The U.S. Army’s current tactical network delivers a wide range of capabilities for warfighters, includ- ing unprecedented communications on the move. But the complexity can overwhelm commanders who have countless critical tasks to complete and
soldiers’ lives in their hands. Future tactical networks will
automate many processes and may be smart enough to
advise commanders, similar to JARVIS,
Iron Man’s computerized assistant.
The Army’s current networking tech-
nology includes Capability Set 13, a
package of network components, associated equipment
and software that provides an integrated capability from
the tactical operations center to the dismounted soldier. It
supports Army warfighters in Afghanistan and provides a
host of capabilities not offered by the wide area network in
use as recently as 2012. The Army has fielded the capability
set down to the company commander level with a package
known as the Soldier Network Extension, which delivers
some challenges along with the added capabilities. “The
company commander is trying to maneuver around the
battlefield, and he’s trying to command a company, and he
has these new pieces of kit that he has to learn how to use,
and it’s complicated. That’s part of the problem,” says Jen-
nifer Zbozny, chief engineer for the Army Program Execu-
tive Office for Command, Control and Communications-
Tactical. “If you had an iPhone with an interface you didn’t
understand, and you had to do a million things and log on
a million different ways, you’d probably get tired of it and
decide it’s not worth the effort.”
A new, simplified version of the Soldier Network Exten-
sion will make an appearance at the service’s upcoming
Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) and will be included
with the next-generation network known as Network 2.0,
Zbozny reports. “What’s going into NIE 15. 1 is a much,
much simpler version of the Soldier Network Extension.
We believe it will go a long way in addressing the concerns
we’ve gotten,” Zbozny offers.
Other challenges include jamming and communicating at the same time, finding more efficient ways to
use limited spectrum, standardizing technologies and
processes for networking with international partners,
reassigning and reorganizing units, reducing redundant
network operations tools, and reducing the size, weight,
power and costs of network equipment, all while keeping the network secure. “There’s a lot of work underway
to simplify the entire architecture and how we put that
architecture together,” Zbozny relates.
Army officials envision three future networks that
will progressively simplify matters for the warfighter.
Network 2.0 will be fielded for the 2014 and 2015 fiscal
period. The Simplified Tactical Army Reliable Network
(STARNet) is being developed for the fiscal 2016-2020
time frame, and the Network after Next (NaN) will support warfighters in 2020 and beyond. The first focuses
largely on simplification, the second on automation and
the third on intelligent networking.
Officials are currently drawing up a road map to
guide them toward the future vision of a robust, cost-effective, integrated solution that mimics the simplicity and capacity of commercial common networks. “A
big focus area of Network 2.0, STARNet and NaN has
to do with simplifying so that we can get to a push-button architecture. That’s the vision. I push a button,
BY GEORGE I.
Future warfighters may use a
simplified but intelligent network.