The push for a seamless command and control network

A joint forces command and control system bridges the gap until the net-enabled approach is ready

The Defense Information Systems Agency is close to completing the release of Block V of the Global Command and Control System–Joint. Block V is the final phase of GCCS-J, a command and control system that the Defense Department uses for joint and multinational operations.

As part of the GCCS family of systems, including the versions of GCCS that the Army, Navy and Air Force use, the GCCS-J enables a number of features that will help the military services transition to the Net-Enabled Command Capability, a service-oriented architecture-based, next-generation command and control system that DISA and the services are developing.

However, the GCCS family of systems operates on separate client/server-based systems that are connected through integration points. Those systems don’t have a common architecture, which makes it difficult to share data.

As described by DISA in its research, development, testing and evaluation budget item request for fiscal 2010 filed in May, NECC draws from existing command and control capabilities across DOD “to evolve current and provide new C2 capabilities into a fully integrated, interoperable, collaborative joint solution.”

“NECC replaces the Global Command and Control System family of systems with a single joint C2 architecture and capabilities-based implementation that enables advanced distributive, collaborative information sharing vertically and horizontally,” the budget request states. “NECC provides additional critical C2 functionality not present today, and establishes the C2 SOA foundation for future net-centric C2 capabilities.”

“The NECC construct was to move away from a client/server perspective and move to basically a service-oriented architecture where you're breaking down the major functional components into small discrete services that you could then link together in such a way that you end up with a similar capability if not a more enhanced capability,” said Dave Bennett, deputy director of DISA’s Command and Control Capabilities division.

“So you get away from the idea of point-to-point interfaces and other things," Bennett said. "NECC moves to an in-tier architecture, separating out the data, separating out the business logic, and focusing very heavily on the data and on the accessibility of the data.”

Rough road

But NECC development has encountered difficulty during the past two budget cycles. Cuts have caused the Joint Forces Command, which is responsible for joint C2 systems, to express concern that some capabilities needed to align C2 networks with DOD's needs for hybrid warfare operations might fall through the cracks.

“Under our C2 Capability Portfolio Manager responsibilities, JFCOM will continue its operational sponsorship during the planned migration of the current joint and service Global C2 System family of systems into a service-oriented architecture through the evolving Net-Enabled Command Capability program,” said Gen. James Mattis, JFCOM commander. “Our overarching objective is to ‘do no harm’ to warfighters by ensuring required C2 capabilities are not lost or reduced during this migration. However, delays in the fielding of NECC and cuts in funding are producing capability gaps placing the modernization of our C2 systems at risk.”

Many observers agree that NECC will continue to move forward. It’s just a matter of when. “I think it’s definitely going to continue, because as we all know, command and control capabilities, enhanced and enabled by IT, are central to today's very complex warfighting operations,” said Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president and chief knowledge officer at FedSources.

“I think that what has happened is the NECC got a little ahead of everybody else,” Bjorklund said. The program was “a little too aggressive, when the technology wasn't necessarily ready, being up to the sophistication of programming capabilities needed to accommodate command and control.”

Although DISA pushed forward with building a new SOA for NECC, “the services had already embraced GCCS, had already been developing their own independent GCCS capabilities consistent with the GCCS architecture, and they were a little bit behind in some of their implementation,” Bjorklund said. “And so here comes DISA pushing hard on NECC, which is good, but the military departments weren't necessarily as far advanced in their GCCS capabilities in order for them to declare that they had a migration path from GCCS to NECC. So I think that that was probably a pretty big factor, and that's really what ultimately drove Congress" to cut NECC funding.

That leaves GCCS-J to bridge the gap in the interim. The GCCS-J’s relationship to the individual services’ GCCS implementations “is one in which the GCCS-J provides that horizontal ability for the family members to be able to talk to each other,” DISA’s Bennett said. “So, something coming out of GCCS Army would come up to GCCS-J, and that would be available to others to have the ability to communicate to GCCS-J.”

“GCCS-J incorporates the core planning and assessment tools required by combatant commanders and their subordinate joint task force commanders while meeting the readiness support requirements of the service,” said Air Force Brig. Gen. Peter Hoene, program executive officer for Command and Control Capabilities at DISA. “GCCS-J provides a fused picture of the battlespace within a modern command, control, communications and computer system that is capable of meeting joint warfighter needs well into the 21st century. [It] incorporates the core planning and assessment tools required by combatant commanders and their subordinate joint task force commanders while meeting the readiness support requirements of the services.”

Decision to build

The first piece of Block V of GCCS-J has already been approved for deployment, Bennett said. “We're finishing up the last series of releases as part of Block V, which we call the GCCS-J Version 4.2 Baseline,” he said. A decision to build was made in March for one component of Block V GCCS-J Global, which includes the Common Operational Picture — a merged view of the location and Integrated Imagery and Intelligence. “We anticipate starting to field it in the next couple of months based on combatant command and Joint Staff feedback.”

GCCS-J Global is the component that DISA provides to combatant commands, so it’s the most difficult element to deploy. “DISA has a responsibility for 53 critical sites across the globe,” Bennett said. “That, I believe, is planning to start in the late July, early August time frame.” Fully deploying the new system, including installation of hardware and software at each of those sites, will be “about a five to six month effort, to put folks on the ground, doing the installations,” he said. “So that's probably the longest fielding activity for the program.”

The operational testing for the other two pieces of GCCS-J Version 4.2 was due to be completed in June. Those components, the Status of Resources and Training System (SORTS) and the Joint Operation Planning and Execution System (JOPES), will require less effort to deploy once a fielding decision is made.

“Assuming it's a successful operational test, fielding the JOPES is usually a much quicker delivery mechanism because we don't implement hardware and software out of the combatant command,” Bennett said. “We have the JOPES set up as strategic servers as part of the enterprise, and basically we just have to go to those specific sites and do the software and servers, and then everyone else is able to take it into that. And it's the same way with SORTS. All of this would probably be done over a week or two weeks.” If all goes well, the entire GCCS-J 4.2 baseline would be deployed by February or March of next year, he said.

About the Author

Sean Gallagher is senior contributing editor for Defense Systems.

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