIE twice a year since 2011 to help develop the Army’s next generation battlefield communications system. Soldiers have completed only its third iteration and there is already talk of significant changes coming for the NIE.

To start, the name will change. Army officials plan to change the name of the NIE to the Capabilities Integration Evaluation by 2014. The service wants to take the focus exclusively off the network as the service evolves from the baseline communications system it is putting in place now.

Second, expect to see a lot more Strykers and heavies rolling through the New Mexico desert as the service plans to develop its heavier vehicle fleet after it placed the initial focus primarily on the infantry brigade combat teams.

Next year, the Army wants to integrate its network into Strykers. In 2014, the Army’s heavy fleet, including its Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles, will be the focus. Early testing has started on the Bradleys. Army Capt. Sean Vanden Dries said the Army has found problems using the Bradleys as a transfer point for fire support data although he cautioned it’s way too early to draw conclusions yet.

The Army is already testing alternatives for the Ground Combat Vehicle competition, although don’t ask to see these vehicles. One Army journalist has already been scolded for photographing the GCV alternatives driving down the roads at White Sands Missile Range.

What the Army has found is that it must change the way it buys weapons and equipment that performs well at the NIE. The defense industry has criticized the Army for requesting the companies go through the expensive process of submitting their equipment for the NIE without any assurance the Army would actually offer any contracts.

That will change. Army officials will introduce the request for proposals process at the front end of the NIE in order to purchase equipment faster after the NIE is completed. This will slow down how fast the Army can introduce new equipment to the NIE. Col. Hughes says the delay is worth it since it means ultimately deploying the best equipment faster.

This move could also have the unintended effect of reducing the amount of systems the soldiers have to learn to use before heading out to the field. Soldiers said this would provide a welcome rest as they admitted some of the more complicated systems are difficult to learn in the small time frame they receive in order to complete two NIEs per year.

Of course, much of this won’t be discussed Thursday, when Pentagon workers will intead spend more time balancing their Diet Pepsis with one hand and playing with the new smartphones — perhaps uploaded with battlefield software like Soldiers Eyes — with the other. The planned NIE changes, however, could affect the way soldiers communicate on the battlefield more than any new Android app seen on these combat smartphones.

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Complaining that soldiers don’t have the ability to use iOS or Android-like devices on the battlefield makes almost exactly as much sense as complaining that they can’t take limitless hot running water or A/C power with them to the battlefield. The common theme is INFRASTRUCTURE — you get power or water by being connected to a power grid or water system; you get cell phone service by being connected to a FIXED, STATIONARY cellular infrastructure.

If you have to carry your water with you, hot showers are a lot harder to come by. If you have to generate your own A/C power with fuel you carry (or heavy batteries), power will be scarce. And if you have to carry your own comms routing and networking infrastructure with you, you aren’t going to get anything that looks like 4G broadband service to the soldier.

“Though Army generals brag about bringing smartphones onto the battlefield, plenty of soldiers’ grandmothers answer their Joe’s calls at home on an iPhone or Android device.”

What a dumb line! So the Army didn’t introduce freeze dried foods because some soldier brought some to the field beforehand? The same can be said of velcro, printers, laptop computers or a dozen other at the time new technologies. What’s the point except to take a cheap shot at Army Generals (of which I am not a fan) but might be worth considering when you don’t get the access you want to write an article and get paid…

BTW, try communicating with anyone on the “battlefield” with that smartphone you called Grandma on when you’re in the bush without a cell tower.

Your asking the impossible about the Army using smart ways to buy weapons or accessories never will happen. Overall glad to see NIE working well. I doubtr GCV or other waste will last. Even the Sec of Defense has started to plan for sequestration. Time to work on small project that work like NIE.

Every time we try new things, we always try to do too much for too little dollars and fail. Every time there’s a small success, the GOs start to talk about the small success as the biggest feat of civilization and exponentially expand the supposed capabilities beyond the possible (not to mention the laws of physics). Then, everybody believes the new world order and throws tons of cash to buy and field the new revolutionary ideas. Exactly what FCS did and we know how that ended up.

While I don’t care for the almost sarcastic writing style of the author, I do appreciate the content. Specifically, the name change (NIE to CIE) to protect the guilty — just as was done when we left FCS, was informative. As for industry not appreciating the test-before-buy; too bad — the commercial world either tests a product before they release it or, if it’s unsuccessful, the product doesn’t sell. The defense industry should stand behind its products rather than forcing the DoD to pay for a “works program” for the seemingly endless number of years it takes to modify/fix/update a faulty system/tool. At the end of the day, the taxpayer gives congress money, which in turn gives the DoD money, to purchase a product; the NIE approach appears to make industry actually produce something prior to the purchase decision. This is a good thing.

that is where you are behind the times. You can have mobile cell towers on Hummers or even in drones. It has already been field tested and it works.

