FORT BLISS, Texas -- Efforts to convert unique warfighting systems onto a common framework is part of the big "common operating" picture approach known as the Command Post Computing Environment or CP CE. During the Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) 16.2, which runs through May 14, at Fort Bliss, Texas, capability demonstrations and an Operational Assessment of CP CE version two (v2) will help provide a clear path forward with the next steps in mission command evolution.

What Soldiers are experiencing in the evaluation environment of NIE 16.2 is an additive set of capabilities to current warfighting systems that will deliver a common operating picture from a common server. Not yet a full replacement of current stand-alone mission command applications, Soldier feedback from the assessment will drive these enhancements as part of an iterative developmental approach that crescendos with the start of fielding in the Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19) timeframe.

"From a capabilities stand point, CP CE v2 is bringing engineering, medical and logistics functionality back into the COP [Common Operating Picture]," said Col. LaMont Hall, deputy project manager for Mission Command. "Soldiers now have the access and ability to contribute, build and see the COP."

The CP CE effort is co-lead by Project Manager Mission Command (PM MC) and Project Manager Distributed Common Ground System-Army (PM DCGS-A).

CURRENT COMMAND POST CHALLENGES

Residing in command posts across the globe are unique stand-alone warfighting systems for missions related to fires, logistics, intelligence, airspace management and maneuver. They are all individual pieces of a picture that together bring everything a commander needs to execute mission command. However, in today's battlespace that is no longer enough. Capabilities must be shareable and collaborative, in other words - common.

The need to reduce a commanders' need to "mentally fuse" digital information displayed on multiple system viewers, often with different map features, is one of the main drivers of CP CE. The result looks to reduce the current use of 13 different maps in the command post, down to a tailorable-common map. Brigade and battalion staff at the NIE 16.2 assessment will see the beginning of this effort.

Additional operational challenges in today's command post include limited access to those unique standalone systems or "thick clients." This means each system has its own hardware and server, each displaying data differently. To put it simply, completing an operational task is comparable to using a windows operating system for one aspect, using OS X for another and a LINUX system for yet another. While each system is effective, the user has to adjust to multiple displays and system nuances.

Today, the current fielded solution, the Command Post of the Future or CPOF, acts as the primary common operating picture system for displaying and sharing mission command information. Fielded to 95 percent of the Army with almost 20,000 systems deployed, CPOF uses Data Distribution System (DDS) to display and fuse data from other mission command application "thick clients" in one place. However, this is done on a single workstation and limited to one operator. What that translates into operationally is: If a Soldier wants to view the COP he or she has to wait in line. The ability to fuse data from various applications will be built into the CP CE, allowing all staff to access a complete common operational picture.

Also, complexity of disparate systems and their servers contributes to a lengthy Tactical Operations Center (TOC) setup time, logistics trail and training burden. Addressing the issue of interoperability across systems is yet another driver for the cross-cutting capabilities of the CP CE.

CAPABILITY GAP SOLUTION

During NIE 16.2, Soldiers are evaluating CP CE v2, a version that brings operations and intelligence hardware convergence on a common server stack, while introducing Soldiers to web-based applications. CP CE v2 will not yet eliminate standalone systems, but serves as a "bridge" to CP CE version 3 where thin, web-based applications or widgets will begin to replace standalone systems. Providing CP CE v2 to a full Brigade Combat Team during the NIE 16.2 assessment is an important step in an incremental approach set to transform the command post by consolidating warfighting functions into a single, intuitive environment. A vital part of CP CE is delivering warfighting capabilities as software applications.

For 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division (2/1 AD) Field Support Officer (FSO) Maj. Thomas Lake, sharing information across systems makes his job easier.

"The CP CE map displays information from the Fires Widgets and I can monitor a scenario in one location and not have to jump back and forth from systems," Lake said. "Not only do widgets provide a great additive from a monitoring perspective, widgets mirror apps used on personal devices and are visually appealing."

Efforts to widgetize the command post provide users with mission command and intelligence applications and puts command tools in one web-based, user-friendly place that mimics the look and feel of commercial applications on a computer, tablet or smartphone. This will provide Soldiers with a vast range of tools in one place driving situational understanding.

One of those tools is a set of web-based applications. Considered general-purpose user applications, or widgets, (CP CE v2 will not reduce think clients, but provide an enhancement to the current environment, reduction comes in follow on iterations leading to the FY19 fielding timeframe), the 26 widgets that make up the CP CE v2 assessment at NIE 16.2 include additive and complementary capabilities that are part of mission command, movement/maneuver, fires, and protection.

NIE 16.2 also introduces the Tactical Server Infrastructure (TSI). The CP CE common server is the platform to execute operational and intelligence system convergence that will facilitate the exchange of information, by utilizing a common software framework with common services, which reside on TSI's Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) server hardware.

"Through TSI access is no longer limited," said Maj. Robert Richardson, brigade intelligence officer with the 2/1 AD. "I can take any generic workstation and remote in through widgets from wherever."

Access through the TSI common server, widgets run on an intuitive framework that functions similar to a webpage Soldiers are used to using on their personal devices - type in a web address and navigate with the same web experience across devices. This framework provides a widget launch menu which displays available widgets. Two core widgets Soldiers will use during the assessment include the Maneuver Widget and CP CE Map Widget. These widgets provide access to the COP, and are used to pull and publish data to a common map. Information from DDS feeds through the Maneuver Widget and displays data on a map enabling the user to build and publish content.

Information is displayed as overlays and is used to create a tailorable view of the battlespace. Soldiers with experience representing an operational area on acetate maps will see that same modality transferred into a digital environment where overlays are used to layer relevant information.

INSIGHT FROM ASSESSMENT

The Operational Assessment will verify the CP CE architecture and ensure the CP CE v2 is able to provide a Command and Control capability better than Soldiers have today, while reducing training and the cogitative burden of users performing their missions.

The goal is for brigade and battalion staff to be able to look at one map and quickly share and collaborate on a variety of data sources visualized on a common tool untethered from a thick client system. Under CP CE any workstation can access the environment and widgets with a secret browser, username and password. NIE 16.2 will assess how this expanded access connects command posts across echelons and provides staff and leaders with decision making information.

Replacing standalone systems represents a paradigm shift in the way the Army modernizes capabilities and a cut-over process of capabilities is one step as the command post evolves. Validation from the Operational Assessment of CP CE v2 at NIE 16.2 will confirm the direction the Army will follow delivering mission command capabilities.