Army Pushes IT In Modernization Plan

The service is counting on IT networks, mobile radios, cloud computing, and helmet-mounted displays to gain advantage in battle.
Information technologies -- from cloud computing to biometrics to helmet-mounted displays, as well as major network and data center efforts -- play a central role in the U.S. Army's latest modernization plan, which the Army released Wednesday.

Among the more intriguing near-term efforts outlined in the modernization plan is a cloud computing project in Afghanistan. In this fiscal year, the plan says, the Army will begin bringing online a "tactical cloud computing architecture in Afghanistan to provide deployed units the storage, advanced analytic capability, and computing power to exploit the expanded [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] sensor architecture being emplaced in theater."

Upgrades to the Army's battle command networks take up much of the discussion of IT in the modernization plan, which also includes weapons, vehicles, and operational plans. The efforts revolve around two multi-billion dollar programs that have long been in planning, the Warfighter Information Network (Tactical), called Win-T, and the next-generation Joint Tactical Radio System, or JTRS (typically pronounced "jitters").

Win-T is an upgraded, high-speed network backbone that will be fielded in three increments with the goal of being interoperable, affordable, and upgradeable and eventually carrying voice, video, and data. The Army plans to spend $630 million on Win-T in fiscal 2011 alone. JTRS, meanwhile, is the Army's next-generation field radio system. Field testing of the latest tactical radio upgrades begins in fiscal 2012.

Improvements to the battle command network include an overarching strategy called the Global Network Enterprise Construct, which includes the consolidation of enterprise data centers, regional high-bandwidth satellite to fiber gateways, and numerous network operations centers.

The modernization strategy also focuses on the Army's science and technology program, which performs basic research and development that could lead to future military technologies. Among the efforts pointed out by the modernization plan are neuroscience research to improve human-machine interfaces, development of autonomous systems, computer networking research, and development of immersive virtual systems to improve training.

The networked soldier is another key focus of the Army modernization plan, going far beyond the radios of JTRS. The Army is developing strategies for the "Soldier as a System" and "Integrated Robotics and Sensors," concepts seemingly borrowed from the Army's now-dismantled Future Combat Systems effort. This year and next, the plan says, the Army is doing its initial prototypes of the first-generation Ground Soldier System, which includes a computer, GPS navigation, headset and microphone, and helmet-mounted display. The helmet-mounted display will be able to show soldiers their own and fellow soldiers' locations on a digital map. Further out, the document describes what seems to be networked night vision.

The plan also describes a number of applications and networked systems that don't necessarily fit into any particular bucket, including new unmanned ground and aerial vehicles large and small, the Biometric Automated Tool Set for use in identifying adversaries in theater, and the Machine Foreign Language Translator System to provide automatic translation of foreign media, speech, and text to English.

"The goal of Army modernization is to develop and field the best equipment available to allow our soldiers to be successful against our enemies," Gen. George W. Casey, chief of staff of the Army, said in a statement. "We must continue to transform into a force that is versatile, expeditionary, agile, lethal, sustainable, and interoperable so that our soldiers will have a decisive advantage in any fight."