Army Develops ‘Translator’ for Improved Information Sharing

By Claire Heininger

 

Some military translators are fluent in Arabic, others in software code. With the explosion of sophisticated weapons and information systems to confront persistent conflict, the Army is developing a high-tech, electronic “translator” to improve communications between systems that use different battlefield “languages.”

The solution, Semantic Mediation for Army Reasoning and Teamwork (SMART), allows systems to share more information faster and reduces the cost compared with custom translation. SMART is being fielded with an operational unit for the first time this year, streamlining Soldiers’ ability to transmit key reports in theater, officials said.

“Because the forces are expected to conduct multiple types of operations, the warfighter has a wide variety of tools that are available for use, dependent on the current task or mission,” said Ron Szymanski, one of the project’s architects. “All of those tools use different means to store and transmit information. As a result, there is a driving need to create a solution that enables all those software systems to interoperate and share relevant information.”

SMART is the brainchild of the U.S. Army Research, Development, and Engineering Command’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development, and Engineering Center (CERDEC) Command and Control Directorate (C2D). It is one of the technologies and capabilities under development as part of the Collaborative Battlespace Reasoning and Awareness Army Technology Objective, which seeks to improve collaboration and interoperability within all levels of command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR).

SMART AND FLEXIBLE
Rather than forcing different systems and users to abide by a single, one-size-fits-all language, SMART is flexible. It automatically adjusts to the existing data structures of today’s mix of government, commercial, and homegrown applications, which allows interoperability without the large cost and time commitment required to bring all systems onto a single standard, said Szymanski, the C2D Chief Architect for Software and Technology.

“Warfighter feedback so far has been extremely positive and influential,” he said. “Early interaction with warfighters improved the technology design, so there are few to no changes to the user experience when SMART is introduced.”

The technology has clear potential to benefit warfighters, said 1LT Andrew Campbell of the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, which experimented with SMART during a recent exercise.

“This program allows our analysts to quickly and efficiently translate incoming reports into a retrievable database,” Campbell said. “Soldiers then spend more time organizing and analyzing data and less time retyping every new report. More time spent analyzing will directly lead to better results on the battlefield.”

Today, military analysts charged with disseminating certain field reports can face a laborious, time-intensive process. To transfer data manually from one system to another, they not only must copy and paste, which is subject to human error, but also extensively reformat the data to match the input requirements of the second system. By automating pieces of that translation process according to users’ specifications, SMART frees the analysts to focus on other tasks.

“What SMART does not do is remove the human from the process. There is, and should always be, a human in the loop to verify the final product,” Szymanski said. “The end result is a significant reduction in the amount of time required to obtain, process, analyze, and transmit information.”

A SCALABLE SYSTEM
Lab tests have shown that unlike current data translation methods, SMART is extremely scalable to existing and future systems.

DACM

SMART helps enable interoperability between tactical systems to enhance collaboration, deconfliction, and integration. (U.S. Army photo by SPC Roland Hale.)

“SMART brings the potential to facilitate transparent coalition interoperability between native systems without requiring modifications to those systems,” said Marvin Goldin, the project’s technical lead. “The main problem is that there are interoperability shortfalls across functional boundaries, services, and nations. It is the intent to use the power of SMART to mitigate and possibly eliminate these shortfalls.”

The ability of the SMART architecture to support multiple domains will be demonstrated through an upcoming exercise that aims to provide a clearer picture of the airspace to joint forces and coalition nations, Goldin said.

The exercise will show how SMART can unite information from different systems to enhance collaboration, deconfliction, and integration, officials said.

“SMART can be applied to the information needs of multiple communities, from airspace deconfliction to the military medical community,” said Michael Anthony, Chief of the Mission Command Division for CERDEC C2D. “The proliferation of software tools across the military illustrates the need for cost-effective interoperability solutions.”

While the lack of interconnected and interoperable systems made translation a pressing need, the CERDEC team’s solution was also influenced by a research paper published by the Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute. The 2006 report, titled Ultra-Large-Scale Systems: The Software Challenge of the Future (http://www.sei.cmu.edu/library/assets/ULS_Book20062.pdf), predicted that as DOD vigorously pursues information dominance, “systems will necessarily be decentralized in a variety of ways, developed and used by a wide variety of stakeholders with conflicting needs, evolving continuously, and constructed from heterogeneous parts.”

The report’s conclusions reinforced the notion that “one size does not fit all,” Szymanski said. “We should embrace and move to standards, but will probably never get there. The paper states that ‘ULS [Ultra-Large Scale] systems will place unprecedented demands on software acquisition, production, deployment, management, documentation, usage, and evolution practices.’ SMART is an attempt at minimizing the cost of those demands.”

The technology is scheduled to transition to Product Director Common Software (PD CS) early in 2011. PD CS is assigned to Project Manager Battle Command, part of the Army’s Program Executive Office Command, Control, and Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T).


  • CLAIRE HEININGER works for Symbolic Systems Inc. as a staff writer supporting the PEO C3T MilTech Solutions Office. She holds a B.A. in American studies with a minor in journalism, ethics, and democracy from the University of Notre Dame.