Translating text chat across the battlefield and beyond produces a common language
July 8, 2013
Accurate and timely communications between Soldiers in a command post, military vehicle and on patrol can be the difference between mission success and mission failure.
No matter their geographical location, soldiers find text chat to be one of the most efficient modes of communication -- but the text chat capabilities across the battlefield are not always compatible. To address this potential disconnect, Project Manager Mission Command (PM MC), assigned to the Program Executive Office Command and Control-Tactical (PEO C3T), is developing the Universal Chat Bridge (UCB). UCB spans the gap between these disparate systems by translating all chat technologies into one common language.
"The fact that a Soldier can message from inside his vehicle using one technology and it can be read in a tactical operations center on another technology, that is the power of Universal Chat Bridge," said Ltc. Brian Lyttle, Product Manager for Strategic Mission Command (PdM SMC), assigned to PM MC. "UCB is allowing the dramatic expansion of chat across the Army."
UCB is an interoperable framework that uses "semantic bridging," which means messages are not simply translated from one format to another, but rather the meaning of one chat operation is translated to the same meaning in a different system.
"For example, one person may declare his primary language to be English, and another declares Spanish to be his primary language, but they both agree to use the Latin alphabet," said Maj. Jeffrey Strauss, Assistant Product Manager, Command Post Computing Environment for PM MC. "UCB allows them to speak their native language, but then translates their language to their agreed-upon alphabet. This translation is transparent to the user, who continues to use the chat technology available to him or her."
Three existing chat technologies under PEO C3T product offices can now be joined using UCB. The first is Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP), part of the Command Post of the Future (CPOF), the primary common operational picture viewer used by the Army inside TOCs. The second is the chat function within the Joint Capabilities Release (JCR), the software-enhanced version Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below. JCR allows Soldiers in vehicles, aircraft and command posts to track friendly forces. The third is Joint Battle Command-Platform (JBC-P), the follow-on to JCR, which combines products such as computer hardware, software, communications and network management infrastructure to form an integrated, updated friendly force tracking and messaging system.
As with commercial chat technologies, UCB allows Soldiers connected to the appropriate network to see who is logged on, exchange information with each other in near-real time and join "static" or predefined chat rooms that pertain to their mission, such as "fires" or "maneuver." Users can also create new "ad hoc" chat rooms as required.
PM JBC-P and PM MC personnel performed tests of the UCB to ensure all chat functions within JCR and JBC-P communicated as part of JBC-P's Initial Operational Test and Evaluation at the Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) 13.2 in May. The NIEs are semi-annual exercises that provide a relevant operational test environment for tactical network requirements, enable complex systems integration and interoperability and allow the Army to gain Soldier feedback from a user perspective.
"Not only did the JCR/JBC-P chat function perform exceptionally well, users were also able to text a high volume of graphics, overlays and orders between CPOF, JBC-P and JCR," said Strauss.
In the past, users could only send a limited number of graphics on CPOF's pasteboard (the pop-up screen used for drawing graphical depictions of unit locations and movement) at one time, sometimes requiring multiple messages to render one drawing.
Tactical messaging is something we really needed," said SFC Darrin R. Smith, 2/1 AD BDE S-3 NCO. "I used it extensively and was able to publish more than 52 graphic messages, with each message containing more than 100 graphical points of reference."
The UCB is an early success for the Army's Common Operating Environment (COE) initiative. The COE is comprised of several computing environments (CEs) that share a common framework, allowing developers to build secure and interoperable applications across each of the CEs. CPOF is within the Command Post (CP) CE and JBC-P is within the Mounted CE.
"The UCB's secure and interoperable bridge between the CP CE and Mounted CE's chat capabilities is just one example of how the COE is both simplifying our systems yet augmenting our Soldiers' options to communicate," said Strauss.
Joint and interoperable technologies are a top priority in the Department of Defense's plan for the Army of 2020. Now that many current and future mission command systems include text chat, it has become increasingly important to establish chat interoperability between them, especially across all U.S, Joint and Coalition partner technologies.
The SMC development team is planning additional UCB capabilities in the near future.
"UCB will continue to evolve to include text compatibility amongst hand-held systems," said Lyttle. "As such, we see an exciting future for chat functions as a dynamic option for secure, real-time communications between Soldiers."