By Claire Schwerin, U.S. Army March 9, 2012
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (March 9, 2012) -- During then-Capt. Shane Sims' tour in Iraq in 2004, he was directed to check out a location that intelligence analysts had identified as a potential hiding place for a high-value enemy target.
He went to the site and found a chicken coop. But with no way to immediately report that information back to the analysts, Sims said, the common operating picture they understood became misleading and out of date.
"We lacked the tools to inject new intelligence data from the ground up," said Sims, now a major assigned to the Army's Project Manager for Mission Command.
Today, the Army is aiming to close that gap as part of its sweeping efforts to modernize the tactical communications network and extend connectivity to lower echelons. A web-based system, similar to an "app store," that fuses real-time operations data and accumulated intelligence will be evaluated by Soldiers at the Network Integration Evaluation, or NIE 12.2 in May.
Termed "ops-intel convergence," the initiative will provide real-time intelligence to commanders, so they can immediately plan and adjust operations in a dynamic environment. Operational data refers to present occurrences, such as the locations and activities of friendly and enemy forces and ongoing missions. Intelligence refers to the collection of data and analysis over time concerning the enemy and environment.
"Any way you can integrate those different slice elements into the common operating picture, you're going to be better off," said Maj. Stephen Dail, communications officer for the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, the unit evaluating tactical communications systems as part of the NIEs. "To be able to bring that information in is going to be really key for us."
The NIEs are semi-annual field exercises designed to rapidly integrate and mature the Army's tactical communications network, in order to field an integrated voice and data capability throughout the brigade combat team formation down to the tactical edge. Evaluating progress on ops-intel convergence is one of the Army's focus areas for NIE 12.2.
During the NIE 12.2, users will fuse and collaborate on information across the ops-intel domains through the combination of Command Web, a tool used for mission command, and the Distributed Common Ground System - Army, or DCGS-A. The new system, known as Prototype- Operations/Intelligence Convergence, or P-OIC, will be a system under evaluation integrated into the larger NIE architecture in support of the formal operational test for Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, or WIN-T Increment 2, the Army's second-generation tactical network backbone.
P-OIC is the Army's initial digital platform uniting intelligence and operations capabilities -- an integration priority directed by the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology.
"The convergence of mission command and intelligence capabilities will enable our Soldiers to utilize the full spectrum of integrated tools to access, analyze, predict and report information to those who need it, when they need it in the field," said Mark Kitz, technical director of PM DCGS-A. "This unparalleled level of knowledge will increase situational awareness and change the way our Soldiers go into a mission."
DCGS-A, Command Web and other mission command systems use the National Security Agency's Ozone framework, which allows for maximum interoperability across organizations and agencies and enables rapid third-party development of new "apps" to meet Soldier needs. The use of a common framework also lays the groundwork for further convergence and interoperability across the intelligence and operations communities, as well as across the command post computing environment and the joint services.
Using a ruggedized laptop equipped with P-OIC, a Soldier can log in to the web-based Ozone framework and access software applications specific to his or her mission.
"The user goes into the Ozone 'app store' and pulls down what they need," Sims said. "Eventually, the operations and intelligence applications will 'talk' to one another, giving Soldiers continuous access to the latest information to achieve mission success."
Among the applications that will be used at NIE 12.2 are Maneuver, which gives users a view of the common operating picture and a data management capability, 3D Maps, Entity Tree, Document Viewer, Time Wheel, Geoserver and a version of Tactical Ground Reporting, or TIGR, which allows lower-echelon Soldiers to digitally capture, report and retrieve patrol data.
"We can plot any kind of significant activities, keep track of where our units are on the battlefield, keep route statuses up to date," said Spc. Cody Russell of 2/1 AD, who used TIGR at the NIE 12.1 in October-November 2011. "We can even add pictures, descriptions and information to those icons so (other users) can click it, bring it up, (and say) 'This is what I'm looking for.'"
User feedback from Afghanistan and NIE about the value of TIGR in collecting and sharing intelligence at lower echelons prompted PM Mission Command to build a TIGR application that interfaces with DCGS-A, which is the Army's chief intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance system used at battalion and above, Sims said.
Having such a capability in Iraq in 2004 would have made a difference by allowing him to quickly communicate his chicken coop discovery and update the common operating picture into the intelligence data backbone, he said.
"With TIGR, you could send a report into the intel world for bottom-up confirmation," he said.