Army’s Bassett, Gallagher Discuss Networks Needed to Stay Ahead of Competitors

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Maj. Gen. Dave Bassett, program executive officer for C3T (left), and Maj. Gen. Peter Gallagher, director of the Networks Cross Functional Team at US Army Futures Command (right), discuss building and maintaining networks and the state of the service’s communication enterprise during an interview with Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian at the 2018 AUSA Annual Meeting in Washington, DC. Our AUSA coverage is brought to you by Bell, a Textron Company, Elbit System of America, L3 Technologies, Leonardo DRS, and Safran.

Maj. Gen.  Peter Gallagher, USA

Director, Cross-Functional Team for Networks, US Army Futures Command

Maj. Gen. Dave Bassett, USA

Program Executive Officer, C3T Networks

AUSA Annual Meeting

October 2018

Vago Muradian:  Welcome to the Defense and Aerospace Report.  I’m Vago Muradian here at the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Conference and Trade Show in Washington, DC, the number one gathering of U.S. Army leaders from around the world to discuss the service’s strategy, its future, budgets, technology and more.  Our coverage here is sponsored by Bell, a Textron company; Elbit Systems of America; L3 Technologies; Leonardo DRS; and SAFRAN.  

And we are here at the Army Acquisition enclosure here for the Pete and Dave show, to talk a little bit about Army networks.  Obviously one of the most important things if you’re going to do multi-domain battle.  Major General Peter Gallagher is with the new Futures Command.  You’re the Director of the Cross-Functional Team for Networks.  And my friend Dave Bassett, Major General, who is the Program Executive Officer for C3 networks.

Maj. Gen. Dave Bassett:  C3T.

Maj. Gen. Bassett:  C3T, okay.  I just missed it by that much.

Maj. Gen. Peter Gallagher:  CFT, C3T

Maj. Gen. Bassett:  Exactly.  Boy, you know, I’m glad that we’re not drowning in acronyms here.

General, let me start with you.  With the Futures Command, you’re basically the requirements engine for the networks that we need.  There’s nothing more fundamentally important, especially as you’re going into a great power competition, to be able to build these networks that are resilient, that are going to be contested in the electromagnetic space, in cyberspace and actually in space space as we heard.  We were over at Air Force Association, a lot of talk about that.

Talk to us a little bit about as you’re building the requirements with your small, your elite, your combat-seasoned team, what are the kind of networks and systems the Army needs for the future if it’s going to be the key land component for this multi-domain battle space.

Maj. Gen. Gallagher:  Our networks, obviously, they have to be able to work.  They have to be simple enough for soldiers to be able to install, operate, and maintain in a very violent, very lethal fight, and not add complexity to the decision-making process.  So from our young soldiers out there, our maneuver soldiers, in a variety of formations, they need to be able to put these systems into operation with ease.  Our signal planners and signal leaders need to have a network that works for them.  They shouldn’t have to work so difficult and so hard for the network itself.

The most important thing is the network’s got to be able to operate and work in a contested environment.  You alluded to that we are going to be contested.  We’re going to be contested in spectrum, we’re going to be contested in space and our network.  We have to have multiple options to give our leaders and our soldiers the ability to connect wherever they find themselves on the battlefield, and they should not have to do major reconfiguration for that to happen.  

So we’re going to leverage what industry can bring to bear, what our research and development engineering counterparts can bring to bear in the science and technology community to leverage evolving technology to address those threats.

Mr. Muradian:  And both of you I should say are at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, sitting right next to each other so that the high concept also meets the deliverable in terms of what the acquisition art of the possible is.

General Bassett talk to us a little bit about your efforts in trying to get your arms around the problem.  You have a reputation of being somebody who’s an expert acquisition officer, one of the best in the Army, and being able to deliver these kinds of capabilities and do it very, very quickly. 

Talk to us a little bit about how you’re translating the guidance and the desire from the operator to do that into usable capability and do it quickly and efficiently.

