Some U.S. soldiers and National Guardsmen will be allowed to carry their own cellphones and other devices on missions next year, under an expanded Army pilot program that seeks to understand the risks of bringing some commercial technologies onto the battlefield.
“We did an initial pilot in the fall, very very promising reports came out of that,” Lt. Gen. John B. Morrison, Jr., the Army’s deputy chief of staff, G-6, told reporters on Tuesday.
Officials said that the National Guard in particular would benefit from a bring-your-own-device program.
“The National Guard has had the largest deployment since World War II. And for a lot of the soldiers that were mobilized, it is very helpful to have a capability on their personal devices when they are deployed from their full-time jobs,” said Kenneth C. McNeill, the National Guard Bureau’s chief information officer.
That change represents the Army’s acknowledgement that commercial technologies, with new security regimes like zero-trust network architectures, can be just as secure as military-specification phones, radios, computers, and so on. But Morrison cautioned that future communications environments will be much more contested. The Army facing with the dual challenges of making it easier for soldiers to communicate, a key aspect of the Pentagon’s Joint All-Domain Command and Control Vision, while also acknowledging the greater risks of doing so.
Morrison said that begins not only with buying new hardware and software but also with training. “We must infuse that kind of training into everything that we’re doing. And it’s not just from the capability development perspective. It is from: how are we training our soldiers and leaders and organizations to operate in a contested and congested environment,” he said.
Raj Iyer, the Army’s chief information officer, said that the strategy for performing better in those contested environments is to rely more on commercial providers and particularly satellite communications providers, a concept that the Army tested in its most recent Project Convergence experiment in Yuma, Arizona.
“This is a pivot for the army in terms of how we traditionally operated in the past, relying on a lot more U.S. Army and the [Department of Defense Information Network, or DODIN] infrastructure,” Iyer said. “What we’re now coming to see is that… as we move into new theaters and new [areas of responsibility], the Army—and quite frankly, the other services—may not have the infrastructure in place. We were finding that our commercial partners, you know, the Amazons of the world and the Microsofts…and the Starlinks [or] SpaceXs of the world, actually have capability in place that we can tap into now.”
Morrison said the Army is “setting the stage” to test a variety of new communications concepts including mesh-networking and battlefields cloud, with its new multi-domain task forces that can operate long-range fires, cyber effects, etc..
By testing with these small teams, the Army will be able to wring out new communications ideas before rolling them out to the larger force, said Morrison.
“How are we going to push those capabilities into our tactical formations? Our first inject from a tactical perspective is going to be the multi-domain task force. Then we’re going to work corps. Then we’re going to work division. What we didn’t want to do is infuse even more complexity into the…Brigade Combat Teams. Finally, we link that all the way back to the enterprise. We think this is a much more pragmatic approach again.”
The goal is to “increase our learning opportunities as we really work through how do we enable data at the edge [of combat] so that we can significantly increase our ability to see, sense, understand, decide and act and achieve decision dominance that we’re going to need for multi-domain-capable force.”