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What fundamental challenge has every ground combat commander shared since the beginning of time, from Alexander the Great to the leaders of today's U.S. Army?
Until recently, the answer has lain in the fact that, even with today's modern technology, armies have to sink spikes into the ground and plant tents in unfamiliar terrain to set up a fixed forward operating command post. This was done even in the last two wars of the modern era, in Afghanistan and Iraq; and continues wherever Army, Air Force, Marines, Special Operations Command, and Joint Interagency Multinational Forces are deployed on the ground.
Mission Command on the Move
Yet change was put to the test recently at the U.S. Army's Network Integration Evaluation which put Mission Command on the Move (MCTOM) in the Army's future and a few less semi-permanent tent-based Tactical Operations Centers (TOCs) spiked in the ground. Now, TOCs can be kept in a constant state of maneuver, operating while on the move, performing battlefield circulation - moving to the sound of the guns, and when attacked, can get out of harm's way - whether its artillery or chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear explosives. And, finally the commander can move a TOC at night without scattering its components to the wind while set-up and tear-down time is near real-time.
As the reliance on more and improved networking technology has driven Army doctrine, for years the service has struggled with shrinking the size of its combat networking capability to make it more mobile, powerful and expeditionary and able to perform in the toughest environments while on the move. The challenge seemed insurmountable with countless servers operating mission-critical systems taking up larger and larger amounts of space and, as important, power. A convoy of generators, fuel trucks, cooling units, miles of wiring, and protective cases kept a brigade wired to the network during combat operations. All of it had to be broken down, packed up, and moved over and over again as the battle advanced.
"If we don't keep pushing modernization, then 20 years from now we're still going to look like this Army today," said Lt. Col. Rob Goodroe, armor team chief for the Test and Evaluation Division of the Brigade Modernization Command during a recent session of the Army's Network Integration Evaluation at Fort Bliss, Texas.
Network Integration Evaluations Drive Progress
To push these modernization efforts, the Army developed the N.I.E. to introduce and evaluate commercial and developmental technologies and capabilities to keep that technological edge. The program helps validate tactical network requirements, integrate complex systems, ensure system interoperability, and produce soldier feedback. While the N.I.E. has been able to put a good deal of technology onto the battlefield, until recently battle commanders had to remain in their tents.
But a high-tech company participating in a number of recent N.I.E.'s appears to have broken the code and come up with a solution to the mobile combat networking capability riddle. The answer involves a unique approach to mobile power, far different from towing generators.
DRS Technologies introduced its On-Board Vehicle Power (OBVP) MaxxPro Mobile integrated Command Post (MiCP) at N.I.E. 13.2 at White Sands, N.M. The capability is vehicle agnostic, but the MiCP/MCOTM was a fully armored Navistar MRAP with a high-power Allison transmission/DRS transmission integral generator. This technology was a big piece in solving power issues while reducing the size of the mobile command post.
The DRS OBVP technology transforms the vehicle's power train into an electrical power plant. OBVP-equipped vehicles in a tactical formation provide mission-essential power without the burdens of towed generators and a significant reduction in fuel usage. The combined benefits reduce the logistical footprint, increase battlefield mobility, and enhance expeditionary mission capability.
"When the Army saw how this system worked, that's when people started paying attention to what we were doing," said Carlos Aguirre, business development manager at DRS Technologies. "The limiting factor for the Army was power, and with this solution there is a considerable amount of additional power. It allows for systems to be integrated onto the vehicle that were not possible in the past."
The OBVP technology demonstrated the ability to maintain power to all of the C4ISR equipment during on-the-move and halted operations, greatly reducing setup time while maintaining consistent situational awareness on the battlefield. OBVP technology became a force multiplier by enabling all power requirements for Mission Command execution.
Army officials began to take notice at N.I.E. 13.2 once DRS had developed an early structure that would take the battle commander out of the tent and into a mobile command post that is fully networked in with forces.
Expeditionary Mobile Operational Centers
The concept behind the DRS solution started with the goal of tying together a MiCP vehicle with legacy and newer server systems and routers and a DRS-developed Mission Command on the Move (MCOTM) vehicle. Both vehicles were networked with the Tactical Communications Node (TCN) to create a mobile infrastructure on the battlefield.
This created an expeditionary mobile operations center where mission-critical networking could reside anywhere because of the mobile power, any time and any place, on the vehicles. The N.I.E. was the ideal place to start perfecting the model with direct solder feedback. Combined with DRS investment, research and development funding, the N.I.E. more than proved the concept.
"The promise of N.I.E. is the ability to bring all those systems together in a seamless way, where the operator can really focus on the fight, and not fight the systems," Brig. Gen. Timothy Coffin, commanding general of White Sands Missile Range, N.M., told Defense Systems magazine. "We don't want to add burden onto the soldier or the commander. We want to allow them to focus their intelligence and their efforts into fighting the adversary."
By the end of N.I.E. 14.1, DRS had improved on issues it had identified in previous evaluations. The team continued to shrink the size of mission-critical servers to create even more space in the MiCP vehicle for additional equipment.
By N.I.E. 14.2, the Army was focusing on solutions to enhance the operational capability of command posts. The system had by then reached a higher level of maturity with a significant size reduction for servers. This meant hosting the Intelligence Fusion Server, Battle Command Common Server and Geospatial Globe servers in the MiCP vehicle. The team also resolved the issue of protocols requiring space between SIPR and NIPR systems while including coalition and colorless security enclaves in the truck. The system continued to operate smoothly as other program managers requested permission to plug into the DRS vehicle to support their power needs. Solid state hard drives were added to servers to improve computing performance while in rugged terrain.
With the networking servers shrunk to such a level on the MiCP truck, the DRS N.I.E demonstration was one of the highlights of the evaluation. It showed a truly mobile networked combat capability as the team connected the triad together - the MiCP vehicle, the MCOTM vehicle and the TCN. This is what a highly mobile TOC looked like in action.
"This empowers the commander to lead from the front, be truly expeditionary and fight on arrival," says Michael Kelley, the senior program manager for this DRS Technologies effort. "If commanders want to do battlefield circulation, they can mount their combat vehicles and continue the fight and continue developing and distributing battle plans faster and on-the-move."
The successful demonstrations made an impact on N.I.E. leaders. For the 15.2 N.I.E., DRS was invited to demonstrate the technology at the distinguished visitor days, briefing three- and four-star guests, including the Army's acquisition chief.
N.I.E. 16.1 this fall will include Training and Doctrine Command Capability Manager - Mission Command representatives, along with international partners.
DRS is focused on upgraded power generation for improved efficiency to extend the use of the vehicle, reduce the logistical footprint, increase battlefield mobility and enhance expeditionary mission capability for deployment anywhere and anytime.