By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (March 3, 2015) — Turn on a new computer for the first time and you are met with a few questions before the computer is registered and recognized.
In Army command posts, Soldiers must also complete this initialization step when their communications hardware is first turned on, so it can recognize and exchange critical information with other systems across the battlefield.
Only a year ago, this process required installing a disc preloaded with unit information known as data products. If something changed and revisions were needed, a new set of data products would have to be created, with units waiting up to 15 weeks for the updates.
Now, the Army is bringing increased flexibility to the way troops initialize their mission command systems by putting the power in the hands of the communications officer, or S6, to make real-time changes, on the fly.
Once data products are delivered to the unit, the S6 can make the alterations to reflect exactly what systems are on the ground, instead of sending revisions back and ordering new data products.
The S6 will now be able to integrate new equipment, modify or add roles, and have those changes take effect almost immediately compared to the old way of doing business. This capability has already been delivered to select units across the Army fielded with Capability Sets 13-15.
The Army will take that effort one step further this summer with the planned fielding of the next generation of initialization tools, which will enable Soldiers at individual workstations to initialize their own system, much like turning on a commercial computer for the first time.
Known as the Initialization Tool Suite, or ITS, the streamlined process further reduces the burden on the signal Soldier by giving the end-user the ability to initialize their mission command systems and join the tactical network.
“Ten steps in approximately three minutes – that’s the process with this new capability,” said Giovanni Oddo, technical management division lead for product director initialization, or PdD I, part of the Army’s Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical. “Each Soldier at a workstation in a command post will be able to do the initialization themselves. It’s very simple, you just pull down the menus and the selections are limited, so it really walks you through the process.”
ITS is made up of three tools: the Warfighter Initialization Tool-Manager, or WIT-M; WIT-Platform, or WIT-P; and WIT-Server, or WIT-S. Together they rapidly update units’ data products or “digital phone books” to reflect what occurs in the operational area of responsibility, or AOR, including equipment or organizational changes such as receiving a new communications technology or temporarily cross-attaching another unit.
The suite can provide senior commanders a more accurate common operating picture and gives the S6 a simplified, more hands-on approach to adapting their network based on their fight.
“ITS gave us the ability to make changes after we’ve delivered a set of data products,” Oddo said. “In the past, we had to deliver a ‘set in stone’ product, typically on compact discs for the unit to install on their mission command servers. Now, we preload the information on the systems and all the Soldier has to do is turn them on and answer a few questions.”
Data products are assigned to each unit in the Army before deployment or training events. They assign every system in a command post a unique identifier, role and Internet Protocol address, taking into account a unit’s specific mission, personnel footprint and mix of networked mission command systems. This contact information enables the various systems to connect and share information.
Data products help facilitate the process known as Unit Task Reorganization, or UTR, which is required when network adjustments are needed due to changes in mission. Simplifying and automating UTR is a top priority for the Army, given frequent feedback from Soldiers, who needed to manually execute network system changes when deployed.
“We wanted to make the process of creating data products more automated, more proficient and more repeatable,” said Robert DelCuore, the Army’s product director for initialization. “This will change how data products are delivered across the force.”
Already being fielded is WIT-M, which gives the unit S6 the ability to rapidly initialize communications systems for brigade size units and below.
The next capability to be rolled out as part of the ITS package is WIT-P, which gives the individual Soldier the ability to initialize at their command post workstation. Soldiers are beginning to work with WIT-P at the training and evaluation exercise known as the network integration evaluation, or NIE, 15.2, taking place this spring on Fort Bliss, Texas.
The capability will serve as part of the network baseline used by the NIE brigade in executing its missions. If WIT-P passes its interoperability certification, the tool will begin fielding this summer.
For Soldiers, the new capability brings increased efficiency in an intuitive product.
“For the Soldier, this should be transparent,” DelCuore said. “We want to give them more flexibility but make it as simple as possible.”
While ITS provides Soldiers the capability to dynamically initialize on the ground, it also eliminates the need for pre-defined static data products for each system in the network. This shift in technology will allow in-house production of data products by the Army by the end of FY15.
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