Maj. Gen. Bassett:  I think one of the big keys that I’ve found so far, and I think one of the real values of having the Cross-Functional Team in place is a willingness to recognize that we’re not going to get it right the first time, but we can do experimentation, we can drive requirements by the art of the technically possible while we’re informed by the threat.  So we’ve got a real running start on this.

By the time I joined the team last February, General Gallagher and PEO Soldier and a number of folks from POC 3T were already iterating on some changes to the Army’s tactical network, fielding additional kit that we’ve immediately been able to put into employment into Afghanistan, giving soldiers a significantly better capability that begins to address many of the characteristics that Pete just talked about.

So this willingness to kind of take on a little bit of uncertainty, to move quickly with what industry can deliver, and to make and field a new Army network over time, I think already we’re in a really great place.  We’ve got new Army radios, both a man pack and a leader radio that are in production today.  We’ve got new mission command systems, some of which are just kind of off to our right that we’re going to be demonstrating at the next NIE here coming up next month.  

So new mission command, new radios, we’re working on making that network operations, the way you manage the network itself, considerably simpler, working hand in hand with the CFT on those priorities, and then figuring out how we can evolve that capability over time, knowing we won’t get the requirement perfect right up front, but rather having a requirement that can evolve and grow with us as we grow.

Maj. Gen. Gallagher:  One of the big things we’re learned from industry over the last few months is we’ve really been taking a good hard look at the problems with our network and what’s in the art of the possible for how we’re going to improve our network, is this concept of what’s called a DevOps model.  Getting the developers and the operators side by side, learning and iterating.  As General Bassett said, getting that feedback from soldiers and leaders on the ground and being able to iterate and improve as you go, get feedback, make adjustments, continue to improve, whether it’s an insertion to a software defined radio, an augmentation to an ergonomics requirement.  If something doesn’t have the right feel, that soldiers provide the input.  And General Bassett and his team will work with the vendors to fix it.

We’re learning a lot already.  We anticipate with the support of Forces Command and the Army Service Component Commands, they’re providing us soldiers and units that are going to give us that feedback.  It’s pretty powerful when you’ve got a willing commander on the ground that’s going to provide soldiers with that kind of feedback.

Mr. Muradian:  Let me take you, so you can give our viewers an update, JTRS, the radio was supposed to be the single wave form, the single radio that was going to cure all of our ills, and unfortunately after billions of dollars, not so much.  

What’s the way ahead now?  Bring us up to speed for some of the folks who haven’t been paying as close attention to this, and are still programmed to think hey, what’s the state of the Army communication enterprise in the aftermath of that program?

Maj. Gen. Bassett:  One of the big pitfalls that we can fall into is going after technology that’s just not there yet.  I think software defined radio is one of those technologies that when it was mandated, it wasn’t quite there yet.  And the wave forms weren’t that mature.  These radios and those wave forms go all the way back to the early design of the FCS network, and we were still dealing with the same wave forms and the same radios until just very recently.

This kind of technology has finally matured.  Software defined radios are beginning to deliver on the promise that we had.  It doesn’t mean that you don’t have to make any changes ever, but you do have enough flexibility now so that the wave forms that we’re now moving to, in some cases we can port them onto radios that we bought eight years ago.  So we’re leveraging commercial wave forms that were previously unavailable to us, recognizing that some of the government-developed wave forms just weren’t going to get us there.  

So a lot more flexibility, but the hardware itself is two or three generations better than what we saw in JTRS, and I think that’s a technology, really, whose time has come.  It’s actually really hard right now to buy anything other than software defined radio in this space.  Because if you do buy hardware defined radio you’re going to bake in either the vulnerabilities you haven’t discovered yet or some limitations.  

In this case we think we’ve got the right set of radios to carry us into the future and really start to deliver on the promise that was JTRS.

