Learning On The Go
by U.S. Army Amy Walker, PM Tactical Network
June 27, 2019
The Army is pushing full steam ahead with network modernization
efforts that are making today’s forces more mobile, expeditionary,
simple and hardened. To inform rapid modernization, it is leveraging
developmental operations (DevOps) constructs and other expedited
acquisition processes to field innovative expeditionary tactical
network and radio communication equipment packages to new and
existing unit formations.
The PM for Tactical Network
provided new equipment training on SCOUT satellite terminals
to the 1st SFAB in Afghanistan in September 2018. The SCOUT
training showed that the Soldiers’ network experience varied
widely, leading to the refinement of training to teach the
operators what they need to know based on what equipment
they’ll be operating and at what level. (U.S. Army photo by Catherine Deran)
This incremental DevOps process is
a proven industry practice that places developers side by side with
Soldiers and commanders in operational units, thus enabling the Army
to evaluate potential technology concepts and solutions earlier and
more frequently, collect feedback in real time and generate new
requirements as needed. As part of this process, the Army is putting
lessons learned and Soldier feedback to work to continually enhance
satellite and radio tactical network transport equipment, as well as
the way it is fielded and employed on the battlefield.
Army is standing up new unit formations, such as security force
assistance brigades (SFABs), which are providing advise-and-assist
support to Afghan Security Forces. The 1st SFAB returned from its
nine-month deployment to its home station at Fort Benning, Georgia,
in December. The 2nd SFAB from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, is taking
its place this spring. The Army has begun fielding efforts for the
3rd SFAB at Fort Hood, Texas, and the 4th SFAB at Fort Carson,
While traditional fielding, from planning to
deployment, can take up to two years to complete, the Army stood up,
equipped, trained and prepared the 1st SFAB for deployment to
Afghanistan in less than a year. The unit deployed with the
equipment needed to carry out its mission safely and effectively;
however, because of the condensed timeline, the program offices had
to complete fielding some of the non-mission essential equipment
after boots had already hit foreign soil.
Hittner, assistant product manager for Satellite Communications
assigned to the Project Manager (PM) for Tactical Network, and Capt.
Jonathan Dodge, assistant product manager for Helicopter and
Multi-Mission Radios assigned to the PM for Tactical Radios (PM TR),
were deployed in Afghanistan with their fielding teams in support of
these first SFAB fieldings. Both organizations are part of the
Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications –
Tactical (PEO C3T). Hittner and Dodge worked hand-in-hand with the
unit, including Maj. Anthony Nocchi, communication officer (S-6) for
the 1st SFAB. In this Q&A, the three officers provide the insights
and lessons they learned on fielding and training forward-deployed
units in today’s rapid acquisition environment.
U.S. Army Capt. Domoniqué Hittner,
far right, assistant product manager for Satellite
Communications assigned to the PM for Tactical Network, with
her fellow team members who provided new equipment training
and fielding to the 1st SFAB in Afghanistan in September
2018. (U.S. Army courtesy photo)
How do the capabilities you helped field support the SFAB mission?
Hittner: SFABs require expeditionary communications
equipment so they can rapidly deploy to theater and can be more
agile during their mission support, which encompasses a wide area of
operations. As part of the capability set that supports the 1st
SFAB’s network, our team validated, fielded and trained the unit on
SCOUT ground satellite terminals, which provide satellite capability
to enable tactical network connectivity. Fielding these easy-to-use
systems gives the SFABs a lightweight, easy-to-transport
communications capability, which can be scaled up or down to support
small team to large brigade-sized elements.
tactical radios we fielded in Afghanistan included the Leader Radio
and single-channel, data-only radios. These radios supported the
secure but unclassified (SBU) network that enabled the Soldiers to
pass data across the network from their end-user devices.
Additionally, during deployment, PM TR installed the mounted
configuration of the Leader Radio on the 1st SFAB’s vehicles, which
provided connectivity so commanders had better access to situational
awareness data. The vehicle systems we integrated helped to provide
SBU network data and voice communications seamlessly between mounted
and dismounted elements. The SBU network enables units to connect
into commercial networks to share data, imagery and messaging among
Walker: Were there any benefits in fielding a
forward-deployed unit versus one at home station?
benefit lay in the ability to really focus on the new equipment
training. The Soldiers were all in the same location and could
dedicate additional time to hands-on training with the new equipment
without some of the competing requirements found at home station.
While I’d prefer to field new equipment before deploying, the
project managers were very supportive and we were generally
successful. The 1st SFAB owes a lot of its success with the new
systems to the acquisition community for fielding equipment as fast
as they could, getting the manufacturer to provide the equipment and
then following up with outstanding training and support.
Hittner: Timelines, the unit’s availability and equipment production
will always play a factor in new equipment training and fielding.
Any time you are fielding in the continental United States, the unit
has a great deal of other mandatory training and preparatory efforts
to focus on, especially the SFABs. These new units are setting a new
stage to fight on. So on top of preparing for their missions, they
have to prepare to become a new formation, so there are a lot of
tasks involved—live fires, additional training, monitoring, all the
different tasks needed to get the unit prepared to serve in its new
Because we fielded the 1st SFAB while they were
deployed, we received dedicated time to focus purely on training.
