Army gets out front on warfighter communications and intelligence

Multiple initiatives aimed at better equipment, greater interoperability

Maj. Gen. Randolph Strong is the commanding general of the Communications-Electronics Command’s Life Cycle Management Command, which is one of the members of Army Team Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR). For about the past year, Strong has overseen the command’s relocation from its longtime home at Fort Monmouth, N.J., to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. He spoke recently with Defense Systems contributing editor Barry Rosenberg about how that move will improve coordination among Army C4ISR organizations, the challenges associated with the reset of communications and C4ISR hardware, and the need for interoperability between existing and new systems.

DS: What are CECOM’s top priorities?

Strong: Clearly, CECOM’s support to the deployed warfighter in overseas contingency operations is our No. 1 priority. Second is the reset that the Army runs its units through when they come out of the theater to get their equipment refurbished, repaired and ready for the next deployment.

Third is our Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) move from Fort Monmouth to the Aberdeen Proving Ground. That is a significant undertaking. For example, we anticipate it will take 1,437 moving van loads to move us. That is just the physical move. You have to move people, too — the human capital. We expect we will move 50 percent of the people, which means we will lose 50 percent of our workforce. We’re succeeding in hiring, training and certifying new members of our workforce to ensure CECOM continues to function effectively in providing uninterrupted service and support to the warfighter.

DS: What are the key pieces of equipment that CECOM resets?

Strong: Probably the most important is comms equipment, such as the Joint Network Node and the Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System radio. There are also night vision goggles, radars, and the Q-36 and Q-37 radars [that locate incoming rockets and artillery for the Multiple Launch Rocket System]. Much of the work effort goes to the Tobyhanna Army Depot for depot-level rebuild of the system that brings it back almost to a like-new status.

DS: Based on what you learn during the reset process, do you have any recommendations for redesigning hardware to avoid equipment failure?

Strong: We do. With a lot of the systems that come into the depot, such as an electronic part, a circuit card or a monitor screen, we determine if there are any particular parts that have been known to break more frequently than others or that regularly need repair or which should be looked at closely to see how we can improve upon that part. If it is a monitor screen that burns out a lot, for example, we determine why. Maybe it overheats and is not capable of handling the high temperatures in Iraq. We would then replace that screen with one that is more reliable and can handle the temperature extremes.

Or it could be a physical piece of the equipment, such as the door handle to the shelter. From the constant opening and closing, a pin in it wears out, and we’ll determine what kind of product improvement can be done to enhance that particular pin so that it doesn’t habitually break.

DS: With your expertise in maintaining communications equipment, such as the Joint Network Node, does CECOM play a role in development of next-generation communications equipment, such as devices in development for Warfighter Information Network Tactical increments 2 and 3?

Strong: Very much so. That is one of the powers of what we refer to as Team C4ISR. This power will be even more enhanced when we move to our new facility at Aberdeen. As component parts of the C4ISR Army Materiel Enterprise, we have the Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (PEO-C3T), PEO for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors (PEO IEW&S), PEO for Enterprise Information Systems, Communications-Electronics Research, Development, and Engineering Center and CECOM all working together. So when CECOM, through its Logistics and Readiness Center, for example, determines that there’s a challenge sustaining a part or a capability, that information can quickly get cycled into the PEO and acquisition community to make sure that, in the future, we don’t buy that same part and we look at product improvements.

DS: Do you ever personally meet with the leaders of each organization, such as Gary Winkler at PEO-EIS or Brig. Gen. Lee Price at PEO-C3T, to discuss those issues?

Strong: Yes, we meet monthly for a senior leader BRAC review of our move to Aberdeen. And we have a number of what we call mission leads, who are folks from each of the organizations that gather routinely to look at our processes, procedures, techniques and tactics to coordinate how we are going to be doing business when we get down to Aberdeen.

DS: I imagine this is an excellent opportunity to reorganize to become more efficient.

Strong: Absolutely. Largely due to the work of some of our predecessors, mainly retired Maj. Gen. Mike Mazzucchi and Ed Bair, [former program executive officer of IEW&S], our new campus is being built to reflect what is known as the “domain concept.” So instead of occupying the new facility by organizations — CECOM in one corner, PEO-C3T in another corner, for example — we’re occupying the new campus buildings according to domains. For example, there will be a power and cooling domain, and in that domain will be the R&D people, the contract folks and some of the software development folks because power and cooling today uses software. They will all be in the same area so they can function as a team. By grouping them all together, you will have a quick [response] time from when a lesson is learned about a legacy piece of equipment to future procurement. 

