ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- The U.S. Army is implementing a plan to update mission command network software and hardware across 400 Army, Army Reserve and Army National Guard units beginning later this year and continuing through 2019.

This robust effort will reduce the number of disparate software and hardware systems in today's command-post environment, mitigating system complexity and allowing for easier network initialization and sustainment. The ultimate goal of the effort will be to reduce more than a dozen mission command network software and hardware versions across the Army to one standard baseline.

"The rapid pace of deployments in the past 15 years has led to a significant increase in the Army's mission command systems as units have requested additional capabilities," said Col. Troy Crosby, project manager for Mission Command, who has the lead for implementation of the fielding efforts. "The Army is changing how it fields and sustains these systems, necessitating a move to a single baseline today, while we continue developing the next baseline as part of the Army's Common Operating Environment effort."

In May 2017, the Army's G3/5/7 issued an Army-wide directive for tactical units to consolidate to a single software baseline for mission command applications by the end of 2019. To execute the order, elements from Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical are mobilized to support fielding up to 280 units within the next year and to the remainder of the Army in 2019. This innovative approach will encompass fielding new systems, training units that require it, and providing field support where needed.

The Army G3/5/7, with coordination across Army Forces Command and other stakeholders, has prioritized unit fielding by taking into consideration operational and regional alignment of units to ensure all are upgraded at the right time and place. Army Reserve and Army National Guard tactical units will also receive the software and hardware improvements with careful coordination to ensure unit availability and training schedules are taken into account.

Fielding will begin in August 2017, with an aggressive completion timetable of 28 months to the more than 400 total units, from battalion through corps echelons.

ACCELERATED FIELDING TIMELINE

The Army will employ Unit Set Fielding practices to execute the baseline reduction effort. USF, initiated in 2006, works as a "one-stop-shop" for units by managing the planning and implementation of fielding and reset for network capabilities.

USF is synchronized with units' long-range training calendars, reset and support. It is also closely aligned with the Army's Sustainable Readiness Model for building trained and ready forces.

Through the USF process, capabilities are provided to a unit in a sequenced order until a complete kit is received. Because network capabilities require technical knowledge, training and support are provided throughout the process.

"Through unit set fielding, we typically touch between 80 and 100 units per year," said Thane C. St. Clair, PM Mission Command's materiel fielding branch chief. "The Army is asking us to do in two years what we normally do in a five-year process (as part of technical refresh). This is a key readiness effort, so we increased the size of our new equipment training team from 28 to 94 people to have the global reach to get the job done."

To meet the accelerated schedule, Army fielding representatives will bring together active Army, Reserve and National Guard units from across a region to a central site, usually a large installation, instead of traveling to every unit's location. To date, Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and Fort Hood, Texas, have been identified as initial regional target locations. Mission Training Centers and National Guard training hubs will also be leveraged to allow for sufficient capacity.

The greatest anticipated challenge with this initiative is the amount of unit training needed to familiarize signal, general purpose user and maintainers with the upgraded capability, St. Clair said. Balancing the training need with worldwide deployments, readiness exercises, permanent change of station moves and unit rotations will be a challenge.

This effort will take continuous planning events across Army Staff, the program community, FORSCOM, Army Reserve and Army National Guard. Planning teams are meeting regularly to ensure up-to-date information flows to receiving units over the course of the next two years.

Currently, units stationed in the Pacific will begin to receive fielding and training in fiscal year 2018, those in Europe and Southwest Asia in 2019, and those within the United States are scheduled for both years. The new hardware and software that units will receive depend on the versions they were last fielded.

If hardware can accommodate mission requirements and the latest software (termed software block 11.16), it will not need replacement. The length of training and travel requirements will depend on the unit type/echelon and number of hardware and software updates needed to achieve a common baseline.

REDUCING TRAINING BURDEN, IMPROVING SIMPLICITY

Over the last 16 years of continuous combat, multiple, interdependent mission command software versions were fielded at the same time to meet units' operational requirements. In some cases software baselines were specific to the mission or the region in which the unit was being deployed.

Although this approach met mission requirements, it resulted in arduous training, sustainment and interoperability issues.

"In the last several years, the program office has been answering requests from Soldiers for additional capability or software patches and we kept enhancing new features and functionalities," said Kim Reid, product director for PM Mission Command's Strategic Mission Command. "Now we must simplify and automate the tools that we've added and improve the Soldier's ability to stand up infrastructure, install software, as well as configure and connect it to units around them."

Currently across Army tactical units, there are as many as five laptop models and four versions of server stacks. The fielding effort will reduce the varieties of tactical laptops and servers to two baselines of common hardware. This will ultimately enable end users to manage hardware sustainment and warranties more easily, while reducing the hardware footprint in the command post.

Standardization of mission command software will be a major priority of the baseline fielding effort. Although mission command application functionality is similar across tactical units, different software versions have created varying user experiences, sustainment issues, interoperability challenges and training gaps.

A universal baseline decreases the number of software patches and security updates that must be developed, tracked and then implemented in the field. It also helps with release of new software by creating an environment for interoperability.

As an example, today the Army operates eight versions of the Command Post of the Future application that provides leaders with a common operational picture. At the end of FY 2019 when the baseline fielding is complete, there will be one updated CPOF version throughout all tactical units.

"Although the task of fielding to more than 400 units in just two years is challenging, reducing the mission command network baseline is critical to enable less complex and assured communications," Crosby said. "This effort will not only deliver a better capability, it will also ease Soldiers' training burden when they move to a new duty station or between the echelons from battalion to division. By the end of 2019, they will have the same mission command experience with the same version of software, anywhere they are."

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The U.S. Army Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical develops, acquires, fields and supports the Army's mission command network to ensure force readiness. This critical Army modernization priority delivers tactical communications so commanders and Soldiers can stay connected and informed at all times, even in the most austere and hostile environments. PEO C3T is delivering the network to regions around the globe, enabling high-speed, high-capacity voice, data and video communications to a user base that includes the Army's joint, coalition and other mission partners.