BALTIMORE, Md. (October 24, 2017) -- The Army plans to field an initial component of its Common Operating Environment (COE) in 2019, bringing standard applications and a common look and feel to several mission command systems that reside in the command post.
By leveraging a new software-defined environment to produce common maps, messaging and applications, the Army will be equipped with greater and more interoperable capabilities in the face of near-peer threats, said Army speakers during a panel discussion at the MILCOM conference held in Baltimore, Md., on Oct. 23. That integration will be accomplished by delivering critical warfighting capabilities - such as maneuver, geospatial engineering, and eventually fires, logistics and intelligence - as software applications riding on a common framework called the Command Post Computing Environment (CP CE).
"The Army currently has 17 different mission command systems that function on their own hardware, software and operating systems," said Sherri P. Bystrowski, the Army System of Systems Engineering and Integration Directorate's acting director for the COE. "This makes it difficult for the Soldier who has more to train on, more to carry, and gives the enemy a way to get in between the seams and gaps, putting us at risk. The COE is fixing this by replicating what industry is doing and moving to one infrastructure and converging apps onto one system."
COE's defined set of standards and processes will act as a playbook and guide for industry partners, government program managers and third-party developers. The Army's goal is for a Soldier to be able to look at one map and quickly share and collaborate on a variety of data sources visualized on a common interface, and without separate, standalone computer hardware. For the user, the experience will be more like commercial systems that show similar applications on a smartphone, tablet and laptop.
As the Army continues to refine its tactical network strategy, which was designed for the static environments of Iraq and Afghanistan and is now adapting to address the demands of near-peer threats and multi-domain battle, the service remains dedicated to the COE construct that adapts industry models and utilizes Commercial off the Shelf (CoTS) capabilities to provide a "plug and play" feel with common functions such as maps and chat services. Of the six computing environments that comprise COE, one of the most mature is CP CE, which will be the first to go to test next year, with fielding of initial applications and hardware infrastructure expected in 2019.
In the Fiscal Year 2019 initial capability drop, the Army will replace or remove four of the 17 mission command systems, reduce required training by more than 50 percent, and drop the size, weight and power of its server stacks by 900 pounds, officials said.
The Army's Product Manager Tactical Mission Command (PdM TMC), responsible for the command post and mounted computing environments, is leveraging the common standards of COE to streamline its systems.
By integrating mission command for commanders onto one consolidated warfighting picture, CP CE will enhance leaders' ability to rapidly plan a mission in a command post, view and execute the plan in their vehicles, and communicate with dismounted Soldiers who can view the data on their handheld devices. Now, instead of moving from workstation to workstation, commanders and staff can access warfighting "apps" using any authorized government laptop connected to the appropriate server.
"Take the map, you see 10 different systems doing the same mission set," Lt. Col. Shermoan Daiyaan, PdM TMC, said during the panel.
The systems often come with their own laptop and server stacks and instead of being integrated are separated by function.
"All of that adds weight, and reduces the ability to shoot, move, collapse [the Command Post], move again, and set it up again," Daiyaan said. "So that's the problem set we are looking at. Command posts have become very big, very static and very hard to move and COE is going to get after that."
PdM TMC has also released a CP CE Software Development Kit, or SDK, to provide industry and other Army programs of record a roadmap for converging systems onto CP CE standards. SDKs describe the overall architecture, infrastructure, core utilities and mission command applications.
Another key step in the process for CP CE was working with the Training and Doctrine Command to identify the minimum essential requirements and provide flexibility in development.
"Our first big effort was to determine, what were the minimum essential requirements?" said Krupal Kapadia, lead engineer for PdM TMC. "We wanted to know, what were the bread and butter requirements of what does it mean to do mission command?"
Doing so narrowed the mission command requirements down to a few essentials: blue feeds (friendly forces), red feeds (enemy forces), chat capability, and a tool to build the operational orders, attach graphics and send them to the Soldier in the field to execute the mission, said Kapadia.
Addressing industry representatives in the audience, the panelists stressed the need to deliver standardized solutions, partner with programs of record that will be transitioning systems onto the common framework in the next few years, and to utilize the SDKs when bringing new capabilities to the table.