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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.

This “magic box” may sound like something straight out of a disappearing act. In this case however, it’s a fitting nickname for a family of products, developed by DRS Technologies, known as the Data Distribution Unit (DDU), which causes a lot of bulky electronic equipment to simply “vanish” without a trace. The multifaceted DDU can eliminate the need for redundant and/or single-purpose hardware, delivering multi-function capabilities in a single piece of hardware.

The DDU provides the mobile user with the “bundled” on-the-move capabilities of a rugged latest-generation PC, Data Router, Multi-OS Server, Data Recorder, Video-Management Device and Communications Cross-Banding Solution.

The DDU is based upon commercial networking and computing technologies and is available for export. It has already been selected for use by the U.S. Department of Energy and several international armed forces. With it, civilian government officials, first-responders and other military forces working alongside U.S. military forces could communicate directly and interoperably, seamlessly exchanging voice, data and video. The DDU also helps to free-up limited space available for communications and computing equipment mounted inside of vehicles. Weighing a trim 8.7 pounds, the rugged DDU supplants more than 10 components with a combined weight exceeding 40 pounds.

The heart of the DRS Mounted Family of Computer Systems, a new version of the DDU called the DDU Expandable, or DDUx, is in use by the U.S. Army and also available for export. Several potential international customers have already tested the DDU family of hardware and are considering adding it to their mobile computing architecture.

Offering reliable on-the-move computing and networking, the DDU does the work of a data router, providing ID routing and forwarding between heterogeneous network devices and permitting waveform and radio agnostic interoperability. It acts as an Ethernet switch, allowing computers to smoothly transfer data back and forth without interference. Cross-banding functionality is another feature as it allows Push-to-Talk (PTT) radios and Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) devices such as desk and mobile phones to interoperate as if on a single voice net or teleconference.

Serving as a communications-agnostic on-the-move server, the DDU can host multiple operating systems (Windows, Linux, Android and Cisco IoS) and can run multiple simultaneous applications. Able to stream several video feeds at once, it distributes, records and stores network video and remotely manages attached devices over an IP network. The DDU supports external video and GPS interfaces and permits the sharing of data inputs with any networked vehicle electronics.

In sum, the DDU provides a unique and best-in-class approach to delivering multiple computing and networking capabilities to meet the demanding mission-critical requirements of the mobile user. The demonstrated reliability and Size, Weight, Power and Cost (SWAP-C) benefits of the DDU are unmatched.

Houdini himself would have been unable to escape those conclusions.

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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