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DOD reveals military communications in rough shape in new study

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  • US military communications systems and connectivity platforms are not where they need to be, hundreds of active-duty and civilian Department of Defense personnel revealed in a first-of-its-kind survey.
  • Less than half of the respondents said they have the connectivity necessary to achieve their mission objectives, and 98% said they have experienced disruption “to a point where they’re left with a complete loss of connectivity on the battlefield.”
  • More than 60% of respondents said US communications systems were either on par with or falling behind near-peer rivals.
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US military communications systems are not where they need to be and may be falling behind as rivals like China and Russia advance, Department of Defense officials revealed in a first-of-its-kind industry-led survey on the state of military communications.

A survey of hundreds of active-duty and civilian DOD personnel able to speak authoritatively on relevant communication systems conducted by the Government Business Council, a research division of the Government Executive Media Group, in partnership with Viasat Inc., a communications company, found that the state of affairs for US military communications is far from ideal.

Respondents, many of whom were senior officials, revealed that war fighters don’t have the levels of connectivity they need, military communications systems are not resilient enough, and rival powers are gaining an edge.

While nearly two-thirds said they expect the same level of connectivity for communication and information access that they get in the civilian world, less than half of these respondents said they have what they need to achieve their mission objectives.

And 98% of respondents said they have experienced disruption “to a point where they’re left with a complete loss of connectivity on the battlefield,” with 34% characterizing this issue as a regular occurrence.

Many respondents expressed concerns that DOD was not prioritizing communications technology in a way that allows the department to keep pace with global threats, though this is something DOD and the service branches are looking at more closely.

And 63% said that the US, which has long been a leader in this area, was either simply on par with or falling behind near-peer adversaries.

“The Army must modernize today or we could lose the next war,” Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy said last month in his first letter to the force. The results of the survey were revealed at the Association of the US Army conference in Washington, DC, on Monday.

Over 60% of respondents in the survey said DOD needed to actively take steps to develop and field secure connectivity capabilities that could withstand cyberattacks and denial-of-service attempts, types of asymmetric warfare being employed by low-end threats and near-peer adversaries alike.

The problem for the US military is that the acquisitions process that served the US well for decades, allowing the military to produce some of the finest systems in the world, can no longer keep pace with the speed of development in the private sector.

Seventy percent of those surveyed said a new acquisition process was necessary for speed of relevance development.

The industry side argues that rather than try to reinvent the wheel for military purposes, the DOD should instead make use of commercial solutions. Fifty-nine percent of DOD respondents agreed, with only 10% in disagreement.

As far as what the military wants, possibly from the industry, 60% of respondents said that cloud-enabled technologies would be an important tool for military decision-making going forward, and 81% agreed that the US military needs a modern end-to-end satellite and ground-based network to achieve desired results.

While many of the problems with US military communications and connectivity capabilities were previously known, the survey is intended to serve as a wake-up call. This survey, Daniel Thomas, the director of the Government Business Council said in a statement, “is a clarion call to military leadership across the board.”

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