Army’s new network strategy is changing the way it fights
- By Amber Corrin
- Aug 19, 2011
The Defense Department is in the midst of a major transformation of all its business operations, driven by new budget and battlefield realities. The Army has its own part to play in that transformation, which is why it recently launched a major initiative to revolutionize the way it uses technology to support soldiers on the battlefield.
As director of the Army’s LandWarNet/Battle Command, Col. John Morrison is at the center of that effort. He said the new strategy is helping the Army move toward fielding cutting-edge IT, and its twice-yearly Network Integration Evaluation — which started in June at Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands Missile Range, N.M. — is serving as a test run for the latest software and technologies for the battlefield.
As a central focus of the strategy, integrated network capabilities are being fielded incrementally so the Army can keep up with the constantly evolving requirements of modern warfare. The strategy is aligned with the Army Force Generation model for cyclical training and deployment, and as an added bonus, it just might help facilitate DOD’s acquisition reform efforts.
Morrison recently spoke with staff writer Amber Corrin about the network strategy and how it’s affecting the Army’s march toward the future of defense IT.
FCW: What is the new network strategy, and what kind of change does it represent for the Army?
Morrison: A lot is changing. We have fundamentally changed the way we deliver the network and network capabilities to the Army. We’ve taken our programs of record and aligned them to provide an integrated network capability that we align against Army Force Generation requirements.
We broke it up into two-year windows so we get a capability set, which is all those network capabilities that are integrated no matter where you are in the Arforgen cycle — whether you’re a commander on the move or a dismounted soldier. We’re taking a look at the Arforgen requirements, taking into consideration who is going into the reset pool, who is about to deploy, who’s available, and we’re working to match that with the capabilities we’re deploying.
In the past, we would have said, “I’m going to buy radio X for the entire Army,” and we would literally buy the same radio for everyone. So you know intuitively from the start [that] at some point along the way, you’re going to be fielding an antiquated technology. Over time, we have to continue to modernize, like industry does, so we can give our operational units the latest technologies. That’s what capability sets do.
We’re looking at it as a snapshot in time. It’s really about buying what we need, when we need it, for those who need it. And then we’ll turn around and do it again. We’ve developed a systemic routine for how we deploy technologies and capabilities. That’s fundamentally different from how we used to do it, when we had a bunch of individuals carrying out their own acquisition efforts, on their own acquisition timelines, [with products] that were going to different places all over the Army.
For the first time, we’re taking a holistic look at our network capabilities instead of looking at each area indirectly, in isolation.
FCW: How is the strategy being implemented?
Morrison: In the 2012 budget, we have funded eight of the brigade capability sets. In addition to that, for the rest of Arforgen, we have established what we call the base set of capabilities, so that no matter where [soldiers are] in the Arforgen cycle, they’re interoperable with each other. And that’s really important because we don’t want to inadvertently create any interoperability challenges.
We’re still working through the follow-ons, but in the first year alone, we’re fielding more capability sets than in the entire Early-Infantry Brigade Combat Team program combined. [Editor’s note: The E-IBCT program succeeded the Future Combat Systems program and preceded the current network integration strategy.]
There’s a shift going on: Instead of spending a lot of money on developing new technologies, now we’re taking a look at fielding mature capabilities and incrementally building on them. Instead of trying to hit a home run, we’re looking at what we have available today. We’re considering if it’s better than what we’ve already got and if it helps us move toward where we need to be in the future so that we can get these capabilities into the hands of soldiers earlier and more often.
FCW: What impact is the approach having now and what impact do you expect it to have in the future?
Morrison: [Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli] has said on numerous occasions that when we implement the network fully, it’s going to redefine how we fight. Operationally, I believe that what you’re seeing in the near term is that we’re laying the foundation for the integration piece so we can make sure it’s a truly integrated package and it all works together. That’s absolutely key.
The Network Integration Evaluations we’re doing at Fort Bliss are the cornerstone of our strategy. That’s where the hard work is going to be, in making sure we build these capabilities the right way so that we can hand them off to other operational units in the Arforgen process. The soldier feedback itself is a game changer. It’s helping us refine the requirements process and helping guide development.
In the future, I see nothing but tremendous operational advantage. You always know where your buddies are, you know where the bad guys are and can engage them. All the power comes with being able to pass that information around the battlefield.
It’s also going to fundamentally change how we’re acquiring information technologies. Really taking a look at acquiring through these capability-set windows, we’re no longer trying to hit those home runs. Now we’re going to stay much closer to what industry is trying to do. We’re taking a look at what industry is offering and seeing how they might be able to meet the operational gaps we need to fill.
We’re building that into what we’re calling the integrated network baseline, where technical standards that have been established by the [Army] CIO can provide a playground for industry to understand what to aim for and what technical standards to meet in order to build technologies into our network.
The Network Integration Evaluation is a seminal event that’s offering the opportunity to get after a lot of these acquisition reforms people are talking about, and it's just getting started. We’re providing an operational venue to make smart acquisition decisions earlier in the process. And it’s not just acquisition — this is a driver for how we’re looking at requirements. This is going to help force bureaucracy to act and ensure we get these capabilities to soldiers in a timely manner.
Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.