By Ms Joyce Conant, ARLAugust 21, 2012
The U.S. Army Research Laboratory's Human Research and Engineering Directorate (HRED) recently conducted a usability evaluation of the new planning functionality that has been implemented in automated communications engineering software (ACES). ACES is real-time, tactical network and planning software.
Five experienced ACES radio operators from the signal community were trained to use the new ACES capability. The evaluation of the new ACES module supported planning for the Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW) and the Adaptive Wideband Networking Waveform (ANW2). SRW is used by the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) AN/PRC-154 Rifleman Radio and AN/PRC-155 Manpack Radio and ANW2 is used by the Harris AN/PRC-117G multi-mode radio. Users generated network data and created configuration files for the radio. One goal of the JTRS Program is to develop interoperable, mobile ad-hoc, secure networking for use by Warfighters anywhere in the joint battle space. JTRS will allow all elements of the U.S. defense force to communicate and share information over a fully interoperable tactical radio system, helping to realize the full potential of net centric warfare.
One of the experienced ACES test participants, Sgt. Maj. Haynes McCoy III, U.S. Army Forces Command Senior Spectrum Manager at Fort Bragg, N.C., said the training was geared to provide the ACES operator with the knowledge necessary to plan, engineer, deliver and manage radio waveform files via an XML format. He said that this capability is necessary in order to ensure radio nets can be quickly established in all environments based on currently available electromagnetic spectrum resources.
After the training, participants followed a script to create the same SRW network plan that was used during Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) 12.2. Chris Paulillo, usability evaluation lead of HRED, created the script and incorporated additional content to include ANW2 planning for the AN/117G and SINCGARS waveform planning for the AN/PRC-155.
"The ability to modify networks allowing access to joint, coalition and host nation forces will allow the commander the flexibility to maintain command and control over the force while simultaneously coordinating efforts with other forces in separate NETS (networks) as necessary," said McCoy. "Drawbacks observed involved the inability to isolate a compromised radio and an automated IP management function for the operator, which would assist in ensuring there is no duplication of IP schemes during the development phase of the NET. HRED assured us that this issue would be reviewed in accordance with the requirements. The software was and the general concept/idea was great."
The Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T) is the network lead organization for NIEs, which include a series of semi-annual field exercises designed to evaluate deliberate and rapid acquisition solutions, as well as integrate and advance the Army's tactical network.
Paulillo said they replicated data used by NIE with the objective to see if a trained and experienced ACES user could easily apply their ACES knowledge with minimal training to complete the tasks needed to plan network data and create configuration files for the radio. Also, data collected will be used to make system improvement recommendations and drive changes to the ACES application and user interface design.
New technology and communication capabilities bring new challenges to communication planning, said Paulillo. He said that IP-based radios require a unique configuration file unlike the current force SINCGARS-capable radios and that the new radios must conform to new information assurance policies and regulations that must be addressed during planning. There are different types of crypto-graphic keys used in these radios. Paulillo said that while the concept and execution of planning and operation is different for the JTRS, these radios can still operate as legacy radios such as a SINCGARS radio.
"I have supported ACES/JACS development and testing in the past through other customers, but this is the first opportunity that I have been able to conduct a usability evaluation," said Paulillo.
He said one always learns so much more when they have a functional system and have management's support, but that the down side is that it can be labor-intensive especially when systems are immature or when they have not been fully integrated.
"I have never spent this much time preparing for a usability evaluation before," said Paulillo. "I have worked a great deal with Diane [Quarles, also from HRED] doing this sort of thing in the past. Although she did not know a lot about the system, she is a quick study and if you have a good script to follow, you don't need to be an expert on the system if you have experience like she has. Motivated users, a competent and responsive engineering, test and training team at the ready doesn't hurt either. I had it all during this evaluation."
Following the HRED script required users to exercise all ACES SRW and ANW2 planning functionality as well as some of the functionality required for current force radio network planning. Usability data was collected as Soldiers performed the required planning tasks that also included transfer of the data to the AN/PYQ-10 Simple Key Loader, management of cryptographic keys, and loading of radios.
The ACES usability evaluation was conducted on a platform that hosted other network planning applications using the Windows 7 operating system and the Army's Gold Master image. This usability evaluation demonstrated that multiple network management applications currently used today can run on a single target platform. HRED will supply usability test results to Communications Electronics Command Project Management offices and work with their engineers to mitigate the usability issues identified.