Maj. Gen. Gallagher:  The thing I would like to add is the radio technology that has evolved into where we are today gives us multiple options.  So you can use a variety of wave forms, a variety of areas within the spectrum, and spectrum will be contested.  These radios operate anywhere from low band VHF to in many cases satellite connectivity.  So we’re providing soldiers and leaders with multiple options.

I think the multi-band and the ability for some of these multi-channel radios to do cross-banding gives our soldiers and our formations better options going forward.

Maj. Gen. Bassett:  That was one of the big changes, by the way, was we went from a single channel data radio now to a two-channel leader radio, so that if you are contested in one channel you can move over to a different wave form.

It’s about options.  You’re never going to have a network that the adversary can’t jam if they get close enough, but you can have the options to fall over to other things that are more difficult to jam, more difficult to detect or alternative communications means, and that’s really, I think the result of the partnership here with the CFP.

Mr. Muradian:  You forget about SINCGARS but SINCGARS is the backbone radio of the United States Army.  So for a second I was thinking like why is Dave talking, oh, yeah, that’s right.  SINCGARS.

Maj. Gen. Bassett:  SINCGARS is a wave form now, not a radio.  So we’re not going to get rid of a couple of hundred thousand SINCGARS radios overnight.  As we evolve, we’ve got to make sure all this stuff works together.

Maj. Gen. Gallagher:  So the radios we’re fielding will, they can communicate with SINCGARS radios, but next generation, what’s in the art of the possible going forward?  As technology emerges, as algorithms are developed by industry that solve problems, complex problems, and help us fight our way through a contested environment, we want to make sure that we have the hardware that will support a software upgrade, and that’s really what we’re trying to move towards.

Mr. Muradian:  Let me ask you from the requirements shaping process.  Almost everybody who’s looked at the acquisition system has said hey, you know what?  Once upon a time it was handful of really smart guys in the Army, whether they were tankers, whether they were red legs, whether they were signalmen, and they’d get together and they’d be like look, here’s what we need, and let’s build what we need based on the intelligence that we have and our expertise as operators.

How are you distilling purity in this and not gold-plating requirements or getting to the point where it’s unobtainable for the guy who’s got to deliver it.  He’s like oh my God, there’s no way for us to do that.  

What are some of the principles you’re using with your team to make sure that you are disciplined in the process and not overreaching and keeping requirements simple?  

It was amazing how many people here were pointing to Hondo Geurts, the Navy Acquisition Executive, and the MQ-25 unmanned refueling aircraft the Navy just acquired.  He had two requirements — carry gas, land on the carrier.  And the rest of it was subject to discussion.  The Navy was going to be the integrator on it.  

In this case the Army’s going to be the integrator on it.  How are you using the purity on what it is that you really need and what soldiers will need, not just now but in five, ten years?

Maj. Gen. Gallagher:  I think it starts with not getting too clever for ourselves in how we define the requirements.  Over-specifying the technical requirements, it’s probably better for us to define the operational problem we’re trying to solve.  And let’s figure out what the technical requirements are based on the state of technology today, the threat that we’re trying to counter, and what is good enough to give us a significant advantage in our warfighting capability and not over-specify.  

As General Murray mentioned earlier in this, he talked about we specify a percentage of, with three decimal points of clarity.  So you spend millions trying to test to that level when better than what you had might be good enough to win the next fight.

So as technology will evolve, so will — we want to make sure that our requirements evolve with it.  

One of the big findings and a big problem with the network that came out a couple of years ago is the requirements as written and the capabilities as delivered were not delivering the systems that met the operational needs of those soldiers.  Not only in a contested environment, but in the environment we’re in.  

So we responded with Joint Urgent Operational Needs Statements and buying other solutions off the shelf that may not have been fully tested, but they were better than what we had.  So we’ve got to work through not only an iterative requirements process.  It’s not all about agile acquisition.  

