Ray K. Ragan
Mobile technology, or mobility as it is referred to by the military, is for the first time, taking a prominent role in defense. The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), Director, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronnie D. Hawkins, Jr. announced mobility would be one of his eight initial efforts for his agency, which has raised the next question – “how to test and evaluate these technologies before our Nation’s warfighters use them?”
For the Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC), a U.S. defense organization charged by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to test, evaluate and certify technology and communications systems and products for joint use, this is a question that they must answer.
Testing and evaluating mobility is especially challenging when compared with technology of the past. In the past, many of the devices used by the military were purpose-built, that is, engineers designed the technology for use by the military and adhering to strict requirements. Consequently, the device and its software did not change frequently; the tests on these products did not need to re-invent themselves constantly.
DISA’s Strategic Plan describes how the agency will support its mobility initiatives as, “we will promote rapid delivery, scaling, and utilization of secure mobile capability leveraging commercial mobile technology to enable an agile deployment environment for new and innovative applications to support evolving warfighter requirements.”
“Central to automated testing is being able to script a test. Scripting is a simplified programming language that allows engineers to tell a computer how to conduct a test. Rather than having testers pick up a device and press the buttons, while recording the results, scripting can do this automatically.”
The plan’s ‘commercial mobile technology’, means devices like BlackBerrys, iPhones, the Android-based family and many others that will be used by the warfighter. With the rapid release cycle of new handsets and devices, there is no guarantee that a button will stay in the same place or the screen will be the same size from one generation to the next. Complicating matters further, software changes can change how devices behave. All these changes create many variables for engineers and testers at JITC as they test and evaluate mobility.
“The mobility infrastructure involves many device types running a large number of applications on multiple operating systems connecting through WiFi and wireless carriers to mobile device managers, backend enterprise systems and mobile application storefronts,” explains JITC’s DISA Mobility Instrumentation Lead, John LeCompte. “Testing this continually evolving infrastructure is a complex resource intensive effort.”
To meet this effort, LeCompte and his team turned to automated testing and like the commercial mobile devices they would be testing, the team looked at five commercial testing tools for mobile devices. Evaluating those tools on nine criteria, one tool emerged as the best fit for the testers’ needs that offered both, an integrated-development environment (IDE) and testing service package. The tool offers a cloud-based service that uses actual mobile devices, like iPads and Android-based phones. Devices can be connected to the cloud by two methods: hardware instrumented for the device or installing software agents. For hardware-instrumented devices, engineers have physically wired in connections to the video, buttons and other controls to allow the device to be remotely monitored and controlled from the cloud. Testers can interact with the devices through a web-based interface across a network as if they were holding the device in their hand.
The second method of connecting a device is to install a software agent on a device that is tethered to the network. An agent is a special piece of software that usually runs in the background and performs some action. In this case, the agent relays input and output from the device back to a testing IDE, where JITC technicians monitor and write scripts that perform the tests.
Central to automated testing is being able to script a test. Scripting is a simplified programming language that allows engineers to tell a computer how to conduct a test. Rather than having testers pick up a device and press the buttons, while recording the results, scripting can do this automatically.
“This allows us to write the script once and test it against many devices,” said contract Senior System Engineer at JITC, Tuan Nguyen.
The testers and engineers of JITC will need this tool, as well as others, as they meet the growing needs of information mobility on the battlefield. Not only do they have the challenge of meeting rapidly advancing technology with mobile devices, they must also address DOD-specific challenges such as security and information assurance.
“The biggest test instrumentation concern at the moment will be how to rapidly conduct static and dynamic IA [information assurance] testing analysis on mobile applications. The recently released draft Mobile Applications Security Requirements Guide is being evaluated and tools are being researched to address this need. The solution will most likely be a combination of automated and manual testing,” said LeCompte.
- Ray K. Ragan is the JITC Public Affairs Officer.
Ray K. Ragan
The primary U.S. Army intelligence system demonstrated some of its capabilities for program managers and military intelligence students alike during Exercise Enterprise Challenge 2012 (EC12), which concluded Sept. 7 at Fort Huachuca, AZ.
