Asymmetric Dialogue

How the Army could unlock the secret to coalition comms




The Army is testing out new ways of doing things when it comes to is tactical networks, including open standards and a secret-but-unclassified concept set to undergo NATO testing this summer.
The experimentation with tactical network capabilities comes as Army officials are putting to work their broader network modernization strategy and cross-functional team specifically targeting Army networks. Leaders are taking a fresh look at open standards and commercial off-the-shelf options that can be rapidly inserted with little training.
“That’s going to allow us options at the tactical edge,” Col. Ed Barker, the Army’s senior acquisition liaison and adviser, said May 2 at a Defense Daily event in Washington. “Things will be able to be tailored based on mission needs, and that will give us a lot more flexibility.”
Specifically Army leaders are looking at potential capabilities that improve coalition information-sharing, including by using open standards that are more easily integrated in legacy and future equipment.
“We’ve talked about leveraging [commercial-off-the-shelf technology] for a long time. But I think very recently the applicability of COTS in the tactical space has really expanded,” said Joe Welch, technical management director at Army Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical. 
There’s also significant emphasis on a new secret-but-unclassified network capability that would enable a joint common operating picture with coalition partners.
“SBU is a major change. It’s something that we’ve been getting around the edges on for a number of years and now we’re getting Army leadership on-board and moving forward,” Welch said. “It’s an acknowledgement that at certain tactical echelons the requirement for a secret … is really hindering the ability to communicate.”
The Army already is testing out SBU with end users, targeting their early involvement as part of short-sprint development and fielding. Those tests will lead up to a major demonstration of SBN at the upcoming Saber Strike joint exercise this summer in Europe.
The Saber Strike demonstration will feed directly into a brigade-level assessment with the 1st Brigade/82nd Airborne to be held next April, Barker said.
“The goal will be to demonstrate the power of a secure-but-unclassified and integrated tactical network in a NATO and coalition environment. We’re literally going to have a joint, coalition common operating picture with the means to federate what they’re seeing on the ground and have that true interoperability,” Barker said. “There are definitely short-term wins on the horizon.”
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