ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (March 6, 2018) -- Soldiers in charge of training at the Army's National Training Center, or NTC, recently evaluated a new technology as their exercise control tool, which enhanced their ability to track the location and combat status of vehicular assets on the simulated battlefield.
Observer Coach/Trainers, or OC/Ts, employed the Tactical Computing Environment, or TCE, which is a flexible, map-based mission command solution that provides situational awareness and enables collaboration across platforms such as tablets, laptops, and other mounted and dismounted computing devices from brigade down to the edge.
The NTC exercises, based out of Fort Irwin, California, enable OC/Ts to evaluate units during their training rotations at the NTC, and then provide feedback to the unit's commander on their unit's sate of training.
"We strive to ensure our Soldiers are the best trained force in the world," said LTC Kenneth Walters, product manager for Combat Training Instrumentation Systems, under Program Manager Training Devices, or PM TRADE. "To achieve this goal, it is critical that we continue to provide robust, embedded technologies to those in charge of training our Soldiers."
PM TRADE, assigned to the U.S. Army Program Executive Office Simulation, Training, and Instrumentation, or PEO STRI, provides U.S. Army Soldiers with realistic training environments and equipment to ensure they are prepared to deploy.
The TCE was developed by the U.S. Army's Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, or CERDEC, in response to the Army's push for expeditionary mission command.
CERDEC is the Army's applied research and advanced technology development center for command, control, communications, computers, cyber, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or C5ISR, technologies and systems. CERDEC works with the Defense Department, national research organizations, academia and industry to shape future capabilities that enable information superiority and tactical overmatch for the Joint Warfighter.
Mission command experts within CERDEC's Command, Power and Integration division, or CP&ID, continue to refine TCE to provide untethered commanders with the same or better capabilities than they had with their stationary command post networked mission command systems.
It was this type of functionality that PM TRADE sought to enhance its existing Range Communications System, or RCS, which OC/Ts use as their exercise common operating picture for both friendly and adversarial forces. Besides tracking assets, the system can execute reporting and manage information flow to and from the equivalent of a commander's command post.
"Initial feedback from NTC cadre on the TCE capability provided acknowledgement that this was the right solution for NTC," Walters said. "In addition to its applicability towards our existing system, the tactical community and Soldiers were already familiar with the TCE map's military standard graphics and symbology, which ensured a minimal learning curve for the system's users."
TCE recently transitioned from CERDEC as a prototype technology to PM TRADE to better enable exercise control at various training events.
This transition followed successful, iterative risk reduction events with PM TRADE in CERDEC's lab environment.
"Our partnership with PEO STRI and NTC is a great example of how CERDEC's science and technology breakthroughs can benefit the Army's training systems," said Lisa Heidelberg, CERDEC CP&ID Mission Command division chief. "In addition, by collaborating across government entities, we are producing government-owned, zero cost solutions at a fraction of the time normally required during the traditional acquisition process."
CERDEC engineers made a few modifications to ensure interoperability between the TCE and NTC's Combat Training Center Instrumentation System, or CTC-IS, 4G LTE range network, said Dexter Brewer, CERDEC CP&ID operational subject matter expert.
"The OC/Ts used TCE in conjunction with the network to construct and visualize their exercise [common operating picture] COP, drawing data from several systems on the simulated battlefield," Brewer said. "From this data they understood which vehicles were 'killed' or 'alive' after engagements."
The large, mounted tablets allowed the OC/Ts to track units and collaborate with fellow OC/Ts via messaging while on the move or at the halt.
"When I used the tablet, it increased my situational understanding of not only our unit that we were observing but us in relation to other units in the brigade as well as the enemy operating in our area, " said Maj. Perry White, Cavalry Operations OC/T. "I really did miss utilizing the system after testing it for one rotation. TCE is truly a value added in accomplishing our job."
TCE performed well over NTC's robust network, but its network-agnostic capabilities have been successfully evaluated on lower-bandwidth RF networks, which may be the only option available for users, said Andy Harned, CERDEC CP&ID TCE project lead.
In simulated or live operations, commanders and staff can operate TCE in two collaboration modes: Mirror and Extended.
"Leaders can use mirror mode when they and their staff are geographically dispersed," Harned said. "All can view the same map, and all can immediately see changes to the map, such as new graphics, no matter who makes those changes."
Extend mode allows co-located users out in the field to place their tablets together in a grid to form one, large screen as an alternative to the large video displays traditionally found in fixed command posts. Soldiers can disperse in any direction and retain the same plan.
Future TCE capabilities will include Advanced Human-Computer interfaces such as speech-to-text capability, which would allow the user to create a text message using his or her voice, and gesture and eye-tracking interaction, for environments lacking the traditional mouse and keyboard peripherals.
Following its successful inaugural evaluation, TCE will once again be used as the exercise control tool at NTC rotation 18-06 in April 2018, where OC/Ts and their Soldiers will obtain a sense of how valuable expeditionary command is in a dispersed operational environment.
"Expeditionary mission command isn't just about the physical aspects of a command post; you have to make the software expeditionary as well," Harned said. "If we can give the commander the capability to collaborate with leaders and subordinates at the edge, we will provide tactical agility in the face of current and future threats."