By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest, PEO C3TMay 9, 2014
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (May 9, 2014) -- Walk into any hotel lobby with a smartphone and it intuitively picks up available Wi-Fi networks. With a few simple clicks, it's connected.
Using that same concept, the Army is set to evaluate a new tactical app that could reduce a process that now requires several days and even weeks to plan and execute, down to three clicks and three minutes.
The On Demand Information Network, known as ODIN, the app works by leveraging the network of the Army's situational awareness capability Joint Battle Command-Platform, or JBC-P, to enable rapid, over-the-air mission planning for software-defined tactical radios.
"This has tremendous power," said Lt. Col. Michael Olmstead, product manager for JBC-P. "Even in today's fiscal climate, we know we still need to deliver new capabilities to our Soldiers and doing it through apps is a smart way to make investments with what limited resources we have."
Today in Afghanistan, Soldiers conducting Security Force Assistance Brigade missions are using the Army's newest integrated communications package, known as Capability Set 13, or CS 13, to stay connected and share information, even in the harshest of terrains and most remote locations. Yet, if two Army units equipped with these systems were to come in close proximity to each other, they wouldn't be able to communicate automatically over their radios unless they were preset to do so. The process to get the two units on the same page and communicating is time consuming, manpower-heavy and costly.
ODIN, developed in six months using an Android-based, open architecture helps address this burdensome process known as Unit Task Reorganization, or UTR, which is required when network adjustments are needed due to changes in mission.
Much like in the commercial world, where various functional apps are created for smartphones, tablets, and other devices, the Army is beginning to develop tactical capabilities through a standard framework that allows government and industry partners to build to a well known environment -- Android. Known as the Mounted Android Computing Environment, or MACE, this strategy keeps today's tech-savvy Soldier in mind, while addressing the need for greater technological simplicity and interoperability across the force.
"This is simple for the Soldiers, easy to build for developers and provides a level of customization that we just haven't had before," said Dan Stroka, lead for the MACE, which is assigned to Project Manager JBC-P. "The apps are developed once and through MACE are capable of running on multiple hardware platforms at multiple echelons and across multiple networks. It enables simpler, common capabilities for the soldiers, allows the Army to innovate and at the same time converges systems."
Using MACE, engineers within Project Manager Tactical Radios, or PM TR, developed ODIN.
"The JBC-P MACE framework enabled our team of engineers to quickly prototype ODIN using a vast commodity of commercially available knowledge with the Android Operating System," said George Senger, ODIN technical co-lead for PM TR.
Simplifying UTR was an often-heard recommendation from CS 13 users who had to manually execute system changes.
"The ability to dynamically reconfigure software defined radios to support mission changes, without ever having a soldier touch a radio, provides an unprecedented level of simplicity to a complex task today," said Bill Urrego, ODIN technical co-lead for PM TR.
Later this year, ODIN will be evaluated at the Army's semi-annual network test and field evaluation, Network Integration Evaluation 15.1. Although ODIN, which continues to evolve, doesn't solve all UTR issues, it does take a significant step in the right direction.
MACE not only enables rapid development of new apps, but also apps that can repurpose existing capabilities, including Ozone Widgets. In less than two weeks, MACE was used to easily leverage an existing information and intelligence capability known as the Tactical Ground Reporting system, or TIGR, to produce a new TIGR app for use on smartphone-like Nett Warrior devices, tablets and in vehicles.
Recognizing this need for greater interoperability across multiple systems, the Army is advancing its Common Operating Environment, which introduces a new set of standards to enable the rapid development of secure and interoperable applications. By creating a closer alignment across the tactical communications portions of the ommon Operating Environment, which include the Command Post Computing Environment, Mounted Computing Environment and the mobile or handheld environment, the Army will begin to reduce stand-alone systems requiring separate log-in procedures, training and field support as it moves to a smaller, more agile force.
"Technology is not a limiting factor in creating a tactical computing environment," Stroka said.
JBC-P, which is the Army's primary situational awareness tool and foundation for the MCE, is the latest incarnation of the widely-fielded, mounted, friendly force tracking system also known as Force XXI Battle Command Brigade-and-Below/Blue Force Tracking, known as FBCB2/BFT. MACE capitalizes on JBC-P which includes the current FBCB2/BFT hardware that is integrated on more than 120,000 platforms, resides in each Tactical Operations Center and is fielded or authorized to every brigade combat team in the Army.
By utilizing MACE, the Army could quickly and efficiently develop tactical apps, with an overall goal of bringing together the diverse mission command systems that are on the platforms today, reducing redundant software services and shrinking the command and control hardware footprint.
"We can't predict where our next environment will be, so we wanted to make it easy to build new apps that are scalable both vertically across different platforms, and horizontally across all networks," Olmstead said. "With MACE we can start to do that."