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US Army defines communication needs for 2030



In war stories across a multitude of mediums, there is often a moment where a Soldier shouts into a radio to some unseen entity on the receiving end of the line. Whether it is giving a direct command or delivering information, this format of communication has been in rotation within the Army since the 1940s with the “manpack” radio, which was a relatively heavy radio that could be carried by a Soldier in a ruck. Sgt. 1st Class Michael Reinsch, Army News Service, reports.
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U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Timmy Fair, an infantry squad leader assigned to 1st Battalion, 125th Infantry Regiment, 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, operates a radio during a live-fire training exercise near Fort Bliss, Texas, Oct. 31, 2022 (Picture source: U.S. Army National Guard/Staff Sgt. Scott Fletcher)


Since then, there have been many updates to the way the Army communicates by adding security measures and changing the platform to meet mission requirements. Even though these methods of communication have met the needs of fighting yesterday’s war, they will need to be updated to meet the needs of tomorrow. “If you think back to Iraq and Afghanistan, we enjoyed technological supremacy over our adversaries. If our Soldiers wanted to get the latest threat picture to an infantry squad, conducting dismounted operations, or to call in an airstrike for support, there wasn't much that our adversaries could do to disrupt our communications,” said Under Secretary of the Army Gabriel Camarillo during the recent Army Technical Exchange Meeting 9, a network-related technical exchange meeting that was held in Nashville, Tennessee. “But, as we all know, the future is likely to be far more contested.”

To ensure the Army is progressing toward an Army of 2030, it will evolve the way that it communicates. But instead of creating something new all on its own, the Army is looking toward private contractors and businesses to innovate: to create new methods of communication that are data-centric. The Army is also focused on ensuring it makes smart investments by not buying something that will be outdated tomorrow.

“The Army faces two fundamental, transformational challenges simultaneously,” Camarillo said. “On the one hand, the Army is rapidly transforming to meet a change landscape after two decades of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations. This shift to large-scale combat operations relies on modernized maneuver capabilities, long-range fires, deep sensing, and of course, a secure and resilient network to transmit critical data on the battlefield.”

Many of the changes that come from the modernization effort of Army 2030 stem from multi-domain operations, which is in short, a combination of efforts and resources from across all military branches to meet the threat of near-peer adversaries, an enemy who has capabilities close what the Army has.

One of the key aspects of achieving MDO is ensuring communication is modernized. “We are fully dedicated as an Army to accomplishing this transformation, as we address the pacing challenge of China and the acute threat of Russian aggression,” Camarillo said.

As communications and data systems are being modernized around the world the Army also needs to modernize, and in many ways, reimagine the way it communicates. “The other challenge that we face is one involving our ability to accelerate our modernization, and to keep pace with the rapidly changing, accelerating pace at which threats evolve, and the speed that's required to match — to develop a range of capabilities,” Camarillo said. “We're making progress in this area, we are changing the way that we develop, test, and deploy our systems to become faster, much more agile, and more responsive. The Army has, and it will continue to take advantage of this moment to accelerate experimentation, quickly prototype capabilities and leverage operational experiments to de-risk programs to inform our acquisition strategies, and to more quickly integrate cutting edge technology.”

One of the concerns of buying into whatever the new communication method might be is incremental buys, which will take advantage of the latest commercial technology.

Today, the software is key: modernize through software updates. To that end, the Army is seeking an update to communication that can be changed to meet the needs of mission requirements or to keep pace with the current technology. “While broader acquisition reform has helped us improve our network, and our digital capabilities, we need to continue to develop more tailored approaches in the digital domain in order for us to compete and win moving forward,” Camarillo said. “Our network strategy, at least as we conceived of it 20 years ago, 15 years ago, 18 years ago, was constrained by requirements process and an acquisition process that needed as much continuous refresh, as did our capabilities. So, this cannot be the case moving forward.”

An important threat to consider when dealing with near-peer advisories is their ability to disrupt communications. This new form of communication would need to combat not only disruption but also infiltration.

“Fielding the Army of 2030, which is aligned with our national defense strategy, will require us to face this challenge by accelerating digital transformation, and modernizing our network,” Camarillo said. “We need a digital transformation in the Army to help us maintain that decisive overmatch against potential adversaries in the future. This transformation refers to linking our enterprise and our tactical networks, unleashing data from embedded data silos, enabling the secure and effective transport of data anywhere that we need it.”

Some of the items and goals of communication for Army 2030 is the integration of machine learning and artificial intelligence, cloud migration, and offensive and defensive cyber and cybersecurity operation and research. The Army is investing more than $200 million in 2023 toward AI and machine learning, just under $300 million in cloud migration, more than $2 billion in cyber and more than $9.8 billion in network modernization.

“This allocation of resources and the level of focus from Army senior leaders should provide you a sense of just how important it is that we get this right,” Camarillo said. “I truly believe that a strong type of bold experimentation, investment and collaboration is essential to achieving our objectives.”

A major reason the Army is investing in AI and machine learning is the depth of data commanders need to make decisions is often too much. “[There is] too much data that's putting cognitive overload on our commanders to make decisions at echelon,” said Dr. Raj Iyer, Army Chief Information Officer, who was also at the Army Technical Exchange Meeting 9. “And that's where the importance of machine learning and artificial intelligence comes in. We are now ready to really talk about how we're going to leverage the power of AI.”

There are difficulties with innovating a new way to communicate, but many of the key objectives were laid out to fit the needs of the Army’s digital transformation in the campaign named ACT now — accelerate, centralize and transform. “We're at the point now where every one of us understands what we're talking about and what it means and how we get there. And that’s a big change for the Army.” Iyer said. “But that also means that we're now smart buyers. What we're really looking at now is digital infrastructure and the digital ecosystem. That’s how we are going to be successful,” Iyer said. “The network really is nothing more than transport with a bunch of common services enabled by the cloud.”

Many companies across the world are or have already moved to cloud-based technology in which data can be accessed from almost anywhere without it being stored on a central system. “Cloud to us is our warfighting platform,” Iyer said. “That means completely relooking at our architectures to become much more cloud-native. We really have to look at what that means when it comes to data integration, and data being available at the point of need. And by the way, there is no company in the private sector that has been successful with digital transformation, without having a component of cloud or AI not included in there,” he said. “So why would that be any different for the Army?”

Cloud is only one way that the Army can achieve what some commanders are looking for on the battlefield against near-peer adversaries. Commanders are in need of communication that is agile, flexible and comes with options.

“We’re going to be contested in every domain, in the multi-domain theater. We're going to be dealing with adversaries that are sophisticated, technologically, far superior to what we're used to,” Iyer said. “With large-scale combat operation, and the ability to be able to really fight with data, we need a heck of a lot more optionality. And that's what our commanders are demanding from us.”

The communication transformation of Army 2030 is a key part of advancing toward a force that is MDO capable and able to compete against near-peer adversaries by using the technology of today and tomorrow. “There's never been a time in the Army when we've had a such great alignment of vision, unity of efforts, complete synchronization across requirements community, the warfighter, the material developers, the policy,” Iyer said.


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