Once again, Majrod, you are behind the times. As we discussed before, you don’t need a fixed cell tower. You can actually get by with a mobile cell tower in a drone or even mounted on a vehicle. Also, the smart phones fielded are hardened and not the same phone as you would get from your local cell provider.

He’s not behind the times. He understands a tactical field environment.

Field tested-yes. Works — Not exactly. Let’s see if it’s adopted and Dave still has a point. In ofensive ops or against an enemy with the ability to target blimps those techniques won’t work. You can’t not have comunication. Might work for an airfield, not for another march to Baghdad.

My comment wasn’t about the tools (which I corrected you about above). Cell towers and blimps don’t work in offensive ops or against an enemy that can interdict them.

My comments here were about the journalistic style of the writer. Read the post.

Disabled people need that money to live with pain. Civilians, which you all swore to defend, and veterans who you all swore to defend. They need the money wasted on stupid stuff.

We can relay military cellphone-like signals, but from fixed sites like blimps, UAVs, and towers. Back in the day when we had tactical phones in humvees we had the Remote Access Unit (cell phone tower on a humvee), but it only relayed UHF signals and still had to stop, be unpacked and set up, and sit there to be used.

I recall the reason the Army went to ALE and frequency agile HF. As pointed out in Clancy’s Red Storm Rising, the enemy doesn’t have to decrypt your communications to blow the heck out of your headquarters. Put a cell tower in a blimp, on a vehicle etc and it becomes a target. Satellites are good, because they are put of range of most countries’ weapons.

Deploying technology to the battlefield with the reliability demanded, is never simple or easy. Sometimes off the wall adaptions like using radar detectors in F4s to detect SAMS. but that is extremely, extremely rare.

Been there and done that. The problem is you need engineers with front line combat experience, something else that is extremely rare. And one generations combat experience rarely translates in to the next. that is why we wind up fighting a war with the previous war’s equipment.

I am a Viet Nam Vet and became an engineer, not electronic regrettably, so I have some idea of wherefore I speak.

What about the Chinese back door code on the silicon in these devices, they will have a field day in
intelligence. Smart phones are good geewizz gadgets, but they will have vulnerabilities that analog
devices and older devices don’t have. The best communications are ones that scamble the signals point to point and don’t get routed through a vulnerable network. Networks are great in the battle field simulations, but in a real battle against a modern enemy, with cyberweapons, and scrambling technology???

The Army should have learned a lot from the FCS and JTRS debacles. But they haven’t.

Lesson one: mobile adhoc networks are bandwidth hogs. They expend half their base band in network formation overhead, And once the opponent figures out your vulnerability to jammers, 90% of the rest goes down the drain to ECM which doesn’t work well. It’s time to face reality: there is no magic in bits and bytes as substitutes for bullets.. It’s time to relinquish our death grip on so-called “tactical internets”. They aren’t going to happen, and our CONOPS need to reflect LESS reliance on information we will have only intermittently at best… not more.

I guess you’ll never know majr0d, and neither will FirstDave. Thats why it’s called “a secured network”.

Um, isn’t that what battlefield communications aircraft are for? Fleets of radio relay birds? The only real problem is the constant movement through low-lying areas. And, as aggie said, drones are also capable of the task and have already been developed for civilian urban use. As long as one receiver is at altitude and has the power, the guys on the ground only need rechargeables.

And I still remember old campfire tales about nitwit colonels in choppers jamming their own networks by not taking their fingers off the transmit button, while they spent all their time telling the guys down below how worthless they were. And “network formation overhead” isn’t much of an issue: it was solved in the first few years of the web. Otherwise the web would die every morning when 99% of its users log on.

Fixed networks like our civil Internet don’t have nearly the network formation overhead of a mobile ad-hoc net over radio links. Think what would happen to Internet traffic if every node on the net was required to search out its nearest nodes by pinging them once every 30 seconds in a protocol where you first have to get allocation of a different time-frequency slot to do the ping to each of your adjacent nodes.

I might not be privy to the communication but we’ll all know if it works or not.

“The defense industry has criticized the Army for requesting the companies go through the expensive process of submitting their equipment for the NIE without any assurance the Army would actually offer any contracts.”

Yes. The Army should go the Air Force way of offering contracts without any assurance the equipment would actually work. Look at the B-2, F-22, and F-35… all had major costs overruns and the result? We have less planes than we need who perform below our intended standards.

Of all the “bright shiny objects” at NIE, how many have actually been fielded? Considering that sustainment costs are not part of NIE, I wonder how affordable this will be? Smartphone and related technologies refresh every 6 months to a year, yet it will take the Army more than 5 years to field just one generation of technology. No one is talking about what all if these “bright shiny objects” inter-operate or if they meet safety requirements.

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