Annual field testing offers valuable feedback for Army innovators and industry partners

Annual field testing offers valuable feedback for Army innovators and industry partners

May 19, 2021

Army Futures Command (AFC) is taking emerging network, cyber and electronic warfare capabilities “to the dirt” for field- and threat-based experiments, allowing Army scientists and their industry partners a chance to see how their innovations perform outside the laboratory.

Scientists and engineers from the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C5ISR) Center – part of AFC’s Combat Capabilities Development Command – will assess early research and development efforts and emerging industry solutions during its annual Network Modernization Experiment (NetModX), taking place May 17 to July 30 at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.

“This will be some of these technologies’ first time out in the field, and that’s really important because a lot of these science and technology efforts have reached over two or three years of maturity in their development,” said Michael Monteleone, C5ISR Center’s director of Space and Terrestrial Communications. “This first field experiment is going to be very critical on the path of completion for a lot of these programs.”

Leveraging the C5ISR Center’s Ground Activity “fail-to-fix” testing environment, NetModX provides Army scientists and engineers and industry partners the opportunity to assess technologies of various levels of maturity to see how they fare against a series of threat-based scenarios in a variety of tactical environments.

“It’s a great opportunity for the Army and industry to learn together about how their technologies are performing,” said Joseph Saldiveri, NetModX project lead and C5ISR Center engineer. “As we work through all the data analysis and all of the requirements gathering, we aim through this event to help provide our soldiers with the equipment that they need to succeed in the future.”

NetModX 2021 will focus on converged automated and protected communications that enable multi-domain lethality. Approximately 40 technologies will be assessed during the experiment, including the Center’s C4ISR/Electromagnetic Warfare Modular Open Suite of Standards, low probability of intercept/low probability of detection technologies and communication systems in support of the Integrated Visual Augmentation System.

“We partner very closely with our C5ISR community to drive our experimentation objectives,” said Dr. Michael Brownfield, the C5ISR Center’s Future Capabilities chief, in reference to the selection process of the technologies participating. “We established detailed processes to work one-on-one with each C5ISR stakeholder and then come together as a community to prioritize those technologies which best inform upcoming Army decision points.”

Despite being in a field environment, NetModX is a “white-coat” event, meaning government scientists and engineers run the experiment. However, noncommissioned officers of the C5ISR Center will serve in an advisory role, an addition, Saldiveri said, that is “highly valuable.”

“We love to have the Soldiers come in and take a look at a technology,” Saldiveri said. “Soldiers have a great viewpoint and unique experiences that if they’re giving their opinions early in the technology’s development, it can shape the way technology develops from here forward.”

The C5ISR Center will partner with the Soldier Lethality, Next Generation Combat Vehicle and Network CFTs as well as various program executive offices to execute the experiment.

NetModX 21 will help to close critical capability gaps by informing concepts, prototyping and integration phases for multiple Army Modernization efforts, including Capability Sets 23, 25 and 27 – a collection of capability enhancements informed by experimentation, demonstration and direct soldier feedback scheduled to be fielded beginning in fiscal years 2023, 2025 and 2027. Each of these integrated sets builds upon the previous package, including Capability Set 21, which is fielding now to select infantry units.

This year’s assessments include capability set candidates such as the Squad Area Network – which delivers an intra-squad radio communications network that operates in the presence of electronic interference in challenged environments – and the Dismounted Distributed Tactical Beamforming System – an incorporation of affordable resilient communications capabilities which provide dismounted Soldiers with reach-back to the platoon level and higher.

According to Donald Coulter, the Network Cross Functional Team’s (CFT) senior science & technology advisor, this type of field-based experimentation is “integral to the Army’s Capability Set strategy.”

“The Network CFT works with the C5ISR Center to guide research and development based on the Army’s network modernization priorities over time, which we call design goals,” Coulter said. “The C5ISR Center, in turn, advises us on the art of the possible to inform that future vision of the network. By working together with the requirements and acquisition communities, we plan, develop, demonstrate and transition technology efforts aligned to those priorities to deliver needed capabilities to Soldiers.”

NetModX will also help industry to gain insight regarding the Army’s operational requirements and technology gaps, enabling vendors to tailor technology development to meet those needs before entering the competitive acquisition process.

During last year’s experiment, C5ISR Center scientists and engineers assessed more than 30 vendor technologies dedicated to mission command resiliency and command post survivability through Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) – a legal agreement between a federal laboratory and a non-federal party to conduct specified research or development efforts.

Usually, CRADAs are formed between the government and industry to perform specific collaborative tasks and take roughly one-and-a-half years to be approved. This year, Brownfield said the Center has adopted a more communications-centric format, reducing the approval time to approximately two months.

“The agreement does not require either the government or industry to do anything except protect the information shared. Either side can leave the agreement at any time,” Brownfield said. “Given the flexibility of the generic communications-oriented CRADAs, we are now expanding the CRADA template to incorporate the entire C5ISR Center portfolio to facilitate cross-portfolio collaboration.”

According to Monteleone, partnerships with industry and government organizations are critical to technology development as they bring together modularity and help in integrating capabilities onto existing platforms.

“What it comes down to is rapidly integrating and maturing and delivering the very best and latest technologies to our soldiers as rapidly as possible,” he said. “It’s a key enabler across not only the C5ISR Center, but the mission space as well.”

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