They were able to pick it up faster, and it saved the unit a lot of
time. We were also able to support the unit through all of its
reception, staging, onward movement and integration events and
in-country tasks required to operate in that area of responsibility.
Dodge: Our embedded team provided mission essential training and
support to the 1st SFAB’s lower tactical internet [radio] network.
Because I was deployed with our team, I was able to travel to over a
dozen locations in Afghanistan over a period of four months to
assist with fielding and training.
In total, we fielded over
500 radios and integrated systems into 66 vehicle platforms spread
out over Afghanistan. I was able to assist SFAB advisory teams in
setting up their radio networks and accompanied them on missions to
identify and troubleshoot any issues with new equipment. As part of
the developmental operations construct, the Soldier feedback we were
able to gather on product performance allowed us to make positive
changes to the unit’s communications architecture while they were
still in theater.
Walker: Did you do anything different as
far as the training itself was concerned?
Nocchi: The SCOUT
training went well but required some refinement, which was expected
due to the circumstances and makeup of the class: Some Soldiers had
extensive network experience and some had very little. We are
recommending and attempting to schedule new equipment training for
general purpose users and new equipment training for technical users
and Signal officers, which will teach the operators what they need
to know based on what equipment they’ll be operating and at what
Hittner: The PM Tactical Network training team
designed and developed a training set for the SCOUT system to
support the unit’s specific mission requirements, enabling them to
successfully perform their mission training completion. We put the
unit’s feedback to work and developed a condensed general user
training set to support new SFAB Soldiers. PM Tactical Network takes
Soldier feedback from training events and shapes training packages
to suit a unit’s needs, taking into account missions, Soldiers’
military occupational specialties, age groups, etc. With the
numerous rapid acquisition efforts the Army is conducting, the PM is
staying innovative in the way we train by delivering a concise yet
diverse training set.
We are streamlining training, making it
shorter and more user-friendly, more intuitive and more
technologically enhanced to match the needs and expectations of a
new generation of Soldiers. We reworded manuals and reduced portions
of the training to make them more clear and suitable for general
users, and we employed a lot of hands-on training.
What lessons did you learn from your deployment that could help
future fielding efforts or other PM fielding deployments?
Dodge: Having a “green suiter” lead fielding efforts makes
coordination with units much easier, as we understand how
operational units work and can thus better plan around their
mission. Coordination and ensuring that the project manager is on
the same page as the unit are essential. I was closely tied with the
brigade and battalion staff to keep them aware of all acquisition
efforts, so they could redirect me as necessary in support of their
missions and timelines. While the program office is responsible for
fielding, the unit should be the driving factor in determining who
gets assets first. The unit is the customer!
We are also
continuing to use Soldier feedback to implement changes to
streamline and improve fielding and training. For example, when we
first started fielding the 1st SFAB, some of the radios were fielded
incrementally as parts became available, rather than fielding the
system as a complete set. But we learned quickly that it was more
efficient to field the entire system at once to enable the unit to
train as they fight.
Hittner: New formations like the SFABs
rely on us for guidance in the fielding and training process. I
wouldn’t say we had any significant challenges, but [we had]
opportunities to learn. You don’t know what you don’t know until you
are there on the ground, so we conducted thorough site visits to see
what assets were there. One thing the site visits revealed was the
need to coordinate shipping. We streamlined supply support by
proactively and very closely cross-coordinating across entities
before shipping, including the unit on the ground, the warehouse and
the shipping entities. It is also important to closely monitor
tracking numbers to stay ahead of any unforeseen shipping issues and
to keep a fluid shipping line from point A to point B.
Synchronization is key to fulfilling the unit’s requirements. A lot
of planning and coordination enabled us to expedite shipping and we
are able to provide a smooth, fairly seamless transition of
equipment from the United States to Afghanistan. The next time we go
back to field another forward-deployed unit, the lessons learned
will make everything more expeditious.
This fielding effort
has also made coordination with our vendors much smoother and our
relationships with all of our PM logisticians and the units
forward-deployed much stronger. The Army often talks about being
ready to deploy and support any time we are called, and that
includes the acquisition community, folks in the background, all the
civilians and all of the partners. It’s important that we can
rapidly pull together to make these missions successful, whether
supporting from home station or deployed with the unit. Units will
always need new technologies. If we have the ability to field them
all in the U.S., that’s great; if not, we need to remain flexible.
To enable your team and others to be successful, it’s important
to understand the scope of the mission and really project the plan
out as far as you can with the information you have at hand, and be
flexible enough to overcome the changes and potential roadblocks
that may arise down the road. Remaining flexible has been vital to
the success of this last fielding, and it will definitely help us
with future fieldings as well. It’s important to note that this
mission is ongoing.
I think the biggest takeaway is to just
give Soldiers grace when they are deployed. Everyone that has worn
this green suit before understands what it’s like to be deployed,
whether it’s missing your family or just the many things happening
there, all of the expectations, the hard work, the long hours that
you put in, and the time you have to sit back and reflect. Do
anything you can to support them.
AMY WALKER has
been the public affairs lead at PM Tactical Network for the last
nine years, and was the public affairs lead at PEO C3T for the
previous two. She has covered most of the Army’s major tactical
network transport modernization effort, including Army, joint and
coalition fielding and training events worldwide. She holds a B.A.
in psychology, with emphasis in marketing and English, from the
College of New Jersey.
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