The Paradigm Shift to Deployable Communications: Ripple Effects

By Robbin Laird

American and foreign militaries are in the midst of a strategic shift towards force distribution. The goal is to enhance survivability of the force but also force distribution has the advantage of expanding the presence of forces in the desired areas of operation and to be able to deliver integrated effects from a multi-domain force.

But to do requires a paradigm shift for these forces, notably the ground forces.

After having operated for twenty years in the Middle East against an adversary who was unable to contest Western airpower, now ground forces cannot make such an assumption. Mobility in the ground forces combined with multi-domain capability to tap into the joint or coalition forces elements with which those forces are operating requires a new communications model.

This model of C2 deployability is based on the revolution in C2 and ISR technologies coming to the force and to be reinforced by the coming of various types of autonomous systems as well. The U.S. Army, for one, is increasingly focused and speed and range of their ability to insert force as seen by the decision to buy a new tiltrotor aircraft to complement and replace in various cases their legacy rotorcraft.

And associated with that is the ability to place deployed communications at a point where whatever ground forces are being deployed can tap into the air, maritime and space capabilities which their C2 system makes available as well making that ground force available to the other services as well.

According to Mark Kitz, the PEO of the Army’s Office of Command, Control and Communications-Tactical: “We learned a significant lesson in Ukraine, right? You have to move. These lower echelons, below the division, their command posts have to move to be survivable.

“They have to be dispersed to be survivable. The command posts that we were building and architecting, with the network as an enabler, clearly would not be survivable in a large-scale combat operations fight.”

But shifting to more deployed C2 has significant ripple effects on other elements of a ground force’s operational kit. Already mentioned is the coming of a faster and longer-range lift asset to carry the C2, but the effects are multi-faceted.

In other words, to shift from the fixed command posts of the Middle Eastern wars to the kind of command posts necessary to operate a multi-mission more expeditionary force requires significant integrated change across not only the Army but in line with the services and allies as they shape more distributed forces that can integrate the desired combat effects.

An aspect which the casual observer might not notice but a professional would is the question of the requirements for carrying the evolving packaged of equipment to the point of operation. And the nature of dealing with peer adversaries means that challenges such as protecting that kit from EMI effects is also to be considered. It is also the case that a deployable C2 system will be used in a variety of climatic conditions so ensuring the equipment can be transported safely to a variety of settings is a requirement as well.

To further understand the paradigm shift and its ripple effects, I talked with Dominique Schinabeck the CEO of DESAPRO. The company provides the military and commercial customers with customizable solutions to their packaging needs, which is one of the ripple effects to be considered.

How do you package for transport a deployable C2 system? How to you modify your solution to the inevitable innovations ahead in providing for smaller form factors for the C2 system?

A key element of this transition is clearly the question of evolving the form factor and reducing the signature of the C2 node. So any packaging solution needs to keep up with the innovations to be pursued by the military in achieving their goal of reduced footprint and signature.

Schinabeck noted that their business is focused on building tailorable solutions for customers. They do not do a cookie cutter solution to building their cases but tailor it to the customer’s needs. She argued that as the military places more emphasis on deployable C2 there will be enhanced need to evolve casing to carry the evolving kit considered necessary for deployable C2.

She emphasized that they use aluminum casing which has the advantage of having “no limits on size with Aluminum, you can make the case as small or as big as they need to be and fit them into the space available for lift to where the equipment is needed.”

Aluminum casing is very flexible for adjusting to the desired form factor. She noted:

“If in a year into the program, there is a need to change the form factor, no problem. If we have a molded case, we have the tooling and we can change it. With aluminum, we can do a revision change it to the new needs for the deployable system.”

Aluminum has many advantages over plastic, and she argues that the enhanced focus on deployability will highlight those advantages for customers. She underscored that “aluminum is more durable, sustainable and eco-friendly long term than plastic. It is much more heat and fire resistant and also if you are deploying to a cold environment or hot environment it is very resilient for it can handle very high or low temperatures.”

The DESAPRO approach allows for an ability to accommodate modularity in terms of equipment to be carried by their cases. She cited the example of unmanned systems customers who use their cases with form inserts to that various form factors can be accommodated for the unmanned systems which can be variously transported in their cases.

In short, there are ripple effects from the shift to more deployable and expeditionary forces which are missed if you simply focus on the platforms. The entire eco-system changes including how you package the equipment to provide for C2 on the move.

The featured photo is the U.S. Army’s visualization of their approach to building a mobile command post or what they call CP12 or Command Post Integrated Infrastructure.

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