I think there’s a lot of folks that concern themselves with hey, we’ve got to fix the acquisition process.  We do, but that’s part of a bigger institutional thing we’ve got to fix, and it’s how do we cycle requirements quicker and make them less specific and give the acquisition community and industry freedom of action to actually solve the problem we’re trying to solve.  But then how do we do iterative testing?  Testing can slow you down and bog you down, and we want to get what’s the capability, what’s the limitation and allow commanders to make risk decisions based on that feedback.

So there’s an institutional change that’s going to impact not only the acquisition community, the requirements community, the resourcing community, but we’ve got to get the testing community on board with us as well. 

We’ve got good partners at Army Test and Evaluation Command on our team, and we’re working through how do we test going forward, because it will be different.  It’s going to have to be different.

Maj. Gen. Bassett:  Kind of the simple way that I sometimes describe it is we used to approach requirements like we want to use requirements as a forcing function that drives the system to deliver a certain threshold of capability and prevents you from delivering anything that might be less than that.  And we can be so specific that we’ve constrained ourselves from actually innovating.  And so we’re trying to shift to a model where requirements can become an enabling function to enable us to go be innovative and deliver better capabilities out over time.

At the same time, the contracts that we have in place with our radios are built to incentivize that innovation.  So the radios that we’re buying today may not be the same radios we deliver in five years, because we can incentivize the vendors on that contract to add innovative capability over time within the contracts we already have in place without having to go through a lengthy recompete.  But if we do see technology that we need to get to a vendor outside of the radio vendors we have, we can on-ramp new vendors under both of those contracts.

So I think we’ve got some innovation going on in the contracting and procurement side along with a new mindset on how we approach requirements.

Mr. Muradian:  Let me ask you the leading question that’s being discussed here which is it’s awesome to have great combat-seasoned operators that are the ones who are setting the requirements, but there’s a concern about a disconnect that the Futures Command is causing with the acquisition community.  We’ve heard this from executives across the floor.  Secretary Esper said look, we’re working this process but we’re, I can assure you that there’s not going to be a disconnect in the way that we’re trying to do this.

You two are an excellent example of how there’s not a disconnect.  So talk to us about the relationship you two have and how you address, I’m sure there are some people that must have been asking you that question over the course of the coming, the last couple of days anyway.  How have you been answering them?

Maj. Gen. Gallagher:  I will tell you that the network is required for every other modernization priority the Army’s trying to focus on, right?  Whether it’s long-range precision fires, whether it’s future vertical lift, next generation combat vehicles, the soldier as a system, soldier lethality, and our integrated air and missile defense.  All of those modernization priorities require the underpinnings of a network.  So it’s that ubiquitous nature of the network and the requirements of the network requires a collective team of teams approach anyway.

So I know that, first of all, my team is very small.  And I have to rely on the expertise that General Bassett and his team bring to the table.  They are the acquisition professionals.  He’s got 30 years of acquisition experience coupled with my 30 years of operational experience, and we’re getting feedback with other folks that are on my team that bring experience from a variety of backgrounds.  That’s powerful if we harness it and focus it on what we’re really all about, and that’s delivering outcomes.  And those outcomes are about making our soldiers and our formations out there more lethal in the fight.  

That’s what Dave and I are absolutely both committed towards.  He came on board, we started the CFT back in November of last year, so about 11 months.  Dave came on board in February and he hit the ground running.  Came out of the combat vehicles with a lot of institutional knowledge, but he’s a former signal officer.  So he understands networks.  He’s a great team mate, and his team is part of my team.  I mean as I said, his lead engineer is working with my team every day.  Basically by default, he’s my lead engineer as well.  So it’s been tremendous, and we know, I know, again, I can’t do it alone.  I don’t have the depth and breadth of talent, and I’m relying on partners like Dave and his team to help us make it happen.

