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Video Above: Assistant Sec. of Army Acquisition, Logistics and Technology Talks Cybersecurity

By Kris Osborn - President & Editor-In-Chief, Warrior Maven

Cross continental satellite data links, AI-enabled high-speed computer analysis, drone-to-drone-to-manned platform information sharing in milliseconds and instant “attack” through fast-paced “call for fires” are all critical elements of the Army network.

The service is moving quickly to strengthen, harden and accelerate development of its fast-emerging combat network wherein ground, air, space and unmanned platforms can simultaneously share real-time, time sensitive combat data across the force in seconds. This effort has been successfully demonstrated for several years now at the Army’s Project Convergence, an experiment or “campaign of learning” in the Arizona desert intended to advance future concepts of Combined Arms Maneuver.

Top Army Weapons Buyer discusses Project Convergence, Hypersonic Weapons, Abrams Tank and more

The Army’s top Acquisition Executive explained the importance of “hardening” the network against intrusion and building in redundancy to ensure continued functionality in the event it is disabled, hacked, jammed or destroyed.

Bush explained that built in alternatives will be fundamental to the network’s ability to function in a hostile and highly contested environment.

“It's a constant back and forth. I think. We just have to get comfortable. And I think the Army is comfortable with having systems that are enabled and improved by having network connections, but with backups,” Bush said.

U.S. Army Soldiers, alongside Department of Defense contractors, assembled during Project Convergence 20, to initiate testing exercises for new Multi-Domain Operations weapons systems, at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, September 17, 2020.

U.S. Army Soldiers, alongside Department of Defense contractors, assembled during Project Convergence 20, to initiate testing exercises for new Multi-Domain Operations weapons systems, at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, September 17, 2020.

Backups, as referred to by Bush, are extremely key for built in redundancy. In the event that several nodes within a meshed network are destroyed or disabled, additional nodes can help sustain force-wide connectivity. Should an RF data link be jammed by enemy EW weapons or a computer networked hacked by an intruder, there needs to be built-in redundancy or “back up” transport layer alternatives for time-sensitive critical war information. 

This could take the form of another frequency, computer protocol or satellite link established to sustain operations in the event of attack. On top of this operational approach, Senior Army Futurists want to maximize the ways in which the force will need to fight in a circumstance where there is a degraded, compromised or destroyed network.

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Many remember the widely heralded and cherished Army Future Combat Systems program, a massive, ambitious service modernization effort which exploded onto the scene more than 15 years ago, completely redefining operational concepts and pushing the boundaries of technological possibility.

Although the program wound up being canceled by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates in 2009 for a variety of reasons, including not being survivable enough, its fundamental operating concept of an interconnected, force-wide “system-of-systems” network seems to have endured to a certain extent. Although deemed a “failed program” due to challenges with technological maturity, survivability challenges with 27-ton armored vehicles and perhaps overly ambitious networking goals, the FCS effort did achieve a number of successes, and its concept of an interconnected or “networked” force could be likened to a friendly ghost which continues to inform and inspire current notions of warzone networking.

The Assistant Secretary of the Army - Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, Mr. Douglas Bush, closely tracked FCS as a Professional Staff member with the House Armed Services Committee during the height of the program’s development in 2007 and 2008. Now, as the Army Acquisition Executive, Bush sees both parallels and large differences between what was envisioned for FCS and what is now taking shape with the Army combat network.

“I think the idea of having a network to do what was envisioned with FCS is still a valid one. I think the big difference now is it's not part of one big program. The network is not a program. It's a collection of many, many programs that we're integrating across the many elements of the Army.

Project Convergence

It could be said that Army experiments such as Project Convergence, which has demonstrated a breakthrough ability to network manned and unmanned platforms across multiple domains in seconds, represent the ultimate culmination of the services’ long standing networking goals. 

While Army senior leaders emphasize that Project Convergence is a “campaign of learning” or an “experiment” intended to demonstrate paradigm-changing technological capacity, the exercise has in recent years been able to show that AI-enabled computing can organize and analyze data from otherwise disparate pools of incoming sensor information to reduce sensor-to-shooter time from minutes down to seconds across the force.

U.S. Army Pfc. Benjamin Sargent, assigned to 82nd Airborne Division, prepares a multimission payload drone for launch during Project Convergence at Yuma Proving Grounds, Ariz., on Oct. 26, 2021. (Sgt. Marita Schwab/U.S. Army)

U.S. Army Pfc. Benjamin Sargent, assigned to 82nd Airborne Division, prepares a multimission payload drone for launch during Project Convergence at Yuma Proving Grounds, Ariz., on Oct. 26, 2021. (Sgt. Marita Schwab/U.S. Army)

The Army has been integrating evolving groups of interwoven technologies called Capability Sets, designed to upgrade and increase speed and functionality quickly as new technology arrives. Last year, the Army fielded Capability Set 21 and plans to prepare one for next year all the way through 2027, Bush indicated.

“A lot of the network, by the way, is commercial off the shelf technology, which is another thing the Army wasn't doing as much in the past. We really want to do a lot more now in the network space, because that's where the innovation is. In the private sector network, innovation just never stops. So we have to be flexible enough to take advantage of it. I think we're postured well to do that,” Bush said. 

Kris Osborn is the President of Warrior Maven - Center for Military Modernization and the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President - Center for Military Modernization

Warrior Maven and the Center for Military Modernization support the US Military and the need for continued US Modernization. However, Warrior Maven and the Center for Military Modernization do not speak for the US military or any US government entity. The Center is an independent entity intended to be a useful and value added publication for thought leadership and important discussion about modernization. Warrior Maven discusses and explores technologies, strategies and concepts of operation related to modernization and the need for deterrence and continued US military readiness, training and preparation for future conflict in a fast-changing threat environment. Warrior Maven does receive some support from private industry but all thoughts are those of the authors.