Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. - The U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command's Software Engineering Center is The Critical Link for providing post-production software support and ensuring that Army software systems maintain operational readiness and warfighting capabilities once they enter the sustainment phase of the life cycle.

Computer programs/ software applications are crucial components to the Armed Forces and service members on both the battlefield and the business arena, said Gutleber. The Army has become increasingly reliant on these burgeoning and complex technologies to sustain mission--critical readiness in support of the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems. Specific to warfighting systems, once the systems have completed the production stage, they are maintained by the SEC.

Post production software support, which is a subset of Army depot maintenance, includes all processes to maintain the software in a system, and includes providing a government "organic capability", purchasing licenses due to application of Commercial Off the Shelf products, adjusting software to corrective software errors, ensure interoperability of systems, adjusting software to accommodate changes in COTS or systems that interface with that system, addressing security issues, and various other functional subsets , for Army systems that have completed the production phase of their life cycle explained Marc Gutleber, division chief of Planning and Analysis Office at the SEC. He goes on to explain the additional functions that are carried out during the post production support process.

"PPSS [post production software support] also encompasses any changes that must be made or processes executed to maintain the operational capability of the system to allow the Soldier to carry out his mission," said Gutleber.

PPSS also includes maintaining licenses, incorporating Information Assurance Vulnerability Alerts and performance of certification and accreditation software. In addition, PPSS extends the operational longevity of systems by incorporating requirements validated by the system Configuration Control Board, enabling these systems to remain in the field for longer periods of time, said Gutleber. This extended longevity is accomplished by continually updating the software to meet the interoperability needs of current and future weapons systems. Examples of software intensive systems sustained through PPSS include satellite/tactical communications, radar systems, sensors and battle command/intelligence systems.

Gutleber went on to describe how software maintenance is conducted.

"The 'depot' for software sustainment support is actually a laboratory with a 'mirror' software system that is reflective of the system in the field. This is known as the depot maintenance 'Lab infrastructure' for that represented system. The benefit of this set up is to enable the depot maintenance mission to take place in a controlled environment," said Gutleber.

In support of PPSS efforts, the SEC also provides 24/7 on-the-ground field support through the use of Field Service Engineers, or FSEs. "They are not performing the warfighter's mission, but ensuring the system is operating as it should so the Soldier can use it," said Gutleber.

One of the critical points of PPSS is many of the costs associated with PPSS are independent of quantities. Gutleber provided an example of how a software repair differed from a hardware counterpart.

"The SEC can create a software patch to correct a defect in a software application. This patch can then be distributed or installed to all the systems across the field with the repair cost primarily being associated with the initial patch (in some instances an FSE is required to install/test this patch). The number of systems the patch must be administered to does not dramatically impact the cost. This is due to the fact the system is physically not required to be returned to the software depot, the fix or update is incorporated, and then re-distributed to the field. This is a critical point in why FSEs provide an efficient way of performing the PPSS mission, as without FSEs, the above noted process of shipping systems to the software depot would be required to sustain the software on system.

Currently, CECOM SEC is the largest of the Army Material Command life cycle engineering centers and supports over 100 major C4ISR systems that are currently in the PPSS phase or will transition to this phase over the Program Objective Memorandum or POM.