Breaking New Ground: Modernizing the Army for better tactical connectivity

Several modernization initiatives in the Canadian Army have underscored the importance for a robust network capability to support a full spectrum of operations between headquarters, formations and units. Past efforts in Libya and Afghanistan have also emphasized this longstanding capability gap, where fielded network equipment did not allow for seamless sharing of critical information.

And with a range of possible scenarios in the future–from peacekeeping, to counterinsurgency, to full out war–“the Army must be network-enabled, capable of exchanging information laterally and vertically, between sensors, weapons, vehicles and command and control nodes, and enabling information accessibility by the right person at the right time,” according to Designing Canada’s Army of Tomorrow, a key document in Army 2021 planning.

Now consider a highly integrated tactical communications infrastructure that is assured and secured with active cyber defence, with more than enough bandwidth to provide dismounted leaders access to all of the traditional and non-traditional Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) sources, the Common Operating Picture (COP), and the digital networks that are critical to maintaining end-to-end situational awareness. This capability would allow CAF to maximise and re-capitalise the utilization of in-service tactical communication systems with a modern approach to information management and networking, making use of private sector communications technology, including increased satcom bandwidth for new and emerging data transit requirements, expanded utilization of Link 16 communications for increased air-to-ground situational awareness, a “commander’s dashboard” for network and cyber monitoring, and Anti-Jam (AJ) and Low Probability of Intercept (LPI) over commercial Ka band satcom for operations in Anti-Access Area-Denial (A2AD) environments.

Viasat is one of the communications companies that is bringing this end-to-end capability forward and urging the DND to take advantage of the accelerated development cycles, substantially higher research and development funding, and advanced technology available within the private sector.

Modern private sector communications networks, such as this “Hybrid Adaptive Network” architecture, provide substantially greater performance, resilience, security, scalability, and cost-effectiveness than their government purpose-built counterparts.  This performance gap will continue to widen as the private sector continues to apply agile development processes and accelerate research and development in order to create competitive advantage in the multi-billion dollar communication market.  Due to their longer acquisition and development cycles, future government purpose-built systems will be at least one generation behind the technology and performance curve on the day they become operational, and they will grow more obsolete over the course of their fielded life-cycle. 

Ken Peterman, Viasat’s president of government systems, also recommends the government and commercial sector look to be interoperable at the network layer to provide warfighters with a seamless, resilient, agile, and protected satcom network available everywhere. This Hybrid Adaptive Network would enable new, cutting-edge commercial technologies to be used interchangeably with other services as well as existing DND purpose-built systems, rapidly delivering enhanced resilience at an affordable price.

At the present time, the CAF operates over WGS and purchases communications bandwidth on an as-required basis from commercial satellites. While this has been sufficient to date, future requirements and emerging threats from near-peer adversaries have highlighted the critical need to improve secure communications. Moving from  an exclusively closed-government network (acquisition-based model) to a platform that is shared with commercial network providers (market-based competition model) sets up an open-standards marketplace for satellite services for the DND, encourages innovation, reduces the risk of adding new types of networks in the future, and provides an easy path to interoperability.

Recent joint exercises in the United States have already demonstrated the promise of this architecture for empowering ground forces to fight whenever and wherever they are needed. With these modernization initiatives, the Army will have a network that is not only ubiquitous, but also sufficiently robust to support the evermore extensive use of battlefield data, even in the face of the emerging threats from near-peer adversaries.

To learn more about Viasat, go here.

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