Soldiers shape next generation of Army mission command system
November 20, 2013
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FORT BENNING, Ga. (Nov. 20, 2013) -- While deployed to Iraq, Staff Sgt. Scott Harrison relied on the Army's chief situational awareness system to plot enemy holdouts, mark known improvised explosive devices and exchange command and control messages with fellow Soldiers.
Now, his experience is helping shape the next generation of that system, known as Joint Battle Command-Platform, or JBC-P.
"I think it's brilliant that they're using Soldier feedback to develop JBC-P," said Harrison, who is now assigned to the task analysis branch of the Maneuver Center of Excellence Directorate of Training and Doctrine. "I like the idea of getting guys that have just deployed and experienced the previous system, and then picking their brains about what changes need to be made."
Harrison provided feedback on JBC-P during a user jury held earlier this year by the Army's Training and Doctrine Command Capability Manager, or TCM, for Brigade Combat Team Mission Command, known as BCT MC, at Fort Benning, Ga. The user jury was part of a series of similar events designed to ensure that the evolving capability builds on lessons-learned from theater and meets the needs of a digital generation of Soldiers.
"You need the people who are actually going to be using the new capability to verify it," said Staff Sgt. Charles Marvel, with the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division. "We're the ones with our feet on the ground and who see it every day and use it every day."
Almost 90 Soldiers were polled throughout the three-day user jury, which took place in classrooms at Fort Benning. Soldiers used JBC-P in realistic scenarios to send text messages, place calls for medics and plot enemy strongholds. They then provided feedback on aspects of the system, including user interface, screen size and graphics.
"We stress quality feedback over quantity," said Dan Dwyer, senior program integrator for TCM BCT MC. "By putting the systems in front of the warfighter before the capabilities are fielded, it allows us to make the necessary corrections so we ultimately deliver the very best product possible."
By actively incorporating Soldier feedback, JBC-P, which is assigned to Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical, has evolved to include touch-to-zoom maps, a Google Earth-like interface and drag-and-drop icons. JBC-P is the Army's tool for brigade and below mobile mission command, situational awareness and friendly force tracking, which gives Soldiers a complete picture of the battlefield so units can synchronize operations and reduce fratricide.
Maj. Carl Warren, another user jury participant from the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, said improvements to JBC-P are easy to identify, such as giving the system a commercial feel with the addition of a stylus.
"This is a huge upgrade and it's going to save a lot of people a lot of time," Warren said. "It's well-designed. The addition of the stylus makes it especially user-friendly for when you're bumping around in a vehicle."
Harrison pointed out that previous versions of the capability included an on-screen menu that took up a disproportionate amount of space on the map.
"They really optimized usage of the screen," he said. "With this version you have so much real estate on the screen you can use. It also simplifies it and increases economy of motion so you know right where to touch the screen."
Since April 2009, the Army has conducted 11 mission command user juries with multiple formations and at various installations. The sessions collect feedback from recently redeployed, experienced users on a variety of mission command systems being upgraded or developed.
Users say their input has also paid off in helping developers translate the best features of commercial communications technologies to the military environment.
"The more JBC-P continues to resemble an off-the-shelf product, the easier it will be for Soldiers to adapt to it," said Capt. Donald Minchew, information operations coordinator/Brigade S7 for 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division. "You can tell there's been an effort to make it more user-friendly."
Assistant Security Manager Sophia Navedo, with the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, agreed.
"This is definitely an easy learn," she said. "This isn't intimidating at all."
JBC-P is the Army's next-generation upgrade to the Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below/Blue Force Tracking system, known as FBCB2/BFT. Fielding now is Joint Capabilities Release, known as a JCR, which provides a "bridge" between FBCB2 and JBC-P.
First fielded in 2000, to the 4th Infantry Division, followed by a ramp-up in 2002 and 2003, for Operation Iraqi Freedom, FBCB2 is now integrated on more than 120,000 platforms, resides in each tactical operations center, and is fielded to every brigade combat team in the Army.
"Receiving feedback on JCR and now JBC-P has been a vital tool in ensuring it is easy for Soldiers to use," said Lt. Col. Michael Olmstead, product manager for JBC-P. "Hearing from Soldiers who have used this capability on the battlefield has been invaluable in improving JBC-P and making it more intuitive."
Slated for fielding later this fiscal year, JBC-P will continue to incorporate feedback from the user juries as well as from operational evaluations at the Network Integration Evaluations, or NIEs.
"Because we have to strategically conduct these user juries in between NIEs, it allows us to get two different flavors of feedback on a frequent basis," Dwyer said. "We work collectively to ensure that evolving systems such as JBC-P meet the warfighters' needs by delivering integrated solutions toward the most critical gaps and then validating these capabilities and requirements with the user."