U.S. Army Brigade Combat Team Modernization (BCTM) has embarked on a different path following the results of a mid-January Defense Acquisition Board (DAB) review, which was formalized in a subsequent Acquisition Decision Memorandum signed on Feb. 3, 2011. The new path significantly alters the earlier course established for the Early-Infantry Brigade combat Team (E-IBCT) activities underway at Ft. Bliss/White Sands Missile Range.
According to a Feb. 4, 2011 release from Department of the Army, the service “announced today that it decided to continue low-rate initial production of two elements of the Early-Infantry Brigade Combat Team (E-IBCT) program – the Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle and tactical network system [Network Integration Kit (NIK). The E-IBCT investment of network technologies and software provide a foundation for growth of the Army’s tactical network.”
“The Army will no longer pursue the Unattended Ground Sensors and the Class 1 Unmanned Air System elements of the program,” the announcement read. “The Army will transition the procurement of small unmanned ground vehicles and tactical network systems to program executive offices with primary responsibility for these systems.”
Paul Mehney, spokesman for the Army modernization effort, offered, “The most logical question is, not only what did the Army get for its investment in the FCS network, but also in the E-IBCT effort? And there are three key things that I want to point out that will factor into the larger network strategy.”
“First, the E-IBCT investment provided the infrastructure that will allow the Army to grow the tactical network capability,” he began. “That capability is increasingly requiring an agile and iterative acquisition approach. So all of that investment allowed you to get to the foundation that can be built upon.”
“Second, what we got out of this was soldier feedback that said transferring sensor data is fine. Being able to share pictures is fine. But what the user really validated was, still pushing the connectivity down to the soldier level and the ability to ‘collaborate’ information – white board, chat, voice messaging, etcetera – and to be able to do that from the soldier up and from the higher echelon back down. That was validated as being the key to what we are now terming the ‘tactical network edge’ – down to that soldier level.”
According to Mehney, the third important payoff from FCS and E-IBCT is that the investment has helped provide opportunities for industry of all sizes to participate in the Army’s tactical network strategy.
“So what you are now beginning to see come out of this and come on line is a foundation that enables network architectural growth, particularly in three categories,” he said. “First, you now have backbone waveforms – specifically WNW, SRW, and legacy – including SINCGARS voice – that are non-proprietary and will be available for people to plug them into systems they are developing. Second, we are moving toward a common operating environment / common computing environment – open architecture and non-proprietary – that people can plug into. Now industry will have a standard that they can build to, both in waveforms and a common operating environment. And that common operating environment will come on line in the next couple months. Third, all of that allows for the launch of a non-proprietary and competitive business approach to support network ‘Capability Set’ development.”
“So, the emerging tactical network strategy that is coming out of the G3/5/7 LANDWARNET office – which is what we are going to be ‘building to’ and ‘evaluating to’ – now has an emphasis on delivering capability down to the soldier level and. Most importantly, to synchronize that with the maturing Army Forces Generation (ARFORGEN) process. And the way we are going to do that is to begin to formulate iterative network ‘capability sets’ on a two year basis – and now that we have the foundation built we can do this – to develop, evaluate, test and field [enhanced capabilities] prior to deployment.”
By comparison, he characterized the infusion of network technologies into theater now as “more of an ad hoc basis.”
“The need for capabilities comes up; we find a solution; we get it to theater,” he observed. “Well, guess where the integration work takes place [under that model]? In theater. So now, with this emerging strategy, and the acquisition strategy supporting it, we are dedicating a ‘full brigade’ to test, evaluate, integrate, and develop doctrine to support these capability sets.”
That “full brigade” is 2nd Brigade. 1st Armor Division (2/1 AD). Unlike the former “partial brigade” design of 5th brigade / 1st Armor Division (5/1 AD) Army Evaluation Task Force (AETF), 2/1 AD is described as “a full brigade” of “4000+ soldiers” that includes light, heavy, and Stryker components [Note: 5/1 AD was recently “reflagged” as 2/1 AD, maintaining the same commander and many of the same key command personnel].
“So you now have a 4,000 man ‘plus’ brigade that is going to be dedicated to doing tactical network integration and doctrine,” he said. “That process is starting this year and we are now aligning the programs of record to deployment schedules and the ARFORGEN process.”
Under the new structure, the first “capability set” that the Army is seeking to support is CS 2013-2014 (CS 13-14).
“The capabilities that will be integrated, evaluated and fielded to that set are going to go through a series of tests and evaluations in 2011 ad 2012,” Mehney explained. “The next set, which will; be a ‘stronger set,’ will be CS 15-16. For that set, we are going to begin to take a look at what will go in it, we will be reaching out to industry, Army laboratories, and academia. We are going to see what’s out there. You are going to see some Broad Agency Announcements and proposal requests coming out in the next couple of months to fill capability gaps for those capability sets. Then we are going to start to evaluate that technology, both in the R&D base and the acquisition base. Then, what proves out we will get down there to the AETF as part of the Brigade Combat Team ‘integration exercises.’ And those exercises will be the evaluation points that will help form those future capability sets.”