Common Operating Environment assists Army modernization

Kris Osborn


WASHINGTON – As the Army matures its Agile Process, steps are being taken to align systems engineering and integration in an effort to project and synchronize trends in technology and standards across Army programs now and in the future. An outcome of this alignment is that the system of systems engineering community is now shaping the Army’s network infrastructure to be more capable and efficient, enabling industry to build devices and applications to standards and align research and development with the Army’s acquisition roadmap.

To support this effort, the Army acquisition community is implementing the Common Operating Environment (COE). The COE is an approved set of computing technologies and standards that enable secure and interoperable applications to be developed and executed rapidly across a variety of computing environments (CEs), Army officials explained.

“COE is essential to standardizing the computing infrastructure fundamental to Army network modernization, as the current strategic modernization approach stretches across a 30-year time span with a focus on identifying and leveraging emerging Commercial off the shelf (COTS) technology,” said Terry Edwards, Director of the newly formed System of Systems Engineering and Integration Directorate.

COE, which includes an effort to synchronize a number of computing environments, was established, in part, to support a 30-year strategic modernization approach outlined by the Assistant Secretary of the Army – Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, ASA (ALT), Heidi Shyu. The concept informing this effort hinges upon the need to integrate promising emerging technology into established programs of record. At the same time, a key portion of this effort relates to the importance of linking modernization efforts with the Army’s Science and Technology (S&T) community.

“Bringing the 30-year plan and COE together, we are going to identify a roadmap for each of the portfolios so that we can tailor our approach to address specific capability gaps,” said Edwards.

With the initial implementation plan unveiled in early 2012, the thrust of COE consists of a set of technical standards and computing technologies with specified layers designed to facilitate integration and interoperability among software applications and hardware , said Phil Minor, Chief, COE Division, ASA (ALT). “COE is aimed at selecting and integrating a set of standards and protocols in order to achieve an open architecture, where protocols are not proprietary to a specific vendor,” he added.

Now underway, COE implementation is aligning Army programs into six Computing Environments (CE) based on mission and environment (size, weight, power, and bandwidth) limitations. Each CE will be baselined on a common foundation (hardware and software) to facilitate reuse of common components. Each CE will be designed to interoperate with the others, thus forming the COE. The interface between CEs will be enabled through the establishment of Control Points, i.e., tightly controlled technical specifications that act as the blueprint for how data will be exchanged between CEs. Implementation will be in a phased approach expected to be executed over the next several years. The idea is to stop developing systems within different stove-pipes or silos of capability, but rather to allow applications and emerging technologies to rest upon a common computing architecture or foundation, Edwards explained.

The open architecture concept upon which COE is based is fundamental to the ongoing development of a number of significant Army modernization programs which are currently making substantial technical progress. A few of these are: Nett Warrior – a hand-held digital display device for dismounted units, Enhanced Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System (EMARSS) – a fixed-wing Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance aircraft and Distributed Common Ground System – Army (DCGS-A) – an integrated intelligence database, explained Edwards.

COE is fundamental to the Capability Set management approach currently being pursued by the Army, a method of capability development designed to integrate promising emerging technology with effective existing systems. The technologies which comprise these Capability Sets are engineered with the System-of-Systems approach to integration and development, designed to lower costs and facilitate interoperability.

Many of these COE standards are currently being identified, integrated and evaluated through the Army’s Network Integration Evaluations (NIE), a series of ongoing operational assessments of technologies and capabilities taking place in the realistic, combat-like environment of White Sands Missile Range, N.M. In fact, two upcoming NIEs will help validate Mission Command COE software.