As the global deployments of our military continue to be driven by the need for rapid response to both conduct direct action against terrorist organizations and natural disasters/critical events, it is essential that our military must deploy and maintain wireless communications capabilities that are both flexible and secure.
Both conventional and unconventional expeditionary missions present unique communications challenges. They often take place in austere environments where little or no communications infrastructure is available. To save lives and fulfill their missions in disaster areas and nonpermissive environments, military units on the ground will often have a distinct requirement to communicate with other elements of the U.S. government as well as nongovernmental organizations and host nation officials, and this must be facilitated with sufficient capability to do so effectively and securely. As we all know, global mobile communications technology continues to expand rapidly to fuel our global economy—there are now more personal devices than people on our planet. To keep pace with this fast-moving curve, and to better and more safely fulfill a growing template of missions, our C4ISR community should move more aggressively to leverage proven, commercial technologies that are customized for the military operator.
In seeking out communications capabilities that are suitable for expeditionary missions, our military should leverage technologies that enable seamless, secure communications with coalition and nonmilitary elements on the ground. Such technology must be able to be rapidly deployed and enable authorized users to communicate securely with U.S. military personnel via selected channels on their tactical networks.
The military should also embrace commercially available capabilities that enable communications on new network architecture such as LTE, that allow for instant, mass broadcast of announcement and text messages to personnel within the affected disaster area. Communicating via the LTE platform has dramatically improved the quality and dependability for wireless communications in the civilian world and it can do the same for the military.
Additionally, to ensure operational feasibility and success, large-scale rapid response forces, such as the newly proposed CS21 strategy, should actively explore tools that provide self-selecting, self-initiating commercially viable, portable, wireless networks. Such capabilities can be used to rapidly restore limited civil communications for local authorities while providing more robust and more secure communications between elements and services inside and outside the military. These tools also afford the user with “spectrum agility” that allows the immediate adjustment of the system to the resources available at the location. This new breed of secure wireless network optimized for the LTE environment can literally act as a Swiss army knife for C4ISR efforts—whether it is detecting and geo-locating unknown devices within an area of operation or logging and tracking targets, or effectuating device denial or detection of a counter-improvised explosive device.
To date, there has been too much focus on the communication devices, when in reality the network is what allows the device to perform and this is where the armed forces focus should be directed. Dismounted units do not need to carry extra equipment; rather they require their devices to operate in a secure high-speed, high-capacity voice, data and video communications mode which is accessible while on the move with a self-healing and self-initiating network that automatically responds to environmental and communication challenges. The U.S. private sector has proven commercial broadband wireless solutions, which in various applications have been battle tested and ready for expeditionary deployment. These “Made in the USA” products, which carry high levels of security assurance and are insulated from infiltration by unfriendly foreign governments, not only support current federal agency efforts but offer excellent low cost long-term financial benefits. By leveraging the commercially proven technology, the solutions provided address the broadest possible mission set in the most economical manner.
Communication demands can vary widely given the nature of an expeditionary or direct action mission. As the diversity and complexity of deployments continue to grow while budgets decrease, our armed services need to look to commercially proven, lightweight, mobile and secure networks that can adapt to the wide array of operating environments that will be faced by troops in the field.
1st SGT (R) Dave Powers is a retired special forces senior sergeant.