Maj. Gen. Bassett:  We heard the message from Army leadership which is we’re going to modernize through CFTs in the Futures Command.  I’m a guy that likes to deliver capability.  I said we’re going to hang together or we’ll hang separately.  [Laughter].  So this is how the Army’s going to modernize, and I think we’ve seen great synergy there.  Then we’re all in, and we’re going to commit to working together.

Where there’s a partnership and where we recognize the skills and the strengths of each part of the team, we’ve been able to capitalize on both.  

I have not spent the last 30 years fighting the Army network.  I had a few good years as a signal officer and I’ve been doing acquisition ever since.  But I have learned about contracting and logistics and engineering, all skills that the average signal officer doesn’t spend a lot of time developing.  

So I think this is about leveraging the skill sets of both to deliver the capability we both recognize the Army needs.

Mr. Muradian:  Two more questions because we’re about to get the hook and you guys are very busy.

First is, multi-domain battle.  This is the Army  network piece that’s going to have to interact with each one of the other military services.  We’ve heard the same thing from Dave Goldfein, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force; Bob Miller, the Marine Corps Commandant said it; so has John Richardson, the Chief of Naval Operations.  How are you working what you’re doing to ensure that it seamlessly interacts with what the other services are doing, given that you’re going to call for fires from ships that are going to be off-shore or submarines, there will be airstrikes that are going to come from land-based aircraft, there are going to be stealth aircraft that are going to be involved in that mix.  We’re going to have different kinds of communications demands and requirements.  And that in a contested environment where you’re going to have to shift the mission command.  So I have kind of a tactical question for you as well in terms of this can’t be only a technological solution.

But talk to us about how you’re thinking from a requirements standpoint, and Dave, how you’re acting from an acquisition standpoint, to dovetail and mesh this with what the other services are doing.

Maj. Gen. Gallagher:  One of the things, as we’ve assessed the shortfalls with the Army networks and identified what are those baseline requirements and characteristics going forward that the network must deliver, joint interoperability has to be baked in on the front of anything we deliver.  The joint warfighting capability.  Everything we do as an Army we’re going to be fighting with joint partners.  That’s why we’re leveraging solutions that are available today from the Joint and Special Operations partners and we’re adapting and buying those capabilities and providing that to our soldiers and getting those systems in our formations. 

The coalition accessibility is critical as well.  We’re not going to maybe be completely interoperable with every coalition partner, but we have coalition partners that are shoulder to shoulder with us on a multitude of battlefields already, and we know going forward we’re going to fight as a coalition.  So coalition accessibility is also critical.

So having common standards and sharing those standards with our team mates and making sure that we’re not, the Army’s not out rolling its own, but we are actually working with partners.  I interface with the Special Ops and I’ve got a Marine Corps liaison that participates with our team.  Much of what General Bassett and his team do in the acquisition community and in network design and the fundamentals going forward, they bring in the Marine Corps and Air Force and other Joint partners.  So it’s got to be baked into everything we do.

Maj. Gen. Bassett:  From a mission command standpoint, what I don’t want to do is to have to bring in separate servers, separate capabilities for every domain.  Right?  So as we add cyber situation awareness, for example, into our mission command systems I want it built on our common mission command framework.  

So over the last six months we’ve been able to publish what that framework is and we’ve basically said to industry, look, this is kind of the rules that you’re going to have to play by to deliver capability within our mission command design.  You can tell us you don’t like the pieces we’ve selected, and you can maybe ask us to replace things with your code, but what we don’t want is another stovepipe for every new mission command system that we deliver across the Joint force.

I think we’re making a lot of great steps in that direction so that as we add domains, multi-domain, we’re going to keep adding domains, we want it to be a unified mission command system.  

Mr. Muradian:  Operating in a contested environment involves a lot of mission command.  It’s not only technology based.  General Mercier, the former Supreme Allied Commander of Transformation used to talk about this, that we’ve got to get into this new future where connectivity, his big initiative was the combat cloud, to have a secure cloud network upon which the data resides so that actually you’re not carrying it on-board, it exists, and if each one of these nodes is interfered with, ultimately you can still manage to communicate, share information.

