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CHIPS Articles: Army explores network resiliency during annual experiment

Army explores network resiliency during annual experiment
By Jasmyne Douglas, CCDC C5ISR Center Public Affairs - July 23, 2020
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – Army Futures Command (AFC) is heading out of the laboratory and “into the field” this summer to develop a blueprint for the future of network communications technologies. The Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C5ISR) Center – a component of AFC’s Combat Capabilities Development Command – is leading the Network Modernization Experiment 2020 (NetModX 20), taking place July 20 to Oct. 2, at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.

NetModX is an annual field-based experimentation event that informs acquisition decisions, Army science and technology (S&T) specifications, requirements and strategies. According to Joseph Saldiveri, interim project lead for NetModX 20, this type of experimentation, combined with Soldiers’ observations, can change the trajectory of a project’s development and lead to a “more robust, flexible and relevant solution when the project is ready for operational testing.”

During the experiments, Soldiers will be on-site to observe the testing and provide feedback based on their tactical experience.

“It’s important to bring technologies out of the lab and into the field environment before operational testing with Soldiers because experiments in the field often yield different results than experienced in the lab,” Saldiveri said. “Typically, the lab is a pristine environment where all variables are tightly controlled. Experimenting in the field with engineers does permit control over variables, but it also exposes the technology to the randomness of real-world phenomena.”

Since 2017, NetModX has offered a fail-safe environment, giving government engineers and industry technology providers an opportunity to learn how their systems perform mission command tasks in an operationally-relevant environment.

Dr. Michael Brownfield, the C5ISR Center’s Future Capabilities chief, said this is possible because of the Center’s ability to partner with vendors early-on using Cooperative Research and Development Agreements– a legal agreement between a federal laboratory and a non-federal party to conduct specified research or development efforts – to assess their technologies in the lab prior to the field experiment.

“We have an extensive understanding of our near peer adversaries’ abilities to disrupt our communications,” said Brownfield. “We can replicate those electronic attack capabilities against vendor-developed technologies and iteratively mitigate their vulnerabilities as a team.”

NetModX 20 will focus on increasing the resiliency of the Army’s network and command posts. Lessons learned from the event will inform Capability Set 23 – a collection of network capability enhancements informed by experimentation, demonstration and direct Soldier feedback – scheduled to be fielded in 2023.

During NetModX 20, the C5ISR Center will explore automated primary, alternate, contingency and emergency communications; low Earth orbit, medium Earth orbit and geosynchronous high-throughput satellite systems; hardened waveforms; defensive cyber abilities; protected satellite communications; and command post survivability.

The technologies align to the Network Cross-Functional Team’s (CFT) efforts and network modernization priorities. Donald Coulter, the Network CFT’s senior S&T advisor, said they plan to use the experiment to prototype several government and commercial technologies that will advance terrestrial and space-based communications networks and cyber resiliency and will increase the mobility and survivability of command posts in support of multi-domain operations.

“NetModX 20 provides the CFT additional data to analyze technology maturity and capability effectiveness in terms of established baseline objectives for a number of technologies,” Coulter said. “This experiment is important because it provides the opportunity to demonstrate capabilities in the field as well as conduct risk reduction events that support integration across modernization priorities and joint all-domain operations.”

Previous NetModX events allowed scientists and engineers to simultaneously experiment with several technologies.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic this year, a maximum of two technologies will be tested at a given time. The event will be spread out over a longer period than previous years, said Brownfield, enabling researchers to achieve all of the learning objectives established prior to the pandemic.

“Safety is a major concern,” said Joshua Fischer, the C5ISR Center’s Systems Engineering, Architecture, Modeling and Simulation chief. “We’re making sure the staff at the site are following proper COVID prevention practices and are utilizing the proper personal protective equipment to conduct experimentation safely.”

Army senior leaders and industry partners interested in receiving reports generated by the experiment or interested in participating in events related to NetModX 20, can do so by contacting the C5ISR Center's Future Capabilities Office at usarmy.apg.ccdc-c5isr.mbx.stcd-ost-fco@mail.mil

Spc. Todd Callahan, a signal support systems specialist with the Mission Command Element, 1st Infantry Division, out of Fort Riley, Kans., stands on top of a Command Post Platform vehicle to set up an antenna to allow radio communication during a command post exercise. Focused on validating technologies in support of the Integrated Tactical Network, NetModX serves as the C5ISR Center’s accountability event every year. (Photo Credit: Spc. Christina Westover)
Pfc. Cassie Cowell and Sgt. Zachary Teisher, human resource specialists with the 213th Personnel Company, 728th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 213th Regional Support Group, Pennsylvania Army National Guard, assemble a very small aperture terminal communications satellite at Fort Indiantown Gap, June 8, 2017. NetModX is an annual field-based experiment event that informs acquisition decisions, Army science and technology (S&T) specifications, requirements and strategies. (Photo Credit: Capt. Gregory McElwain)
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