Army Building Foundational Software for Common Operating Environment

By Kris Osborn and Margaret C. Roth

The U.S. Army’s System-of-Systems (SoS) Engineering effort has identified a number of computing environments through which to implement standards defined by the Army Chief Information Officer (CIO/G-6), service officials said. When adopted, these standards will define the Common Operating Environment (COE).

Aimed at addressing interoperability between systems and agility in development and deployment, the COE also focuses on an open architecture to leverage industry innovation, ensure cyber-hardened foundations for security, and reduce the life-cycle cost of systems.

The computing environment (CE) structure is geared toward organizing the Army environment from the sustaining base to the tactical edge.

Stringent Standards

Stringent technical standards will be established and enforced for software infrastructure to guide materiel development and ensure built-in interoperability, said Terry Edwards, Director of SoS Engineering for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology (ASAALT).

Also, the COE will be aligned to industry trends, best practices, and products while making the necessary investments in complementing security components to support DOD-unique requirements.  That will enable the Army to quickly take advantage of commercial innovation and will spur competition, Edwards said.

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According to Terry Edwards, Director of SoS Engineering for the Office of the ASAALT, the Army will establish and enforce stringent technical standards for software infrastructure that will guide materiel development and ensure built-in interoperability. (U.S. Army photo by Mike Allison)

The COE’s design will allow industry to know upfront and without question the parameters within which Army hardware and applications must fit. By establishing an ecosystem for each of the CEs, developers will be given access to architectures, foundational products, and certification environments required for developing applications.

Building a Foundation

Edwards compared the Army effort to commercial endeavors such as those undertaken by Apple and Google.

“The Apple foundation and the Android foundation have a bunch of software that determines their environment,” Edwards explained. “When you go to build an app, it does not take a long time to build because a lot of the pieces are already there. People take that software, and they build their application on top of that,” he said.

“The computing environments allow us to organize our programs in such a way that there is greater efficiency due to greater collaboration among the PMs [program managers],” said Monica Farah-Stapleton, COE Lead for SoS Engineering.

A key rationale for the COE is to ensure that various mission command applications all work together on a common software foundation, Farah-Stapleton explained.

Minimum standard configurations for CEs will support the Army’s ability to produce and deploy high-quality applications quickly, thereby reducing the complexities of configuration and support training as well as life-cycle cost. Strict compliance to standards will ensure interoperability among CEs, Edwards explained.

Benefits to Industry

The CE standards promise to be just as valuable to industry. “… From the joint tactical radio environment, we’ve received a lot of positive feedback from industry in terms of the definition of standards,” said BG Michael E. Williamson, Joint Program Executive Officer Joint Tactical Radio System.

CEs will allow the Army to more frequently and more clearly articulate capability gaps and put these requests for information out faster, explained LTG Susan S. Lawrence, Army CIO/G-6.

Industry is willing and able to respond, she said. “They tell me they will spend their research dollars, but they’re afraid that they’re out building something that we don’t need, and they’re trying to guess. And so it is on us to do a better job in communicating with industry those capability gaps and get those requests for information out faster.”

Staying up to date with technology will be an ongoing responsibility that industry shares with the Army, said GEN Peter W. Chiarelli, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army. “We’re going to hold that [vendor] responsible to make sure that they’re staying up with technology. And if they want us to keep buying their widget, their widget … better ensure that it incorporates the advances.”

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Soldiers work on the network during the Brigade Combat Team Modernization Limited User Test at White Sands Missile Range, NM. (U.S. Army photo by Richard Rau)

Supporting the Network

The scope of the COE goes well beyond procurement of tactical and operational applications, Chiarelli noted. “It’s also very, very important for those things that are going to be pulling data that will allow us, across the board, to ensure that we have one network and have accessibility to all the data we need to run an organization of 1.1 million men and women.

“The network strategy is now end to end,” Lawrence said. “By putting the battle command systems inside the cloud, we can extend it virtually to every post, camp, and station,” she said.

The Army has already proven that it can extend the Afghan mission network to the next deployers, Lawrence said. For every unit going into the theater now, “we have put the Afghan Mission Network into their headquarters.” The unit commander can then meet with his counterpart in Afghanistan every day. “And that’s what this end-to-end global network enterprise is going to deliver for our teams,” Lawrence said.

The Path Forward

Part of the plan to execute this vision of the COE requires Edwards and his team to establish the framework and governance structure. This is a huge undertaking that requires a change in how the Army thinks and develops systems, Edwards said.

When implemented, the COE will give the warfighter and the generating force unprecedented capability, flexibility, and agility to exploit information, Edwards added.

“We can’t afford to chase technology,” Williamson said. “And so what those standards do for us is to give us the ability to make sure that we are both backward- and forward-compatible as we move forward. And that’s a critical piece of understanding the architecture and understanding the standards.”

For more information on the COE, go to http://ciog6.army.mil.


  • KRIS OSBORN is a Highly Qualified Expert for the ASAALT Office of Strategic Communications. He holds a B.A. in English and political science from Kenyon College and an M.A. in comparative literature from Columbia University.
  • MARGARET C. ROTH is the Senior Editor of Army AL&T Magazine. She holds a B.A. in Russian language and linguistics from the University of Virginia. Roth has more than a decade of experience in writing about the Army and more than two decades’ experience in journalism and public relations.