* The Army's stock of radios and other tactical communications systems is slated for an upgrade.
Over the next few years, the service plans on improving its tactical network by fielding new sets of capabilities on a biennial basis. Through a series of experiments, the Army has begun using soldier feedback to determine what its future communications systems will look like on tomorrow's battlefields. National Defense recently sat down with a group of officials to discuss the service's vision.
"It is completely an iterative process," said Col. Rob Ryan, deputy director of the Army's network cross-functional team, which is spearheading the modernization effort. "There's no shot clock in how we do this because what is your iPhone going to look like in 2030? You don't know how [you are] going to communicate in 2030."
Col. Garth Winterle, project manager for tactical radios and integrated tactical network, said the service plans to field new capability sets to four brigade combat teams in fiscal year 2021, five BCTs in fiscal year 2022, and then six BCTs per year starting in fiscal year 2023.
The service will begin focusing on fielding new capabilities and equipment to light infantry units, then switch to Stryker and armored brigades in 2023.
"There's some simplicity to it and there's some difficulty with it," Ryan said. "Strykers are relatively newer, one of the newer things we have on the battlefield. Bradleys and tanks have been around for a while, so we have some really good challenges."
However, the service will still be able to build on the work done in the previous capability sets because Strykers will move around dismounted soldiers, Winterle noted.
"The infantry dismounts in a Stryker brigade are going to use very similar soldier-worn equipment," he said. But the Stryker provides additional advantages because it can take on heavier network equipment and provide access to more power, he noted. "There's a lot of things we can then add to that vehicle that I wouldn't be able to do on... a light vehicle."
The "backbone" of capability set 21 is the current Leader Radio and Manpack Radio, he noted. The service will also add commercial-off-the-shelf, nondevelopmental item solutions.
"A lot of it is kit that's already part of programs of record," said Col. Shane Taylor, project manager for tactical network. However, some improvements may be made to these existing systems through engineering change proposals or modification work orders, he noted.