A two-for one approach accelerates the modernization of Mission Command

By May 19, 2015September 5th, 2018Acquisition
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By Kathryn Bailey

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (May 19, 2015): When two organizations merge, they can’t miss a beat in meeting the demands of their customers – especially when those customers are Soldiers.

Recognizing the one year anniversary this month, the combination of the Army’s Mission Command (PM MC) and Joint-Battle Command-Platform (JBC-P) product offices has proven to be the right partnership to deliver modernized command post and mounted capabilities to the force.

“Instead of having two organizations developing approaches on how to do mission command in their unique environments, we are now defining one holistic approach,” said Col. Michael Thurston, project manager for Mission Command. “When you do the system of systems approach common to one organization, you tackle interoperability issues up front, allowing more time to focus on the actual, shared technologies.”

Those shared technologies span most of the Army’s warfighting functions, including movement and maneuver, fires, sustainment, protection and intelligence. Modernizing and integrating those capabilities requires the Army to convert existing stand-alone mission command systems into user-friendly apps, displayed on a common geospatial map, to create one common operating picture.

Just as Apple or Microsoft builds capabilities that provide a consistent user experience across all of their devices, the Army’s goal is to give Soldiers consistency when using mission command capabilities in different environments. To make that possible, the Army established a common operating environment (COE) for application developers made up of several smaller computing environments (CEs) based on mission and environment—including the command post (CP CE) and mounted (MCE).

“First and foremost, we are trying to make it simpler,” Thurston said. “It resonates here more than anywhere because Soldiers, along with their joint and coalition brethren, touch these systems to execute their most fundamental missions.”

Through the COE, simplified systems are reducing the Soldier’s training burden and the heavy hardware footprint found in traditional command post configurations.

Project Manager Mission Command leadership team

L to R: Lt. Col. Timothy Gearhart, Col. Michael Thurston, Lt. Col. Shane Taylor, and Lt. Col. Michael Olmstead comprise the Project Manager Mission Command leadership team.

The CP CE is already bringing changes to the traditional command post. These improvements are unfolding in three phases over the next four years. CP CE version 1 (v1) created one common environment for operational and intelligence capability development and is now an established baseline at the Army’s Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) exercises.

With the baseline established, CP CE v2 begins to demonstrate the true intent of the Army’s modernization approach: to provide Soldiers the familiar look and feel they enjoy with their personal computing devices. CP CE v2 addresses Soldier feedback by transitioning several stovepiped systems to web apps. In addition, developers have consolidated the number of different maps used across mission command systems from 26 down to six.

CP CE v2 also introduces the Tactical Server Infrastructure (TSI), which merges operational and intelligence functions onto one common set of servers at the secret and below classification. From an efficiency standpoint, Soldiers from both the Signal and Intelligence areas will just have to train on one type of server. PM MC expects the TSI and parts of CP CE v2 to be assessed as a baseline technology during this fall’s NIE 16.1 and then delivered in fiscal year (FY) 2017.

The most significant technological leap will occur with CP C3 v3, expected to field in FY 19, when all mission command standalone systems will migrate to the web and operate on a single map. CP CE v3 also brings the powerful Unified Data infrastructure, a single-storage solution for the tactical environment that simplifies the steps required to share information between warfighting systems.

“Imagine having to download a song onto your iPhone, then onto your iPad, and then onto your Mac, or having to recreate your playlist three times to load onto each device,” said Joel Heidelberg, CP CE engineer for PM MC. “That sounds unimaginable today because you would just synch your library to the Apple database, and that is exactly what Unified Data is doing for the warfighting capabilities.”

Unified Data also enhances cyber security by using cell level classification to automatically redact the applicable information displayed on every system, so that each user can only see the fields he or she is authorized to see.

CP CE will ultimately produce a leaner and more agile command post, and with a phased delivery approach, Soldiers receive CP CE’s modern technologies within months instead of years.

Prior to the merger, the Army had a separate project management office dedicated to JBC-P, the satellite-linked situational awareness and friendly force tracking system that is the next generation capability for Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below/Blue Force Tracking. Today as part of PM Mission Command, JBC-P is fielding to initial units while also providing the foundation for new, integrated applications as part of the Mounted Computing Environment.

“JBC-P is the core of the MCE, which is a game-changer for mission command on the move,” said Lt. Col. Michael Olmstead, product manager for JBC-P. “MCE allows us to streamline product development of emerging technology while ensuring capabilities are compatible across the Army.”

The JBC-P system took part in a strenuous training exercise in March with Soldiers of the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division (4IBCT, 3ID), which was the First Unit Equipped (FUE) with this technology. These Soldiers successfully leveraged JBC-P’s intuitive Google-Earth like interface and chat messaging capabilities throughout the exercise.

“We wanted to challenge the mission command capabilities over long distances and JBC-P endured,” said Col. Thomas Gukeisen, brigade commander for 4IBCT, 3ID. “I see this as a significant revolution in how we conduct our network-based operations.”

Part of JBC-P’s future potential on the battlefield comes from the Mounted Android Computing Environment (MACE), an infrastructure built on top of the MCE that adapts the commercial Android operating system for the Army. Since most developers are already familiar with Android, they have already quickly generated tactical apps within this environment. For example the On Demand Information Network (ODIN) app simplifies the burdensome tactical radio network reconfiguration and update processes necessary to support Unit Task Reorganization (UTR).

“The ODIN app reduces the UTR process time from several days or weeks down to three clicks and three minutes,” Olmstead said.

Apps created for MACE will operate seamlessly with the CP CE in the command post and the smartphone-like Nett Warrior handheld device. Following an evaluation at NIE 16.1, the Army will field the first suite of apps in FY 16-17.

To achieve the Army’s goal of a more mobile and agile force, the commander must be untethered from the command post but still retain the information to decide and lead. By incrementally delivering the CP CE and MCE, with capabilities reaching down to Nett Warrior in the Handheld Computing Environment, that vision is becoming a reality.

“By having the mounted and command post capabilities within our purview, we’re architecting across those environments in a greater way,” Thurston said. “Bringing PM MC and JBC-P together really was a perfect storm of what we are doing with the COE – streamlining and modernizing systems by way of common services and tactical apps.”

The Army’s goal is for tactical apps to be developed once and run on multiple hardware platforms, across echelons and networks. In the near future, the commander will be able to create his battle plan in the command post, seamlessly view and execute this plan while mobile in his vehicle, and then dismount with his troops with the same information available on his handheld device.

“He won’t have to move data or plug anything in,” Thurston said. “It will just happen.”

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