Army pursuing high-tech data sharing at the tactical edge

Distributed common ground systems' edge nodes could aid downrange info sharing

The military has struggled with the so-called data deluge resulting from the information streaming in from numerous sensors, but it doesn’t change mission requirements – or the challenges faced in downrange operations.

To help make sense of the flow of information, even when connectivity is unstable, the Army is pursuing new ideas it hopes to implement in the combat theater.

One such effort is the Distributed Common Ground System-Army (DCGS-A), which serves as a single system for depositing sensor data and sharing intelligence, according to Col. Charles Wells, program manager for DCGS, program executive office-integrated warfare systems.

“This is for better analysis and increased communications,” Wells said today at the IDGA DOD and Government Cloud Computing Summit in Vienna, Va. Wells said DCGS-A will make use of cloud computing to “analyze all data, all the time.”

“This is a paradigm shift,” he said, adding that the program is designed for precision search, retrieval and analysis capabilities – and it’s gearing up for use at the tactical edge, where full connectivity remains a top challenge.

DCGS-A has already been deployed for test use through cloud hardware installed at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, where the system can take advantage of the full connectivity surrounding the base, Wells said. From there, the Army will begin undertaking the challenge of operating the system amid constrained bandwidth availability downrange.

“The bottom line – you have to have bandwidth to utilize" the system, Wells said. "That’s why it’s deployed at Bagram. As we field more, we’ll start taking advantage of other bandwidth capabilities, like 3G and 4G networks,” Wells said. “It’s an iterative process – build a little, test a little, field a little.”

Wells said that to address the bandwidth problem, DCGS-A will deploy on edge nodes, which will maintain a data cache to enable offline analysis when not fully connected or when bandwidth is unavailable.

“With the edge nodes, you don’t need full connectivity,” he said, adding that the data cache would update when connected to enable offline use of DCGS-A.

The timeline for fielding the edge nodes is still uncertain, but Wells estimated that it will happen by the end of the fiscal year.

“It’s still a work in progress,” he said. “We’re evaluating different off-the-shelf edge nodes. The Army wants it to be available for uses other than just intelligence, [such as] command and control and enterprise services.”

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a staff writer covering military networks for Defense Systems.

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