The start of a new year is a good chance for us to put the previous year behind us and start afresh with resolutions that aim to break old, often bad, habits and the inevitable poor life choices we sometimes make and, instead, capitalise on the good things we’ve done.
Reducing the amount of alcohol we drink, stopping smoking and losing weight are usually the top of the list for a revitalised self.
It’s no different for the C4I community as industry and the armed forces look to start new initiatives in 2018 or build on successes already achieved. As ever, a new year means a renewed purpose to achieve goals set out. It also means taking a step back and learning from the past, avoiding the mistakes that sometimes plague major projects. Indeed, many individuals and organisations will be hoping that 2018 will be the year that their endeavours bear fruit.
Nowhere is that more so than in major networking projects, which are often fraught with technical difficulties and so ambitious in scope that they implode due to cost overruns and delays. Indeed, 2017 was challenging for the US Army in terms of networking initiatives as it decided to effectively cancel its major networking modernisation programme known as the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical – or WIN-T.
WIN-T was supposed to be one of the service’s flagship projects, but last September the army’s Deputy Chief of Staff (G-6) Lt Gen Bruce Crawford announced its premature end, describing it as ‘not the network that we need to fight and win against a peer threat in a congested or contested environment’. It was criticised for not being simple or intuitive, and also for being heavily dependent on industry-provided field service representatives.
Instead, the US Army wants to leverage the ‘innovation explosion’ that is currently under way in the communications sector and transform its acquisition process to keep up with these seismic changes. As part of its transformation, the US Army will step up a new command aimed at modernisation, known as the Army Futures Command, with networking being one of six key priority areas that it will look at when it is stood up this summer.
This new command for 2018 could revitalise and reinvigorate army acquisition. Less-established industry players will also be hoping that this reinvigorated buying process could mean their innovative solutions win out over the same old multi-billion-dollar contractors.
Either way, the US Army has to find a solution to its networking challenges and 2018 will be the year in which we get more of an idea about the direction in which they’re heading. In some good news at least, it appears that the army’s attempts to fuse its air defence enterprise through a single network as part of its Integrated Air and Missile Defense programme is progressing well, despite early software hiccups. With its underlying IAMD Battle Command System, the army will be able to take advantage of open architecture standards and a significantly improved air defence picture.
And it’s not just the US embarking on major C4I programmes. Several countries, including Germany, France and the UK, are looking at moving forward with new communications and networking projects in 2018. The UK, for instance, will continue to leverage work already done on the next-generation Morpheus programme, in particular a £330 million contract placed with General Dynamics UK last April for the development of a new architectural approach known as Evolve to Open. The British Army is expected to contract other elements of Morpheus this year, including the Battlefield Management Application.
The German Army is also undertaking a significant communications and overall battle management modernisation, with two programmes known as Mobile Tactical Communications and Mobile Tactical Information Network. Several companies used 2017 to position themselves for a soon-to-be-released RfI. Both programmes could be highly lucrative for industry, with estimates suggesting the German Army will allocate around €4-6 billion ($4.8-7.2 billion) to the modernisation effort.
Challenges still remain, and as projects increase in scope and become more ambitious (and unwieldy), the chances of failure inevitably increase. If that’s not daunting enough, the increasingly contested and congested nature of communication networks, including the growing cyber threat, is also adding to the issues facing both industry and the armed forces. Nevertheless, as 2018 goes on, industry will be hoping its new year’s ambitions can achieve results, unlike trying to cut down on those evening tipples.