I want to get a sense more broadly from you two, what part of this is a doctrinal intellectual process and what part of it is a technological solution when you’re in a contested battle space? 

When you guys started your career they were still practicing EMCON emissions control where you guys were supposed to execute complex objectives without a lot of radio chatter.  Each one of the military services used to be able to do it, but now we have generations of people who have just gotten so used to the power of the smart phone in their pocket that the notion of communicating without it becomes sort of very, very difficult.

So talk to us about the human element of it.  Talk to us about whether combat cloud is something that can serve a medium as a connecting function including with our allies.  And how much of it is just sort of in the discipline intellectual process change.

Maj. Gen. Gallagher:  I think every bit of what you laid out is something we need to explore and assess as we go forward.  If you just start, after 16 years of war, the heavy demand for full motion video and the decision-making process, and when you’re operating in a counter-insurgency and a counter-terrorist environment, where you’re based out of forward operating bases and combat outposts, and you go in, you do a mission based on intelligence, and you have access to the full motion video feeds and everything at your disposal, that may not be available on every echelon in a very mobile, very lethal, very violent fight where the enemy gets a vote and you’re fighting through a contested battle space in spectrum or space or anything else.

So we have to understand what are those information exchange requirements on echelon?  What’s the minimum information exchange requirements on echelon from the squad all the way back to the corps, or the Joint Task Force?  And how do we ensure that the network can deliver that?

And at the pointy edge, the pointy tip of the spear, where the rubber meets the road, where that soldier is out there on the ground, we owe the soldiers and their leaders multiple options.  So it’s the ability to fight through a contested spectrum.

The bigger broader, from command post to command post, we’re in an internet protocol-based network.  So cyber security is critical.  Right?  We’ve got to ensure that our network is protected end to end.  So end point security, identify management, all those things matter because we want to make sure that the data, wherever it’s stored, whether it’s in a forward base server or in a cloud, the transport’s got to be able to reach that cloud and the soldier has to understand that the data he’s looking at or that leader, the integrity of that data is true.  Okay?  That’s the thing we’ve got to work our way through.

I think the cloud can enable that, but we’ve got to ensure what that really means, especially on echelon.

Does that answer your question?

Mr. Muradian:  Yes, sir.  It does.

Maj. Gen. Bassett:  Cloud is obviously an interesting concept and it works really well where you have ubiquitous connectivity.  In the absence of that connectivity you’ve got to do some edge processing, you’ve got to make sure that your systems operate in the absence of a connection.  So I think, so cloud is something that we need to evaluate.

I don’t think we’re ever going to get to the place where we have enough bandwidth that we can just publish everything into a global cloud that we’re always connected to.  I think if you make these assumptions you’re going to not do very well when you’re disconnected.  But there are going to be some things that we do want to put into the cloud as the bandwidth is available so that we can leverage it for analytics and other things that will help us fight batter, particularly as we analyze data that’s available to the force. 

So I think we’ve got to go down that path of saying what’s the most important information, what’s going to give us the most warfighting capability as we can make it available to some kind of central processing?  But I think this idea of sort of a global cloud is maybe a bit too far off.

Mr. Muradian:  Major General Dave Bassett, who is the PEO C3T and Major General Pete Gallagher who is with Futures Command, the Director of the Network Cross-Functional Team.  Both at sunny Aberdeen Proving Ground.  Sir, thanks very much.  Really, really enjoyed it.

Maj. Gen. Gallagher:  Thank you, sir, I really appreciate it.

Mr. Muradian:  Thank you very, very much.  It’s always great seeing you, Dave.  All the best to both of you.

Thanks very much.  I look forward to coming up and visiting with you guys.

Maj. Gen. Bassett:  Thanks, absolutely.

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