ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Sept. 19, 2013) -- As the number of electronic devices on the battlefield grows, so does the challenge of managing the network that links them together. Army researchers continue to work to create a better way to build and monitor the tactical network, diagnose and address problems, and ensure each Soldier remains connected during critical moments.
Engineers from the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command's communications-electronics center, or CERDEC, are developing software called S-6 Associate that will consolidate existing information, simplify network monitoring and better equip the network operations staff officer, commonly known as the S-6.
The software enhances already fielded systems like the battlefield network Warfighter Information Network -- Tactical, known as WIN-T, Command Post of the Future mission command system, network management systems and Visio, the network image building program, said Josip Pilipovic, CERDEC Space & Terrestrial Communications Directorate lead scientist for the S-6 Associate project.
"S-6 Associate will help the battalion S-6 officer manage these new systems to get the communication capabilities to the right Soldier, at the right time, at the right place," said Pilipovic.
Currently, the signal Soldier manually collects and enters countless amounts of network data in several different systems. This process can be tedious, time consuming and potentially error prone even for the experienced Soldier, said Pilipovic.
"The whole idea behind the S-6 Associate, the goal, is to help them do their jobs better. Not to introduce some new complex software but simplify it," said Pilipovic.
The S-6 Associate software subscribes to any device with a unique IP address, allowing the signal Soldier to monitor all devices on the network. It also pulls certain intelligence and operations information and geographical data to keep the signal Soldier aware of any connectivity loss due to signal jamming or terrain changes along a travel route, said Pilipovic.
Consolidating information from several sources, the S-6 Associate creates a network common operating picture that is laid over the tactical mission, creating a geographic display of the network in relation to the mission. This network common operating picture provides the battalion commander with information about bandwidth usage during a mission and how network failures will impact the mission at hand.
The signal Soldier can use recommendations provided by S-6 Associate to correct network errors and project how those recommended actions will impact the rest of the network, allowing the signal Soldier to collaborate with intelligence and operations Soldiers as the mission progresses.
"We thought, why don't we add an expert system that will have the network data, which will check what is happening [during the mission], it will go through a certain knowledge base and tell the S-6 what is the best course of the action on the screen," said Pilipovic. "He can accept the recommendation or do something better. We don't stop the ingenuity but try to help him."
Collaboration with intelligence and operations Soldiers is key, said Pilipovic. The signal Soldier often has little time to coordinate with other staff officers during a mission. The S-6 Associate will enable the signal Soldier to project when the network will be unable to support the evolving mission and alert intelligence and operations staff Soldiers of network issues.
"Usually an S-6 is reactive. This [S-6 Associate] could make them proactive. They can be part of the solution, rather than being yelled at later for the network going down," said Rob Orlando, acting branch chief for CERDEC S&TCD's Network Operations branch, during an S-6 Associate demonstration.
CERDEC S&TCD hosted two internal demonstrations of the S-6 Associate software this summer to gain feedback from other Army researchers and Soldiers who specialize in developing portions of WIN-T and mission command applications.
Beyond network operations, CERDEC S&TCD plans to incorporate network defense into the S-6 Associate in the future.
"We don't only look at network operations, we look wider: what you need to plan for the network, build the network, monitor the network and then actually defend the network," said Pilipovic. "The plan is to also include CRUSHPROOF, which is built here at CERDEC, for network defense."
CERDEC and Veloxiti, Inc., who have partnered on S-6 Associate since 2012, will use feedback from the demonstration days to begin larger-scale testing in the lab with numerous radios, in order to verify the software in a more realistic setting.
After lab-based testing, researchers plan to test S-6 Associate at CERDEC's operational field testing facility at Joint Base McGuire -- Dix -- Lakehurst, N.J. and the Army-wide testing event, Network Integration Evaluation, held at Fort Bliss, TX and White Sands Missile Range, N.M., where it will be rigorously tested by Soldiers in an operational setting.
CERDEC S&TCD and Veloxiti Inc. will continue to develop the S-6 Associate software through 2014.
CERDEC is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America's Soldiers.
RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army's premier provider of materiel readiness -- technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment -- to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.