Challenges and Opportunities in the New Army Unified Network Plan

Published: October 20, 2021

Federal Market AnalysisARMYInformation TechnologyNetwork ServicesPolicy and LegislationTelecommunications

The U.S. Army lays out an ambitious vision for network modernization that requires significant industry support.

Key Takeaways

  • The Army cannot realize its Unified Network without industry.
  • The investment required to realize the new Unified Network will span all Information Technology segments (i.e., hardware, software, services).
  • Automation technologies will be key to securing the Army’s network of the future.

The U.S. Army’s new Unified Network Plan (UNP) outlines steps the Service must take in order to build a modern data transport architecture that enables Multi-Domain Operations (MDO). Buried in the language around what the Army intends to achieve and how it intends to get there are some interesting comments concerning the challenges that the effort currently faces. These challenges must be overcome with the assistance and support of industry partners. A review of a few of these challenges provides insight into the type of work mission owners will need done in order to realize the new network envisioned by the Army.

Line of Effort #1: Establish the Unified Network—Enabling Multi-Domain-Operations

According to the new UNP, “this LOE enables the integration and alignment of the Integrated Tactical Network and Integrated Enterprise Networks as well as the convergence of the multiple, disparate organizational networks into the Army Unified Network to support MDO by 2028.”

Observation: Network consolidation is a massive effort that has been underway for more than a decade. As the effort continues not only will the Army need its own networks to be interoperable, it also will require its unified network to be interoperable with the networks of the other Armed Services, with the Department of Defense Information Network (DODIN), and with the networks of global joint partners.

Who Benefits? This is an exceptionally complex undertaking that will take years of investment to achieve. Companies doing network engineering and systems integration stand to find a lot of business opportunity, as do companies that provide network hardware. Stovepiped systems must be replaced or modernized with a hybrid cloud approach providing the underlying hosting and computing infrastructure.

Line of Effort #2: Posture the Force for Multi-Domain Operations

MDO is complex. The Army must therefore “synchronize and integrate its organizational, people, training, and talent management initiatives to keep pace with rapid technological evolution.”

Observation: Network technologies must evolve in order for the Army to make efficient use of the synthetic cloud-based training environments it is building. Delivering extremely high transport throughout will be key to enabling the success of this effort.

Who Benefits? Improving the automation of network capabilities is one key requirement here. Providers of artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities will find a receptive audience. Training Army personnel how to use these new technologies will also be critical due to high turnover rates.

Line of Effort #3: Security and Survivability—Retaining Freedom of Action in Cyberspace

Effective MDO requires freedom of action and yet the Army (and its industry partners) faces more serious network disruption from nation-state adversaries and skilled bad actors than ever before.

Observation: Automating network monitoring and identity management capabilities is critical given the speed of cyber events. Delivering on the promise of zero-trust architecture, artificial intelligence, situational awareness tools, visualization technology, and investing in modern network equipment will require sustained investment.

Who Benefits? Companies doing zero-trust work and offering automated cyber security solutions. This is generally the area requiring investment by the Army in software, so small businesses as opposed to large vendors may find more opportunities, especially if the security capabilities being offered are SaaS-based. Also, expect the Army to continue leveraging Other Transaction Authority for the most cutting edge technology. Large businesses will see opportunity in selling commercial network gear and in network engineering.