By CECOM SEC ARAT-PO StaffSeptember 11, 2017
As Cold War tensions were running high in the mid-1980s, the Army Science Board recognized a problem in responding to threats in the Electromagnetic Spectrum, especially when it came to air defense systems that relied on radars to guide their guns or missiles. Although the Army could update (also known as reprogramming) its Aviation Survivability Equipment (ASE) mission software - designed to counter these threats - in response to changes in threat radar operations, tactics, and techniques, it could not do so quickly. The way the Army operated, as well as the design of ASE hardware and software, were cumbersome and not conducive to the "rapid software reprogramming" necessary to maintain unit readiness in the face of a rapidly changing air defense threat environment.
In the late-1980s, the Army, in cooperation with other Joint Services, conducted a number of exercises that confirmed what the Army Science Board had already known and, during Operation Desert Shield/Storm, the problem became a reality. To counter threat radar changes in the Kuwaiti Theater of Operation, engineers developed software solutions at Fort Monmouth, N.J., and then flew to each aviation unit in theater to manually install the new software for each helicopter, one aircraft at a time. Because of that time and labor intensive approach, the Army realized it was time to come up with a more efficient way of updating its ASE.
The Army Material Command (AMC) appointed the Communications-Electronics Command as its lead Major Subordinate Command for conducting rapid software reprogramming Dec. 24, 1991, marking the birth of the Army Reprogramming Analysis Team (ARAT). Although the original Army Regulation 525-15 outlined the rapid software reprogramming concept prior to 1991, the AMC mandate made the ARAT a formal organization that still exists within the Army.
The Army's approach to rapid software reprogramming involves a process that includes threat identification and analysis, comparison of threat changes to current system capabilities, software design, coding and testing in response to the threat, and dissemination of new software to Soldiers in the field. While some of these capabilities existed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it wasn't until the formation of the ARAT that they became centrally managed in a way that enabled the Army to get mission-essential software products to the field in an expeditious manner.
Over its first 25 years, ARAT grew from a simple association of an Intelligence and Security Command threat analysis cell and a Communications-Electronics Command Software Engineering Center (SEC) team to a Department of the Army-directed, AMC-chartered Army Reprogramming Analysis Team Program Office. This program office has taken on the responsibilities of overseeing threat analysis, engineering, information technology, customer interface, and liaison activities spread across the United States.
During its first quarter-century, the ARAT's software sustainment mission grew from two pieces of ASE (designed to detect radar-guided threats) in 1992 to four counter radar-guided threat systems and one counter missile system used on hundreds of U.S. Army and allied aircraft today. In addition to aviation protection systems, the ARAT's portfolio expanded into the realms of ground electronic warfare and intelligence systems, and the next several years will see even further growth into the areas of spectrum management and cyber system software.
Innovation has always been at the forefront of the ARAT's contribution to mission readiness. Since its inception two and a half decades ago, ARAT has reduced the timelines associated with developing and testing software changes though automation, modelling, and simulation of the threat environment with most of these enhancements coming from the ingenuity, expertise, and hard work of the team's organic government and contractor support staff.
A significant accomplishment has been ARAT's ability to eliminate the need for engineers to travel to Army units to manually install software into systems onboard aircraft or ground vehicle. Through a combination of software dissemination over a secure portal, download applications, and installation kits, Soldiers can now, from anywhere they are located and at the time of their choosing, pull necessary software changes and update their platforms without the need of external support. However, if Soldiers still need external support, ARAT provides a mechanism for 24/7 reach-back assistance, another capability not existing in 1991.
Much has changed in the operational environment during ARAT's first 25 years, but the basic need to rapidly adapt to uncertainty and volatility in the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) has not changed. Old threats, changes to old threats, new threats, and an ever-advancing world of technology means that the Army needs to keep pace with, and ideally ahead of, the constantly evolving face of our adversaries, as well as the overall EMS in general. With that in mind, ARAT continues to transform as it moves into its next 25 years.
One challenge facing ARAT is the complexity of the EMS. Although the spectrum of the late 1980s--early 1990s had its own intricacies, today's electromagnetic environment is much more congested and contested. In addition to military systems, a proliferation of commercial communications products adds to the complexity. The ability to rapidly adjust mission software to changes in the spectrum, and then test and validate the software in a realistic environment, constantly challenges the ARAT's mission of being the Army's infrastructure that rapidly develops, delivers, and sustains cyberspace electromagnetic activities system software to support Commanders across the full range of military operations around the world.
ARAT continues to explore ways of taking software testing out of the open-air environment and into its labs. Open air testing, which relies on the use of actual or replicated threat systems on Army test ranges, has its limitation due to physical space, environmental constraints and government restrictions. Added to those challenges are the significant costs, lead time, and logistic considerations which are not conducive to the rapid nature of ARAT's mission. However, based on their internal product and process improvement capabilities, lessons learned from developing scores of software releases, and collaboration with Joint Service, academic, and industry partners, ARAT continues to mature its modelling and simulation capacity to realize cost avoidance and reduce software reprogramming timelines.
Additionally, along with its parent organization the SEC's Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors Directorate, the ARAT is quickly advancing towards a goal of establishing a core capability that meets the intent of Title 10 United States Code Sections 2464 and 2466. By adopting a domain-based engineering approach focused exclusively on electronic warfare and cyber, ARAT is migrating its staff to meet the Code's objective of ensuring a "ready and controlled source of technical competence and resources necessary to ensure effective and timely response to mobilization, national defense contingency situations, and other emergency requirements." The end state of this effort is to further improve the effectiveness of its software development mission through its core U.S. Government and contractor support personnel.
The common thread that ran through ARAT's first 25 years, and will continue to run through its fabric for the next 25 years and beyond, is its unwavering dedication to America's Soldiers. Whether it is in support of the current fight or the future fight, members of the Army Reprogramming Analysis Team have stood in their labs, classrooms at the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, and on flight lines, operating bases, and motor pools around the world to ensure that Soldiers have, and will continue to have, quality mission-related software products necessary for engaging America's enemies and protecting its allies. As the Army moves deeper into the 21st Century, there will be two constants: 1) times will change, threats will evolve, and the operational environment will become more complex, and 2) the Army Reprogramming Analysis Team will stand ready to take care of Soldiers by rapidly responding to the changes, evolution, and complexity within the operational environment.