EC12 allowed agencies within DOD, including coalition partners, to test new and existing technologies in an operationally realistic environment. The exercise was executed by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency under the authority of the Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) Programs, Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence (USD(I)). Several locations hosted this year’s exercise, including the Fort Huachuca test site of the Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC).
One of this year’s featured systems was the Army’s Distributed Common Ground System – Army (DCGS-A). This system allows Soldiers and intelligence analysts to share information across a broader intelligence network that integrates with other services for real-time information and intelligence sharing.
Intelligence on the move enables commanders to make combat decisions as DCGS-A provides information and intelligence from multiple sources, along with full-motion video and maps of the battlespace.
For MAJ Shermoan Daiyaan, participation in EC12 was a welcome opportunity. Daiyaan is the Assistant Product Manager for the DCGS-A Tactical Intelligence Ground Station within the Program Executive Office Intelligence, Electronic Warfare, and Sensors. He is the Army’s Lead for EC12.
“There’s basically a DCGS for each of the services, including SOF [Special Operations Forces],” said Daiyaan. Enterprise Challenge “is an opportunity and venue for all of us [in the DCGS family] to start sharing data, to work together toward being more interoperable.”
During this year’s exercise, Daiyaan said, DCGS-A had four major objectives to accomplish: to document feedback from Soldiers on the ease of use of the system; mitigate risk on a test cloud network; work with JITC for information exchange and interoperability capabilities; and develop tactics, techniques, and procedures on how to perform intelligence on the move.
Intelligence on the Move
During the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army adopted a counterinsurgency strategy to combat the realities of those battlespaces. At the core of this strategy is the ability to share information and to use that information to develop intelligence that directs operations.
While the strategy was developed and refined along with the information-sharing capabilities, some were less-practiced capabilities, such as intelligence on the move, said LTC Derrick C. Smits, Commander, Development, Test, and Training Detachment, Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC), U.S. Army Intelligence Center (USAIC) and Fort Huachuca.
Intelligence on the move enables a combat unit commander to understand what both enemy and friendly units are doing in the battlespace as the combat units advance. As seen in these recent conflicts, friendly units now include other services, as well as ally and coalition units. Intelligence on the move enables commanders to make combat decisions as DCGS-A provides information and intelligence from multiple sources, along with full-motion video and maps of the battlespace.
“For the last 10 years, this has been a lost skill, because we just haven’t practiced it,” Smits said. “You have a whole generation of lieutenants and captains who haven’t done this type of fight.”
During EC12, DCGS-A was able to collect electronic intelligence, report Moving Tracking Indicator, and integrate full-motion video, all while on the move. The test also included a demonstration of nighttime intelligence-on-the-move capability, to create a challenging environment. “We were able to meet our time standards for being able to set up antennas in 10 minutes,” said Smits.
In the last days of EC12, approximately 40 students and instructors from the U.S. Army Geospatial Intelligence Analyst Course at the U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence saw a demonstration of this newest version of DCGS-A as well as the terminal station, which provides data connectivity.
This was the first time that SFC Anthony E. Beck, Phase 1 Lead for the two-phase course, saw DCGS-A in action.
“The updated tracking capability it has, the tracking mechanism for Moving Target Indicator, the user interface for that has changed so much now [that] when they showed it to me today, it just about blew my mind,” said Beck, a 16-year veteran of Army Intelligence.
This was also the first time to see DCGS-A for student PFC Zachary T. Ossman. “A lot of the new programs make it [intelligence analysis] a lot easier,” Ossman said.
- RAY K. RAGAN is the contract Public Affairs Officer for JITC. He holds a B.S. in information technology from the University of Phoenix (traditional campus at Phoenix), a master of administration with a concentration in project management from Northern Arizona University, and the Project Management Professional credential from the Project Management Institute. Ragan is a Civil Affairs and Public Affairs Officer in the U.S. Army Reserve and formerly an Information Management and Signal Officer in the Army National Guard.