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Q2 2015: Enhancing Mission Command

Mission command has come a long way since the earliest days of warfare when distances on the battlefield were short, orders were simple, and commanders directed their forces with visual signals.

As distances expanded and orders increased in complexity, couriers replaced visual signals. Their function lasted for centuries until mobility and weapon technology had advanced far enough to increase battlefield distances still further. Commanders then turned to radio technology to meet their communication requirements.

Today, by expanding the battlefield exponentially, C4ISR technology has taken mobility to a new level. Capabilities once associated only with big business and industry are now in the hands of soldiers and their commanders. Capabilities such as video teleconferencing, streaming video, and collaboration in the use of digital products have transformed the character of shared battlefield data, increasing access to intricate products that contain quantum volumes of information-far more than was available just a few years ago.

The challenge posed by these advances, unimaginable a quarter-century ago, is to make the system as user-friendly as possible, according to Col. Michael Thurston, U.S. Army project manager for mission command.

"We are really trying to simplify everything from the soldiers' experience," said Thurston, a featured speaker at the 14th annual C4ISR & Networks conference in April, noting that the drive toward simplification originated when he was project manager of the Joint Battle Command-Platform before it was folded into PM Mission Command in 2014.

"In JBC-P we started several years ago on the simplification. The user turns the system on, it connects to a satellite transceiver, the user has to take no action to connect the network, the unit has to take no action to manage the network, and it is all managed at Aberdeen Proving Ground by the program office."

Technology on the Move

Devising the most advanced ways for Army commanders to act as effectively as possible in the field is a specialty of DRS Technologies, a U.S. company with proven networking expertise. An extraordinarily compact suite of equipment supplied by DRS and able to be installed seamlessly in a variety of combat and tactical vehicles allows next-generation situational awareness on the move and beyond the line of sight. Complementing these attributes is virtually unlimited mobility. This allows commanders to lead from the front, resulting in greater continuity. Moreover, the new expeditionary and mobile C4ISR systems and capabilities require significantly less space and power (a reduction estimated at 75 percent). The result is a smaller tactical footprint, a great advantage in relatively diminutive mobile command units.

It doesn't take an expert to realize that the enabling C5ISR technology, especially the cyber component, has entered a new era. A scan of newspaper headlines from the recent past tells the story. Navy Seals kill Osama bin Laden in precision mission. Intel surveillance aids Libyan rebels. Satellites monitor humanitarian crisis in Africa. Unmanned aircraft takes out terrorist leader. Mobile communications improve hurricane response.

The Story Behind the Story

In every case, the story behind the story is not just command, control, communications, computers, cyber, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance but a new and improved C5ISR with capabilities that continue to reshape the conduct of war and drive the convergence of defense and intelligence operations. This new C5ISR is also finding broader applications in the civil sector, from homeland security and law enforcement to improving public health and protecting the environment.

The Army is developing a fully integrated battlefield application aimed at redefining how soldiers fight. Ultimately, the resulting network is intended to connect soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines at all levels across the entire team. However, success depends to a considerable extent on input from the soldiers themselves, which the service is actively seeking, according to Maj. Gen. Daniel Hughes, Army program executive officer for command, control and communications-tactical.

"As soldiers look at new capabilities and ask for apps, it is critical for us to evolve the network continuously to meet these young soldiers' expectations," Hughes said at the Vanguard Focus training exercise at Fort Stewart, Ga., in February. "As we move out of a static environment like we've seen in Iraq and Afghanistan to more mobile and expeditionary operations, these soldiers' input into our future warfighting capabilities is critical."

Enter C4InSight™, an integrated C4ISR management system. It enables commanders and platform operators to control and interface platform sensors, communications equipment, mission command applications, navigational devices, and platform vetronics from any workstation on the platform while on the move.

At the core of C4InSight is the DRS Data Distribution Unit (DDU) and the Mission Command Software Suite. These components can be employed to interoperate with existing platform displays and computers or can be augmented by a suite of available DRS products, such as the Mounted Family of Computer Systems, the new Army program of record for mounted computing and display systems. Providing centralized interaction with C4ISR, electronic warfare and weapon subsystems, the DDU allows users to fully integrate legacy and advanced C4 technologies into one highly sophisticated system.

C4InSight Capabilities include:

  • Voice cross-banding and radio control
  • IP-based vehicle intercom system interface
  • Data routing (Cisco compliant)
  • Server computing including concurrent virtualization of Windows® and Linux® applications, video management and distribution
  • Sensor interface that includes vehicle power management and control, embedded GPS (either commercial or secure SAASM)
  • Wi-Fi and embedded 3G/4G LTE
  • Vehicle health management interface over an integrated J1939 CanBus interface

No commander worth his salt is going to command from his tactical operations center," Lt. Col. Matthew Fath, a First Armored Division commander, told Defense Systems magazine. "When he unplugs from his FOB (forward operating base) or his JSS (joint security station), to have those tools available to him and those back-haul capabilities of a mobile command-on-the-move system is some powerful stuff."

Smaller, Better and More Powerful

In addition to providing new capabilities to integrate various platform C4ISR devices, C4InSightalso achieves significant reductions in size, weight, power and cost. The modular open architecture is consistent with the Army's efforts on behalf of vehicular integration for C4ISR/electronic warfare interoperability as well as the objectives of the U.S. Special Operations Command in terms of mobile distributed C4ISR architecture. C4InSight provides a scalable, cost-effective and integrated C4ISR management system to meet current tactical platform modernization objectives as well as future requirements.

Originally deployed to meet the C4ISR management requirements of the Special Operations Command's Family of Special Operations Vehicles, C4InSight addresses the challenges of tactical-platform C4ISR modernization by providing a greater allocation of already constrained space on such vehicles. C4InSight's capability to control and manage an array of peripherals allows the reduction of redundant hardware. It also enables consolidation of devices on platforms in which room to install additional hardware is extremely limited, such as the Army's fleet of tracked combat vehicles.

In Col. Thurston's view, the objective of the Mission Command on the Move initiative is to free commanders from staff vehicles so they can get more into the thick of things,.

"No commander wants to fight a battle from his brigade car," Thurston said in a conversation posted earlier this year on the C4ISR&Networks website. "A commander wants to be out there with his war-fighting vehicle or on the ground with his hand-held device, seeing the same kind of information he could get in his command post, maybe in execution mode instead of planning mode."

According to Kevin Braz, technical director at DRS, the relevance of data in some cases is measured in minutes, not hours or days. "It may be important now and irrelevant minutes later" he said. "The commander needs to stay focused on the mission as it unfolds. The real advantage of C4InSight and our related capabilities in this whole web of tactical networking is that we simplify the collection and presentation of data so the commander can focus on the mission at hand."

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