It will also bring consistency to the process. Right now, there are hundreds of different generators out in the field because each PM has developed his own generator for his system. But hopefully, by pulling the people together in a domain, they will come up with a common set of generators to be shared by all. 

The same is true with the environmental control units on some of the shelters and systems we have. There again, there are dozens of different [units] out there, all with different parts, compressors and evaporators. They are a nightmare to maintain. Hopefully, by having one group of people all co-located, we will fix that problem.

DS: CECOM has 2,000 to 3,000 people deployed around the world. What specifically are they doing?

Strong: They’re out there repairing systems and providing soldiers with technical expertise on systems. It is a revolution in military affairs where warfighting has moved from an era of kinetic warfare in which progress is measured by the tonnage of munitions fired to our modern Information Age, where we measure progress by the quality and quantity of our command and control information, our ISR systems and the sustainment of those systems. The nature of warfare today is that soldiers on the ground are highly enabled with information to know where the threats are and how they should be guided through their operations. Significantly fewer big bombs and artillery shells are being fired because of that information. As a result, CECOM, which is largely responsible for C4ISR systems, has a considerable number of deployed support personnel all across the battlefield.

DS: What are the greatest interoperability challenges faced by the communications and C4ISR technologies you develop and support?

Strong: Given the explosion in the number of new systems, particularly battle command systems in the C4ISR arena, there is no simple answer to meet the demand for a shared common operating picture among all warfighting elements. Because of the complexity of individual systems, simple interoperability among these systems on the battlefield is not easily achieved. The number of systems tested at our Central Technical Support Facility has grown from single-digit to triple-digit numbers in the last 10 years.

DS: Which systems do you mean?

Strong: Battle command applications, blue force tracking, Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below, Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System (AFATDS), Distributed Common Ground System-Army. We have to ensure they are all interoperable, share information and present a common set of information for a common operating picture. But the complexity of those systems today is an order of magnitude greater than it was 15 years ago when the Army undertook its first digitized division effort.

DS: A lot of these systems have been around for years. Are you trying to bring interoperability to systems that weren’t designed to necessarily interoperate with one another?

Strong: To a degree. Originally, when they were designed, they were at some point of time meant to be interoperable. But because of the state of the art of software development and where the Army was at that time in building its battle command systems, they were largely built in stovepipes at different locations. For example, the artillery software for AFATDS was designed at Fort Sill, Okla., and a lot of the logistics software was done at Fort Lee, Va. The opportunities to work interoperability weren’t there. A lot of this was also done in the pre-Internet days. Network connectivity in the Army with the Unclassified but Sensitive IP Router Network and the Secret IP Router Network didn’t exist as it does today. And most of these are classified systems, so they would have needed SIPRNet connectivity, which was hard to get. So they were largely developed separately without a lot of interfaces between them. But today, because of the requirements on the battlefield, they have to be hugely interoperable.

DS: Is it part of CECOM’s job to take those unintegrated systems and make them interoperable? Or do you just have to start over with the next generation?

Strong: To a large extent, the software has been slowly and steadily migrating — not starting over — to the point where it is becoming more and more interoperable. But the real challenge is when the Army adds a new system, such as Tactical Ground Reporting System or Command Post of the Future, to the Army’s battle command system. When you add a new system like those, you want them to interface into the legacy systems. And so not only do you have to develop the software of TIGR and CPOF to interface with the legacy systems, you have to go back into the legacy systems and establish the interfaces from those systems to TIGR and CPOF as well.

DS: What are CECOM’s major procurement contract opportunities in the near term?

Strong: There will continue to be a lot of buying opportunities, particularly in the area of C4ISR, intelligence systems, improved sensors and also in the comms world. As we build out Afghanistan, there is going to be a tremendous demand for increased ground terminals and increased microwave systems to create a backbone infrastructure there. 

Some of the opportunities will be in large contracts that will be coming out shortly, such as the Total Engineering and Integration Services contract, which is the vehicle by which the Information Systems Engineering Command [at Fort Huachuca, Ariz.,] does a lot of its work. There is also the Common Hardware Systems contract, under which the Army buys a lot of common hardware, such as monitors, computers and printers, as well as the Enhanced Medium Altitude Reconnaissance Surveillance System, which was formerly known as the Aerial Common Sensor, and for which the [request for proposals] is due to come out in the late September time frame. There are constant opportunities out there for companies to bid and be involved in the acquisition processes that CECOM has going on.

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