By Justin EimersDecember 14, 2017
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (December 14, 2017) -- "We have a very limited amount of time to do this so kicking the can down the road is not an option."
Those words, emphasized at a recent fielding conference, reveal the impact of a plan to update mission command network software and hardware across all Army, Army Reserve and Army National Guard units by the end of 2019.
In May 2017, the Army's G-3/5/7 (Operations, Plans and Training) issued an Army-wide directive for more than 400 tactical units to consolidate to a single software baseline for mission command applications. To execute the order, elements from Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical mobilized to support fielding approximately 290 units in FY18 and the remainder of the Army next fiscal year.
This far-reaching approach encompasses fielding new systems, training units that require it and providing field support where needed. The end goal of the effort is to reduce more than a dozen mission command network software and hardware versions across the Army to one standard baseline. Upgrading the Army National Guard is a major initiative as part of the software fielding effort.
To prioritize units, the National Guard Bureau has provided the Army's G-3 a list of units to be scheduled for upgrades in upcoming years. For FY18, 95 units are expected to be touched by PEO C3T's fielding teams, four of which have already been completed since August 2017. From that list, the fielding team schedules synchronization conferences -- a "one-stop-shop" where units throughout a region convene at a central location instead of having fielding representatives travel to each unit's site. Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and Fort Hood, Texas, have been used as regional hubs while Fort Bragg, North Carolina and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington have been identified as future locations.
During these conferences, Army program managers provide critical information regarding hardware and software upgrades based on the prioritizations and then schedule each unit to receive those upgrades. New material in-briefs are planned along the way to outline specific details of the requirements and what the upgrade will mean for each unit.
"When you condense the fielding schedule like this there are significant time, training and funding impacts which the Guard doesn't normally deal with," said Neil Roop, PEO C3T Fielding, Plans and Execution Team Lead. "Fielding conferences serve as a mechanism to iron out those unanticipated requirements."
Several steps have been identified that units can take to ensure a smooth process from scheduling through fielding and training. Units are encouraged to take advantage of and have proper representation present at all new information briefs, synchronization conferences and in-process review phone calls. Such forums are all key components that provide units with the information they need, when they need it. Operations officer (S3) and/or signal officer (S6) representation is encouraged due to their knowledge of unit operations and understanding of C4ISR equipment.
"If units send personnel to the meetings who do not carry the information back and share it with the individuals who need it the most, then that's when we find units who are not quite as prepared as they should be once we reach the fielding and training stages," said Rodney Malone, a fielding manager with Army Project Manager Mission Command.
While units are synchronized and fielded according to the prioritization list in most cases, the accelerated pace of the baseline reduction has not allowed for prioritized conferences, meaning some units have been pulled in earlier than expected. In-process reviews ensure facilities are ready for fielding, personnel are available and everything is in place to execute the plan. Fielding typically takes 2 weeks but varies depending on the type of equipment the unit is set to receive, and could take as little as a few days for those receiving software only. From the units already fielded, the team has taken several lessons learned from the process thanks to Soldier-submitted surveys. Feedback from the surveys, which are conducted following each new equipment fielding and new equipment training, has led to improvements in scheduling and course material.
Instructors provide course material to units prior to scheduled training sessions to give them the opportunity to review it in advance.
"We encourage some intellectual curiosity," said Malone, "meaning that we urge Soldiers to read and digest as much material as possible before it's their turn to train on it." Training material is available on the Common Access Card-enabled site, https://lwn.army.mil/.
Fielding representatives also reach out to smaller National Guard units to set up centralized training in cases where attending a conference doesn't make sense. In those cases, Mission Training Centers -- facilities that offer classroom space for Army Mission Command Systems training events on an "as available" basis -- are leveraged to avoid scheduling conflicts or unnecessary travel.
"We're also making a deliberate effort to ensure MTCs are brought up to the most recent software baseline," said Malone, adding that the centers will play a key role in the future with sustainment training and operator training.
Training varies based on the type of unit and its existing hardware, and typically ranges from 40 hours to 100 hours. A major hurdle facing the effort is activating the National Guard's "student population," presenting both cost and scheduling impacts with a near-term, back-to-back training. In response, fielding personnel have taken a closer look at opportunities where training can be reduced. One example includes shortening a 40-hour course from five eight-hour days to just one 10-hour session for units that have been fielded new equipment and can demonstrate proficiency using it.
Divergent versions of mission command software have created sustainment issues, interoperability challenges and training gaps. A universal baseline supports the release of new software by creating an environment for interoperability and will set the stage for the release of Command Post Computing Environment in fourth quarter FY19.
Fifty-four National Guard units are scheduled for upgrades in fiscal 2019. Synchronization conference scheduling is expected to wrap up in March 2018 once all units have been contacted.
"Assuming we're successful with this effort, we will not only meet the Army's standard to consolidate to a single software baseline but will realize the ultimate goal of delivering readiness to Soldiers," said Roop.
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.