FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kansas (Feb. 22, 2021) -- To institutionalize something is to establish it as the norm in an organization or within a culture. When it comes to leveraging the cloud to train and prepare the next generation of Soldiers for mission planning and execution, the Army is doing just that.
In support of its mission to educate, train and develop leaders for unified land operations in a Joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational operational environment, the Command and General Staff College, or CGSC, recently transitioned to a new suite of applications as its primary mission command information system. These applications, which include Command Post Computing Environment (CPCE) software, will support the college’s 14 Common Core and Advance Operations Course (AOC) lessons: five week-long planning exercises and nine practical exercises. In total, there are 57 days during Common Core and AOC in which CPCE can support the curriculum.
Seeing this opportunity, Army University (ArmyU) reached out to Project Manager (PM) Mission Command to bring CPCE into the CGSC while also addressing COVID-19 impacts and allowing remote access to the training environment.
“This all started with a whiteboard session between the program office and the Combined Arms Center (CAC) to see how we could expand our training opportunities following the execution of the Tactical Cloud Pilot (TCP) last fall,” said Lt. Col. Shawn Chu-Quinn, Product Manager for Tactical Mission Command. During the TCP, CPCE was leveraged in a cloud environment to conduct training for National Guard units at Ft. Indiantown Gap’s Mission Training Complex and was successful in proving out the viability of virtualized collective training without the need for Tactical Server Infrastructure (TSI) hardware. Compared to legacy server stacks, TSI hardware provides an 800-pound weight reduction, 50 percent reduction in setup and teardown time, and a reduction in the number of transit cases from nine to three.
Following the TCP, ArmyU’s Directorate of Learning Systems (DLS) has served as the lead in integrating the various stakeholders necessary to bring the CGSC effort to life, working across the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), Mission Command Center of Excellence (CoE), Maneuver CoE, Sustainment CoE and others within CAC. DLS’s prior experience in hosting the ArmyU website on TRADOC’s Azure Cloud has provided insight into the architecture needed for hosting CPCE in a virtual capacity.
“ArmyU is leveraging assistance from across the enterprise to have students collaborate and plan using the same software that they will see when they return to the operational force, but in a cloud-based, unclassified environment which allows access from government and civilian networks and devices,” said Maj. Vincent Cesaro, Special Programs Division, DLS.
To understand the impact virtualized training could have within the CGSC, consider the college’s structure:
- There are 18 sections with four staff groups in each section
- Four of these sections are currently conducting classes via distributed learning
- Each of the 72 staff groups represent a planning cell located at an organization (Brigade, Division, Corps, etc.)
- Each staff group has 15 students
- Counting faculty, roughly 1,300 individuals need access to mission command applications
According to Ken Lorenzten, Director of the Mission Command Support Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground, virtualizing CPCE training will prove beneficial for both the college and the Army.
“When you look at the scale this effort is targeting – 500 users or more at a time – the program office can learn valuable lessons about CPCE with regards to capacity, data management and other technical hurdles,” he said.
Additionally, this institutionalized approach will improve the Development Security Operations, or DevSecOps, model as the Army’s software development capabilities migrate. Currently, the CGSC G-6 provides two full instances and five Software Development Kit instances of CPCE which all reside locally on Battle Command Common Services hardware. In a cloud environment, CPCE will be centrally hosted and new capabilities can be pushed instantly.
“In a virtual environment, we can receive feedback from the users for a new capability request, code it, test it, certify it, and push it to the cloud and all users can benefit from the enhancement immediately,” said Lorentzen. The current process involves significant overhead in fielding updates to all servers as well as physical network limitations and configuration management issues.
As this virtualized effort becomes more mature, the Army will also be able to deliver the capability to National Guard and Reserve components (COMPO 2/3), schoolhouses and labs without the time and costs associated with issuing hardware.
“The challenge lies in extending access to distance learning students and COMPO 2/3, as well as enabling vertical and horizontal collaboration between courses,” said Cesaro. “We think a cloud-based CPCE can provide a valuable training environment, enable collaboration, and provide lessons learned for other hybrid cloud concepts.”
Lorentzen agrees, and understands that current challenges and technical limitations are providing key lessons learned for future applications.
“One of the key hurdles is the onboarding of next-generation mission command services that leverage cloud computing and advanced capabilities in support of Joint All-Domain Command and Control, and Multi-Domain Operations,” he said. “Most importantly, this effort is informing future deployment of cloud-based mission command capabilities to operational units.”
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.