Army rolls out web-based mission command
September 9, 2011
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- Combining the power of Google Earth, social networking and existing tactical communications systems, the Army is rolling out a new web-based tool that could deliver a common operating picture of the battlefield to any network user with a laptop.
Known as Command Web, the technology has received positive feedback from Soldiers in Afghanistan who are currently experimenting with a beta version, officials said. The intent is to extend the collaborative capabilities of mission command systems such as Command Post of the Future (CPOF) to additional users, and down to the company level, without piling on additional hardware or training.
Command Web also leverages the same software framework as the web version of the Army's premier intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) system. The common web framework provides the Army's initial convergence platform unifying intelligence and operations capabilities, officials said.
"Command Web can be a window into CPOF for those who don't have the real deal," said Lt. Col. Thomas Bentzel, the Army's product manager for Tactical Mission Command. "It can't replicate CPOF's depth or power, but it's the next best thing. And it's got great potential for expansion and convergence with other systems."
CPOF is the primary common operational picture viewer used by the Army in all theaters, combining feeds from different mission command systems to provide a broad spectrum of information that commanders and Soldiers can use to collaborate. While CPOF is delivered to troops as a complete "thick client" package including computer hardware, the "thin client" web version offers similar functionality for any user with access to the Army's tactical network.
"As long as you have the network capability, now all you really need is a laptop," said Jennifer Zbozny, chief engineer for the Army's Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T), the organization responsible for Command Web.
Command Web does not bring the full depth and power of CPOF, but does provide a subset of capabilities that a user would need to digitize their staff function even though they only have a standard laptop. Command Web gives the ability to build those ad hoc networks to help extend the CPOF environment in support of not only battalion/brigade combat team/division/corps operations, but also strategic, joint interagency intergovernmental and multinational (JIIM), homeland defense and non-government organization (NGO) environments where the Army needs to have horizontal and vertical interactions with other entities.
The web capability and service offering will continue to expand, ultimately providing as much as 80 percent of current mission command functionality via the web environment, officials said.
Given that simple access, Command Web could create efficiencies in training as well as in theater.
Command Web's core set of capabilities is provided through widgets such as Maneuver, Google Earth, MilSpace, tactical air coordination and fires planning. Maneuver gives users a web-based view of the common operating picture and a data management capability, allowing Soldiers to plan, collaborate and execute within and across echelons and functional areas. Users can also collaborate between Command Web and CPOF in real time.
The Google Earth widget provides a familiar and powerful mechanism for three-dimensional battlespace management. MilSpace provides social networking functionality and enhanced personalization within the tactical environment, speeding and simplifying communications as compared to email or other methods.
To minimize the training burden on users, Command Web was designed with a standard Army Battle Command Systems (ABCS) interface and mimics the functionality, naming conventions and other attributes of CPOF, said Jeremy Pilkington, assistant product manager of the Client Coordination Cell (C3) with Tactical Mission Command.
Also like CPOF, Command Web employs a software developer's kit to enable rapid third-party development of new warfighting capabilities. Command Web's use of the National Security Agency's Ozone framework offers a non-proprietary, government-owned solution that allows for maximum interoperability across organizations and agencies.
The Ozone framework is also used by the web version of the Army's chief ISR system, known as the Distributed Common Ground System - Army (DCGS-A). That lays the groundwork for future convergence and interoperability across the intelligence and operations communities, officials said.
Several active Army units in Afghanistan received the beta version of Command Web, and other deploying units will soon use it in theater as well, officials said. Next spring, Command Web will be a part of the Army's Network Integrated Evaluation (NIE) 12.2 at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., and Fort Bliss, Texas.
Command Web and CPOF -- which is also known as the Mission Command Workstation -- are the two pillars of an ongoing effort to "collapse" the boundaries between maneuver, fires, sustainment, air defense and airspace management applications. This effort, spearheaded by Project Manager Mission Command, will improve overall collaboration and data sharing across the force.
"The era of stovepiped functional systems is over, and has been for some time," Bentzel said. "Command Web and Mission Command Collapse will be a catalyst for deep collaboration -- not just within functional areas, but across them."
--Kathy Bailey contributed to this report.