Army Advances Future Command Post Technology
FORT BLISS, Texas — On an uncharacteristically chilly day in the Southwest desert, reporters gathered in a remote corner of Fort Bliss to witness the Army’s last Network Integration Evaluation. The final NIE — the 12th in a series of events that started in 2011 — focused on demonstrating the service’s new web-enabled command post system.
For years soldiers have come to the NIE to test new and emerging technologies. The secluded Fort Bliss and adjoining White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico affords units the opportunity to engage in electronic warfare exercises without having to worry about interfering with civilian networks.
During the final evaluation exercise in November, members of the Army’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, tested the service’s command post computing environment (CPCE). More than 1,900 service members participated, assessing the new equipment and relaying feedback about their experiences to leadership with the goal of improving platforms before the Army’s fielding decision in 2019.
The Army’s current command-and-control support system, known as the command post of the future, does not afford soldiers the same amount of collaboration as the new technology, service officials said shortly before the event kicked off.
The new state-of-the-art system will assist the service in meeting a 10-year goal that Army Secretary Mark Esper laid out in the summer of 2018. The vision includes rebuilding the force by putting a focus on readiness and acquiring new technologies needed for possible warfare with competitors such as Russia and China.
The new command post computing environment “will enable us to meet the Army’s objective of 2028,” said Col. Chuck Roede, deputy commander of the service’s Joint Modernization Command, during a demonstration of the new system.
During its initial round of testing, the CPCE consolidated the functionality of four platforms from the field into one system. They include the command post of the future, the tactical ground reporting system, the command web and the global command-and-control system.
The consolidation of these platforms improved communication among troops, said Col. Arthur Sellers, commander of the 3rd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division.
“My two biggest concerns, as a brigade commander, are shared understanding … so we can be faster than the enemy and be more lethal,” he said. “Everything we do is about being lethal.”
Additionally, the CPCE is easier to use than the legacy system, he noted.
“We’ve definitely created more shared understanding because of the collaboration, because it’s more intuitive. [And] because it’s web-enabled, I can do things quicker,” he said.
Younger soldiers are also finding the systems’ new app-based software easy to navigate, Maj. Shigenobu Morinaga, executive officer for 3rd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, pointed out.
“It is very intuitive, at least for our younger generation — those who are used to apps, those who are used to working [with] cell phones, those who are used to using anything that’s a shared cloud product,” he said. “It’s automatic for them.”
Another aspect of the upgraded platform that could improve the Army’s collaboration is its newly updated map and chat functions, which all units will be able to utilize, Roede said. The legacy system required soldiers to frequently move between multiple computers to complete simple mission tasks, he added.
“Now you’re going back to having single map data, a single map file, single map message, and you’re going to get all of these vendors to be able to redo their software into an app that uses one particular map type,” he said.
Units accessing the command post computing environment will be able to drop graphics into maps, share documents or chat with soldiers in the field, allowing for increased lethality, he added.
Once the system is ready, soldiers will have access to more than 20 different collaboration-based applications, Roede said. It will include apps for mission command, fires, engineering and intelligence.
The Army is in the process of developing the new apps, said Lt. Col. Shermoan Daiyaan, product manager for tactical mission command.
“We’re starting to neck it down and the Army is developing, in real time, the priority list for when the other systems come out,” Daiyaan said. “What we’re looking at is 24-month [technology] sprints.”
The next round of software for the command post is slated to be released by 2021, he noted.
The NIE is not the only evaluation exercise the CPCE will face. The system will require Army interoperability certification tests, which will happen in the second quarter of 2019.
Once both exercises are complete, a final report will come out within 30 days of testing.
Immediately after the Army receives those final results, the information will be presented to the program executive officer for command-control and communications-tactical, then to senior leadership for final approval, Daiyaan said.
Overall, Army officials believe the new system has improved collaboration and has the potential to increase lethality, Roede said.
“We will continue to expand the CPCE, continue to take proprietary systems off the table and embed them into what I call the Army’s iPhone or iPad,” he said.
Another component of the Army’s new mission command information system that was tested during the NIE 18.2 was the mounted computing environment (MCE), which consists of two pieces of hardware.
Soldiers interacted with the computer systems — the mounted mission command and the android tactical assault kit — each of which were designed to provide service members with on-the-move support.
Both systems share a common interface with the command post.
Similar to the findings with the CPCE, soldiers testing the mounted computer found themselves relying heavily on the chat function within the system, Army leaders told reporters.
While it was not formally being tested, soldiers at the Network Integration Evaluation also demonstrated the integrated tactical network, a modernization effort designed to allow soldiers to communicate on both a secret and unclassified network, Lt. Col Brandon Baer, product manager at PEO C3T, said.
The concept integrates radios, tablets and satellite communications with the goal of creating more fluid connectivity between soldiers.
“This isn’t a new network. We’re not replacing anything,” Baer said. “What we’re doing is we’re basically taking a program of record and we’re looking at injecting commercial-off-the-shelf items to see where we can enhance or improve our capabilities.”
As soldiers continued to test the new capabilities at the NIE, Army leadership teams and developers focused on soldier feedback, Daiyaan said. “My engineers and my developers are here on site right now,” he noted.
The information gathered can then be compiled into one master list, and presented to leadership so system upgrades can be rolled out, Daiyaan said.
The tests can also determine if the units themselves need more management training.
“When you give a unit more power and more information,” he said, “managing it becomes a full-time job and if you don’t have processes in place to be able to manage all that data, it can become noise.”
Although the Army is bidding farewell to the NIE, multiple service leaders said the events helped put new equipment into the hands of soldiers.
“The feedback that soldiers are giving, by being given this stuff early, really helps in getting a better product that’s more operationally sound in the future,” Roede said.
The Army’s decision to terminate the Network Integration Evaluation was made in accordance with readiness demands and the Army’s new modernization approach. The focus will shift to support warfighter assessment events with focus on joint interoperability and concept development, the Army’s fiscal year 2019 budget request justification documents said.
A major joint operational exercise, the Joint Warfighting Assessment, is slated to replace the NIE. Originally called the Army Warfighting Assessment, the Army renamed the exercise in 2017 and announced it would be held in Europe with international partners.
Although the exercises were originally designed to complement one another, Army leadership told reporters that the service wants to shift its focus toward being both concept and capability focused.
“We’ve gone beyond the network,” Roede said. “We are bringing in other capabilities to be assessed.”
Army officials also cited the service’s discontinued expansion of their mission planning platform, Wintak, as a reason for ending the evaluations.
“Because the Army itself has decided to pull back from further development of Wintak … the need for a Network Integration Evaluation” is diminished, Roede said.
The Joint Modernization Command’s next exercise will take place in Germany in April 2019. The evaluations will encompass two training events, the Air Force’s Blue Flag command post exercise and the Army training command’s Combined Resolve X exercise, which is a joint warfighting assessment, one official said.