Army Rethinks Mobile Command Post Architecture

The Army is reengineering its command post infrastructure to be more agile and expeditionary, hoping to leapfrog from its decade-old Command Post of the Future to Command Post 2025, a long-range vision leveraging cloud technologies and the Internet of Things (IoT).

The goal: a single integrated command system that combines operations with logistics and intelligence and can be set up on the fly, providing deployed commanders a complete picture of their situation as soon as they hit the ground.

“It is a different operating environment, with different threats, and so we need to go back to reassess what the requirements are, what the vulnerabilities and the risks are,” said Mike McCarthy, chief of the LandWarNet Division at Training and Doctrine Command’s Army Capabilities and Integration Center (ARCIC). “We have to consider the advances that our potential adversaries have made in countering the capabilities that we designed 10 years ago.”

Command Post 2025 will be compatible with both the Joint Information Environment and the Intelligence Community Information Technology Environment, and tie operators on the front lines to their support services in the rear. The program will develop under the oversight of Army Materiel Command’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC).

The present-day CP is bulky: a compilation of cables, cases and hardware that can take a day to assemble. That’s no longer good enough.

command-network“Army forces will have to deploy rapidly into unexpected locations and transition quickly into high tempo operations across wide areas,” according to the Army’s Mission Command Network vision statement.

At the heart of Command Post 2025 will be the Command Post Computing Environment (CP CE), which will integrate logistics, intelligence and operations systems. “You are talking common hardware, common software and web-based applications,” said Jeffrey R. Witsken, chief of the Network Integration Branch at the Army’s Mission Command Center of Excellence at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

This common environment will unify the user experience, “allowing commanders and staff access to the common oper­ating picture and associated data when and where they need it,” according to the Army.

CP CE is expected to incorporate elements from today’s Command Post of the Future (CPOF), which was developed and fielded for the Army by General Dynamics. CPOF, which provides commanders with a common operating picture at the brigade and battalion level, will become one of several applications within CP CE.

By making systems more interoperable, planners anticipate a more autonomous CP that needs fewer people and can operate further away from base camps. But first they have to overcome issues from latency to basic connectivity.

“The new infrastructure will have to take not just latency into account, but also differences in bandwidth across the length of the network,” said Lisa Heidelberg, Mission Command Capabilities Division chief for CERDEC’s Command, Power & Integration Division. Systems engineers will have to develop protocols and design applications to work in such disconnected, intermittent and latent (DIL) network environments, she said, to ensure that commanders have the fullest and most accurate picture possible of the battlefield.

No one technology will solve all these issues. “Cloud technologies offer many advantages, but also challenges associated with providing critical data and services to the tactical edge in DIL network environments,” Heidelberg said. “It is probable that a mix of cloud technologies and more traditional technology implementations will be the appropriate path for future mission command capabilities.”

System designers must take into account the wide variety of vehicles that must be tied into their networks. For example, Heidelberg said Combined Arms Battalions will employ tracked vehicles, since wheeled vehicles “do not offer the appropriate level mobility or survivability,” but infantry battalions will need lighter command vehicles that can deployed during air assault operations.

Command Post 2025 will also have to link back to Home Station Mission Command Centers (HSMCCs), which will incorporate standardized capabilities to leverage advances in network capability, telepresence and remote collaboration at the corps, division and other headquarters levels.

This in turn should provide commanders with “the flexibility to deploy command posts in a scalable, tailorable manner according to operational requirements,” according to Army documents.

On the other end of the spectrum are individual soldiers – the network’s most widely-dispersed asset. While the expeditionary command post will push information to troops on the net’s outermost edge, sensor-enabled soldiers will feed information back to the commands – both actively and, through IoT, passively, as well. Each soldier will be included in the overall architecture.

“Soldiers have always been active participants in mission command and will continue to be so in the future,” Heidelberg said. “As improvements to the lower tactical internet are made, IoT and similar technologies become more viable.”

As the Army works to better understand how to reduce system complexity, minimize system signatures and increase network security, she said, “We should expect to see these types of technologies finding their way into the tactical force.”

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