ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- "Receipt of Mission" -- so begins the Army's extensive Military Decision Making Process, or MDMP, followed by six more steps, 44 tasks and hundreds of sub-tasks.

This proven methodology assists commanders and staff with applying their critical thinking skills to formulate sound decisions, but it can be complex and time consuming. To streamline the process, Army science and technology engineers are inserting autonomous technologies into the MDMP, with the caveat that "autonomy" will never substitute for the human commander's intent.

The Automated Planning Framework, or APF, is an autonomous capability under development at the U.S. Army Materiel Command's Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center. It features a workflow system that embeds real-time, doctrinal data -- which provides a common frame of reference for military actions -- into standard graphics and maps associated with mission planning.

"The commander's intent is realized from his thorough knowledge of the MDMP, past experience, judgment and intuition," said Lisa Heidelberg, Mission Command division chief under CERDEC's Command, Power and Integration directorate, or CP&ID. "By automating many of the tasks and functions required to implement the MDMP, the APF unburdens the commander and staff, allowing them to focus on the ever-changing mission requirements."

CERDEC, the Army's lead for mission command research and development, is exploring intuitive, autonomous solutions such as the APF to ensure overmatch for future combat warfare missions.

"We like to refer to the APF as having a 'Turbo Tax' style interface," said Steve Mazza, CERDEC's APF project lead. "It allows the user to click on the steps and tasks within the MDMP to receive contextual assistance during mission planning, monitoring, prediction and courses of action."

With APF, each staff function will have a login to collaborate with the commander. As with human planning operations, the command and staff can work through the MDMP simultaneously or in any order that produces the soundest plan possible during the time allotted.

"It doesn't matter if the staff is co-located at the command post or dispersed forward -- all contributions are synchronized," Mazza said. "With all staff functions represented simultaneously, everybody has high visibility at the planning table."

For example, to initiate the MDMP, the operations officer, or S3, must gather many tools, including the higher headquarters order, maps, standard operational procedures and appropriate field manuals, while each staff section updates running estimates while assessing the current situation.

The APF allows Soldiers to track the rich data set, which provides the "who, what, where, and when" mission information against the MIL-STD-2525C graphics that they are accustomed to working with normally. The commander at each echelon is still responsible for the commander's intent, which is the "why," Mazza said.

The MDMP also produces the Warning Order. The Warning Order is the initial guidance given to subordinate units to initiate planning efforts and for commanders to begin Troop Leading Procedures at the company and below level.

The MDMP's Mission Analysis is the most comprehensive step in the process, making it a prime candidate for automation. The commander assigns task and purpose to subordinate units, which requires multiple tasks such as compiling Essential Elements of Friendly Information and Commander's Critical Information Requirements, or CCIRs. The APF ties this information to the graphics, which allows the staff to update the OPORD to maintain parity between rapid re-planning cycles and doctrinal artifacts.

The APF also automates doctrinal artifacts such as the Decision Support Template, which is used by commanders and staff to preplan for various CCIRs, and the Synchronization Matrix, which is tied to each Course of Action, or COA.

"To test operational scenarios, the APF also performs COA analysis, or simulated war gaming," Mazza said.

Cpt. John Young, Small Group Leader at the Maneuver Captains Career Course at Fort Benning, Georgia, and former platoon leader, fire support officer and assistant operations officer, expressed how beneficial the APF could be for his training class and for forward operations.

"The APF could be very beneficial to me now in the classroom to teach the MDMP to our Soldiers," Young said. "If they could in turn use it when deployed, that would not only reinforce their training but would also be a powerful tool for them to conduct their missions."

A partnership between CERDEC and the Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical will eventually bring APF out of the lab and into the field, where it will become a pluggable application on the user interface utilizing the Command Post Computing Environment, or CPCE, infrastructure and core user utilities.

CPCE v3 will begin to provide an integrated mission command capability with a common look and feel across the command post, its platforms and echelons.

"We required a planning technology that would facilitate the MDMP at brigade and battalion across CPCE v3's warfighting functions of Fires, Logistics, Intelligence, Airspace Management and Maneuver," said Maj. Jerry Jones, former company commander and now assistant product manager PEO C3T's, Project Manager Mission Command, or PM MC.

With APF, commanders and staff receive orders via the common graphics and maps, but the data behind the graphics tells the real story in real time, so they can immediately begin planning the mission, Jones said.

"Most important to PEO C3T was that the autonomous solution retained the commander's human intent; therefore, it made sense to partner with CERDEC because it had already made significant progress in this area."

A portion of the APF should transition onto the CPCE environment before the planned CPCE Operational Test at Network Integration Evaluation 18.2 in September, 2018.

The APF saves time and mitigates confusion even into the final execution phase. With access to pre-planned scenarios, APF can sound an alert under specified conditions such as confirming enemy tanks in a certain location, Mazza said.

"With the APF we continue to identify tasks that computers are good at but that humans find tedious," Mazza said. "In doing so, we are satisfying the commander's intent and elevating mission command beyond what could be planned on acetate."

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the U.S. Army Materiel Command's Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities for decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the Joint Warfighter and the Nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.