Mission command technology set for NIE evaluation, future evolution

By Kathryn Bailey

 

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. –One of the first technologies to transition acetate map information into a digitized format for information-sharing in Iraq and Afghanistan is now setting the stage for the Army’s progression to simplified, web-based mission command capabilities.

As part of the latest fielding requirements for Command Post of the Future (CPOF), the Army’s primary system for viewing and sharing mission command information, Soldiers at this fall’s Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) 14.1 at Fort Bliss, Texas, will perform a Limited User Test (LUT) to assess CPOF’s reliability and overall contributions to mission success. A successful LUT will provide CPOF with the Army’s Full Materiel Release (FMR) designation and will supersede the Urgent Materiel Release (UMR) designation that allowed critical system capabilities to continually reach Soldiers during wartime.

“We are pleased to finally put CPOF through a formal operational test because we have a decade’s worth of success stories from the field,” said Col. Jonas Vogelhut, the Army’s project manager for Mission Command, in which CPOF is assigned. “We are also using Soldier feedback to keep improving CPOF as the foundation for the next generation of mission command technologies.”

The CPOF LUT will be part of an NIE that has been scaled to meet the needs of the Army within budget constraints. In past NIEs, more than 3,800 Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division (2/1 AD) assessed systems during live exercises. At NIE 14.1, only certain elements of 2/1 AD will be deployed to the field, while the remainder of the Brigade Combat Team (BCT) will use simulation and modeling in live, virtual environments for some of the smaller tests and evaluations.

For example, the Army will gather data from Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort Riley, Kan., with the headquarters at the division level at Fort Riley and the brigade at Fort Bliss. The key aspect of this test will be to gauge the operations of CPOF between the two locations over the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) network backbone. Successful operations between the installations will be a strong indicator of successful operations over real-world operational distances, such as from Afghanistan to Kuwait.

Another key measurement for CPOF at NIE 14.1 will be its performance in both the command post and on-the-move in vehicles equipped with a WIN-T Increment 2 Point of Presence (PoP).

The CPOF LUT also verifies the system’s readiness to field as part of the Army’s Common Operating Environment (COE), which is an Army-approved set of computing technologies and standards that is allowing secure and interoperable software application development across several computing environments. A standardized environment will yield lower development costs, improve interoperability and allow for easier system maintenance.

“It has been exciting to watch CPOF’S modernization as the Army shifts towards technologies that will reduce both complexity and cost, and NIE 14.1 is right in step with these parameters,” Vogelhut said.

CPOF is the primary common operating picture (COP) viewer used by the Army in all theaters, combining feeds from different mission command systems to provide a broad spectrum of information that commanders and staff members can use to collaborate. It has provided much needed capabilities during Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), where CPOF-equipped units have been able to plot real-time tactical efforts like firefights on a three-dimensional map, and instantly see the updates that staff members make to those efforts.

“We call CPOF’s capabilities ‘WYSIWIS’ or ‘what-you-see-is-what-I-see,’ said Lt. Col. Thomas Bentzel, product manager for Tactical Mission Command, assigned to PM MC. “That is because all the data is live and shared in real time.”

With its latest release, CPOF is providing the next-generation architecture that enables entire theaters of operation to collaborate on a single distributed data repository with thousands of CPOF users. It also provides a “disconnected, intermittent, limited” (DIL) capability, allowing individuals and units to disconnect from the network, continue to conduct mission command operations using CPOF, and then reconnect and resynchronize with the repository. DIL capabilities provide uninterrupted operations in the event of a network outage or the requirement to rapidly relocate a command post.

As mission command capabilities mature, CPOF is providing a thin client version of CPOF, called Command Web, that enables the Army and third-party developers to develop and field applications or “widgets” that represent the warfighting functions of maneuver, fires, intelligence, sustainment and protection. These web-based technologies will eventually reach across all of the Army’s computing environments, as part of the COE, and will provide a standardized, streamlined experience that will enhance the commander’s collaborative planning abilities.

“CPOF revolutionized the concept of the COP, and now the commander is seeing how powerful integrating web-based warfighting systems into one environment can be to enhance his decision making capabilities,” Vogelhut said. “By integrating systems we also simplify them, making them easier for Soldiers to understand and use — and in times of reduced resources, we gain tremendous efficiencies through both equipment costs and training burdens.”