Company Command Posts on the go at Army integration exercise
November 22, 2011
By Amy Walker
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- In line with the Army's priority to drive increased communications to the tactical edge, Soldiers leveraged Company Command Posts (CoCP) at the Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) 12.1 to send and receive information at lower echelons where the mission is physically executed.
"I see the company as a massive intelligence and information gathering point," said CPT Scott DeWitt, who previously served as a company commander with 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division (2/1 AD), the unit involved in the NIEs. "It is the point where you are going to disseminate your orders, and they are going to get executed at the final tip of the spear -- the squad level."
Among the key priorities being evaluated during the NIEs is the role of CoCPs in mission command on the move as well as the extension of the network to the individual Soldier. NIE 12.1, a three-week event that wrapped up on Nov. 19, involved the 3,800 Soldiers of the 2/1 AD, and nearly 1,000 vehicles spread across the austere environment of White Sands Missile Range, NM. The purpose of NIEs is to evaluate and determine if capabilities are ready for their next developmental phase, as well as to integrate Army network architectures. Soldier feedback concerning the effectiveness and suitability of the systems being evaluated is obtained from the completion of life-like mission threads conducted in realistic operational environments. The Army employed NIE 12.1 to evaluate three primary CoCP variants and to help provide needed situational awareness (SA) down to the lowest echelons as Soldiers execute realistic mission scenarios.
"Extending the network down to the individual Soldier is a priority in the Army," said MAJ Brian Mack, CoCP trail boss at NIE 12.1. "The Company Command Post is so important to receive and transmit data down to the tactical edge."
Product Manager Command Post Systems and Integration (PdM CPS&I), assigned to Project Manager Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, integrates fielded mission command and other C4ISR technology into CoCP tents and vehicles. Many of the systems managed by the Program Executive Office Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T), to which PM WIN-T is assigned, are integrated into the CoCP. Inside their Command Posts, company commanders can utilize critical collaborative mission command applications that were previously only available at levels above battalion. These applications include Tactical Ground Reporting (TIGR), which gives Soldiers the ability to collect, share and analyze patrol data in a central database.
"Synthesizing all of these things together into one element gives you the ability to have company level situational awareness in a unified package," said CPT Joseph D. Perry, a company commander within 2/1 AD evaluating a prototype Company Command Post during the current NIE. "With this I can interact and provide feedback to my battalion commander, my battalion staff on the move, and command my company on the move, utilizing real-time SA and providing real-time intelligence up and down the chain."
The Army is trying to increase the capability of its smallest units by enhancing their ability to access key information anytime and anywhere on the battlefield. NIE 12.1 evaluated solutions to allow the small unit Soldier to share information, collaborate, and facilitate fire and maneuver at the company level, Mack said.
"I now have digital maps in the company command post, so I am no longer in the dark and at the will of my orders," DeWitt said. "I can have a lot of thought, a lot of impact on them before I go. I can say, to the platoon leader, "this is where you are going and this is the history of where you are going; you may not want to do this, take a look at another route."
One of the three primary variants of the CoCP evaluated during NIE 12.1 is the Caiman Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) tent-based Command Post, which provides company Soldiers with a Caiman vehicle embedded with critical mission command capabilities to use either on the move or at the halt. When the unit's mission becomes more stationary, they can employ the system's tent to maximize the CoCP capabilities.
The second and third variants that were under evaluation were both tent-based command posts utilized without a vehicle. The Trailer Mounted Support System-Medium (TMSS-M) -- a tent with a trailer supporting an 18 kilowatt generator and an environmental control unit -- is integrated with critical mission command systems that take advantage of a SIPR/NIPR Access Point (SNAP) terminal to provide satellite connectivity.
The third variant was a system under evaluation, an industry-provided option that may provide possible solutions to current mission requirements. By employing the Agile Process that includes industry solutions in the NIEs to meet defined capability gaps, the Army is able to keep pace with industry and ensure the latest technological advances could potentially benefit deployed Soldiers as quickly as possible.
"The Agile Process allows us to get advanced technologies to deploying units," said LTC Carl Hollister, PdM for CPS&I. "At the end of the day, it is supposed to accelerate the pace of network modernization to a rate that we couldn't previously achieve."
The Army tapped into PdM CPS&I's experience with integrating command posts at battalion and above for CoCP integration at the NIE 12.1, Mack said. PdM CPS&I provided support to the event with an on-the-ground team consisting of engineers, logisticians and field service representatives.
"Anytime you put a group of these [mission command] systems together on the battlefield the key thing to keep in mind is interoperability and integration, but there are challenges in that," Mack said. "And that is one of the advantages of this exercise -- to be able to work through those challenges and prove that interoperability to achieve the mission."
Due to the small number of personnel that make up a company headquarters element, whatever command post capability the Army delivers must be simple enough for that element to operate. A company also doesn't have its own air lift assets, so the solutions have to be compact and easily transportable with their own organic transportation assets.
"A command post is no different than a weapon system," Mack said. "A Soldier has to train and exercise on it in order to become proficient. Training is one of the key factors the Army must consider when we deliver a command post."
Training CoCP as a weapon system is a major challenge for the Army and PdM CPS&I has made it a top priority. Previously the command post had not been provided to the company level, so there are unique challenges in teaching such a small echelon to do the work historically only done by battalions and brigades. Teaching Soldiers to use TIGR allows them to gain a decisive advantage in terms of situational awareness, by providing them with a capability to send their own mission critical situational awareness up the chain of command, improving the common operating picture for the entire battlefield.
"At the end of the day it's about increasing situational awareness on the battlefield, and that allows us to get inside the enemy's decision making cycle," Hollister said. "When we can do that we obtain the tactical advantage."
During the next evaluation, NIE 12.2 in the spring of 2012, PdM CPS&I will be evaluating two new variants of the CoCP based on solutions chosen by the Department of the Army. The ultimate command post variant fielded in the Army's future capability sets must be scalable to support the many different operations executed by a dismounted, airborne, or mechanized company element. Command posts must also be evaluated as holistic systems as opposed to the sum of their parts in order to deliver a system that is sustainable during its full life cycle, Mack said.
"The company command post solution is evolving and 12.1 is just another iteration of that evolution," Hollister said. "We don't yet know what the 100 percent answer will be. But whatever the final solution may be, it is key, particularly to a company, to provide a fully integrated command post package that is sustainable with a training package that goes along with it."
[Amy Walker is a staff writer for Symbolic Systems, Inc. supporting the Army's Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T)].