ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — The Army Futures Command, or AFC, is using iterative field experimentation to help the Army take a revolutionary step in the evolution of armored warfare.
AFC’s Future Force Modernization Enterprise of Cross-Functional Teams, Acquisition Programs of Record and Research and Development centers executed a radio rodeo with Industry throughout June to inform the Army of the network requirements needed to enable autonomous vehicle support in contested, multi-domain environments.
Conceptualized and executed by the Combat Capability Development Command’s center for Command, Control, Communications, Computer, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance — or C5ISR — the Protected Tether Radio Rodeo was designed to help the Network and Next Generation Combat Vehicle Cross Functional Teams better understand the current state of industry solutions that could support communications for manned-unmanned teaming with robotic combat vehicles.
“If I can put a robot in the direct line of fire of the enemy to determine their location, provide lethality or breach an obstacle, America’s sons and daughters can be applied elsewhere on the battlefield. It would provide standoff from our enemy while increasing mobility and efficiency for combatant commanders around the world. This could be revolutionary in how we employ ground combat vehicles,” said Brig. Gen. Richard Coffman, director of the Next Generation Combat Vehicle Cross Functional Team, or NGCV CFT.
Ten industry radios were assessed for their ability to operate on the move in a contested, multi-domain environment. This included assessing latency, resiliency, signal detectability, anti-jamming capabilities, scalability and maximum data throughput at operational ranges.
These were then measured against NGCV specifications for a protected and resilient wireless tether between the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle and the Robotic Combat Vehicle that will provide Soldiers with the capability to engage in combat with autonomous systems while remaining safely outside of enemy range.
The rodeo, which was executed at the C5ISR Center’s Ground Activity facilities on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, is part of the center’s annual Network Modernization Experiment, which enables the Army and industry to evaluate the maturity and resiliency of their technologies within a relevant threat-based environment.
“I expect to see more of these types of events as part of an integrated experimentation strategy across AFC, where experiments are being used to inform decision points in modernization plans,” said Seth Spoenlein, a Senior Scientific Technical Manager with the C5ISR Center. “They inform operational requirements and S&T investments, they drive development and experimentation and they support a coordinated acquisition strategy.”
The operationally-relevant environment of the C5ISR Ground Activity enabled the Army to baseline the vendors against each other in the same fashion, using realistic, adverse field conditions to determine what the maximum capabilities were for each system while they were being electronically attacked.
“What we realized is there are tradeoffs for everything; so they might perform great in open terrain but struggle when in foliage. There is no perfect technology, but we are here to understand how they perform and what the tradeoffs are. This was a learning experience for everyone,” observed Mahmoud Khalil, C5ISR Center technical engineering lead for the rodeo.
The horizontal integration of the CFTs and the S&T community also ensured that future requirements will be compatible with the entire mission command network, pointed out Maj. Gen. Peter Gallagher, director of the Network CFT.
“While the CFTs are driving modernization in their respective areas, we are simultaneously working together because we understand the critical interdependencies between the network and all other priorities,” Gallagher said.
“The Network CFT is focused on enabling communications for vehicles and ensuring the solution is integrated into the overall tactical network modernization strategy, so we are nesting the vehicle communications requirements within our network capability set construct and working with the S&T community to ensure their efforts are positioned for transition into programs of record at the appropriate time,” he said.
CCDC’s Ground Vehicle Systems Center will use the results from the Protected Tether Radio Rodeo to inform a Robotic Combat Vehicle Phase 2 prototype platform while Program Manager Tactical Radio will incorporate the results into its technical baseline and roadmap in support of the Network CFT’s future Integrated Tactical Network, or ITN.
“The Network CFT’s tactical modernization strategy must upgrade the network to provide Soldiers and Commanders assured network transport while concurrently building the foundation for priorities like next generation combat vehicle to ensure our communications equipment can work in and with future vehicles,” Gallagher said.
The C5ISR Center is supporting the ITN by investing in the development of an intelligent communications network that can adapt to the changing operational environment at the speed of combat and respond quickly to the enemy’s actions.
This includes building an automated framework of mitigation techniques that can be implemented into an automated primary, alternate, contingency and emergency, or PACE, plan that would counter interference and electronic attacks by seamlessly selecting the best radio to complete transmission at operational speeds — thus allowing the Soldier to focus on warfighting.
“Effective and timely communication has always been a force multiplier, so we must continue to innovate communications systems and integrate new technologies to stay ahead of our adversaries,” Coffman said. “As a valued mentor once told me, ‘if we aren’t communicating, we’re camping.'”
A final report is slated to be delivered in the fourth quarter of the 2019 fiscal year.
The C5ISR Center is the Army’s applied research and advanced technology development center for C5ISR capabilities. As the Army’s primary integrator of C5ISR technologies and systems, the center develops and matures capabilities that support all six Army modernization priorities, enabling information dominance and tactical overmatch for the joint warfighter.
The C5ISR Center is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command. Through collaboration across the command’s core technical competencies, CCDC leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more lethal to win our nation’s wars and come home safely. CCDC is a major subordinate command of the U. S. Army Futures Command.