By Devon BistarkeyApril 12, 2016
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- Converting the Army's last heavy cavalry unit off the Enhanced Position Location Reporting System, or EPLRS, signifies the end of heavy units using this legacy system. Falling in line with a series of unit conversions, divestment of EPLRS is set to end completely in February 2017 with the 1st Brigade Combat team, 1st Cavalry Division (1/1 CD).
Part of the original Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2), EPLRS preceded Blue Force Tracker (BFT), the Army's predominate beyond line-of-sight communications link. EPLRS is a data networking system used for data distribution and position location reporting. Fielded to the first two digital divisions in the mid-to-late 1990s, EPLRS is now in the last year of divestment from heavy units, eliminating a sustainment piece as the Army moves forward with upgrades.
"There is a huge logistical and sustainment trail that goes along with legacy systems the longer they stay out in the field," said Lt. Col. Michael Olmstead, product manager, Joint Battle Command-Platform (JBC-P), part of Project Manager Mission Command (PM MC). "The more baselines - the more it costs to sustain the entire family of systems; and one of those components for us is EPLRS."
Part of an effort in modernization, divesting older systems and software within the JBC-P family of systems also enables new systems to reach Soldiers through the fielding process.
"Ideally, we want to divest as we are upgrading," said Olmstead. "As all units move off of EPLRS and FBCB2 6.5 software, we're also moving to Joint Capabilities Release (JCR) and BFT 2, with the exception of Bradley fighting vehicles which will still be on BFT 1 until their safety certification process is complete."
The key capability upgrade delivered in the conversion signifies a shift from a terrestrial, radio-based network with limitations due to line-of-sight connections between end point devices, to a beyond line-of-sight satellite communication link. In addition to an improved network, Soldiers will also have access to the enhanced JCR and JBC-P software that includes expanded messaging functionality and chat.
Transitioning to the new BFT transport and JCR software over the last few years signifies a synchronization of transceivers and transport mechanisms across the Army.
PM MC is executing installations in concert with PM Armored Fighting Vehicle (PM AFV) and PM Main Battle Tank (PM MBT) to complete upgrades on the Bradley Fighting Vehicle (BFV) and the M1 Abrams Tank. Current efforts to convert the 3rd Brigade Combat Team /4th Infantry Division (3/4 ID) from their EPLRS based FBCB2 systems to the next instantiation are scheduled to be completed at the end of April.
Contingencies with executing rapid fieldings hinge on the platforms and additional time required to upgrade a vehicle, particularly a firing platform whether it is a tank or Bradley, due to the safety certification component. Non-firing platforms, such as the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) or Humvees, do not have their own internal computing system, making them easier to upgrade.
The Army's efforts to divest aging systems and old software in order for new capabilities to reach the field is a multifaceted process with one goal: to provide new capabilities to the Soldier. In accordance with the Army's EPLRS Divestiture plan, a priority list targets units with older equipment and software to move them forward to JBC-P, which is the latest instantiation of the original FBCB2.
As fielding of JBC-P ramps up, JCR will continue to field during a gradual cut-over process tied to vehicle dependencies. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 there will be a mixture of JCR and JBC-P fieldings with the intent of fully moving to JBC-P in FY 2017.
JBC-P, and eventually the next version with the Mounted Application Computing Environment known as MACE, will take this a step further as the Army shifts towards a Common Operating Environment (COE) which will incorporate warfighting capabilities onto a common infrastructure and architecture across the Mounted Computing Environment (MCE) and Command Post Computing Environment (CP CE).
"The great thing about COE is the architecture will be built and integrated into the platforms that are safety certified, with tactical applications decoupled from the underlining infrastructure," said Olmstead. "Once we integrate COE and the common architecture across the board, then we can bring new capabilities in the form of applications or widgets that aren't necessarily directly touching the platform systems and won't affect their safety certifications, allowing the Army to modernize capabilities more rapidly."
Editor's Note: The Air Defense Command currently has 2,100 EPLRS radios and plans to continue using EPLRS radios until they can rewrite their system control software, which will allow them to move to alternate radios. The latest they will fully divest from EPLRS will be 2028.