Thin-client system helps Army command best battlefield view

Over the last decade, the U.S. Army has worked aggressively to develop technologies that help cut through the fog of war. Commanders in the field now have a much greater understanding of what’s going on around them in relation to their mission and ongoing operations than ever before.

But some blank spots remain, especially in mid-echelon areas where some units lack the equipment necessary to plug into Defense Department command and control networks.

The Army is testing Command Web, a software-based thin-client system designed to let commanders connect to the service’s Command Post of the Future (CPOF) system. CPOF is a thick-client battle management system that is heavily networked with other clients to share data among commands.

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But there are relatively few CPOF units available, and commanders without the systems couldn’t look at the common operational picture, said Lt. Col. Thomas Bentzel, the Army’s product manager for Tactical Mission Command.

Built around the Army’s standard Battle Command System Interface, Command Web mimics the functionality, naming conventions and other aspects of the service’s common operational picture viewer. It can be accessed by the military’s secure and nonsecure Internet networks, and provides a set of common applications and tools that can be used on the network and shared with CPOF systems.

“It’s a window into that operational picture,” said Bentzel.

The system resides in theater or in rear-area servers and can be accessed by any commander with a laptop or desktop connected to the DOD’s secure (SIPRnet) or nonsecure (NIPRnet) networks. Users go to the Command Web site and access the service from there. The environment also includes applications and application interfaces that can be selected and plugged into a commander’s online toolset.

The environment allows users to develop and access a variety of applications for areas such as logistics, maneuvers, aerospace control, fire control, and two- and three-dimensional maps. Because all of the applications run on the same framework, it allows developers from different Army programs and commands to create applications that are interoperable for all Command Web users, Bentzel said.

The program is currently developing an application that will allow users to access the Tactical Ground Reporting (TIGR) system. “We’ve got a bunch of different stuff that we’re sharing here,” he said.

A beta version of Command Web began operational tests with units in Afghanistan and the United States in August.

Developed by Lockheed Martin, the system is based on the National Security Agency’s Ozone framework. Company officials noted in a statement that this framework helps enhance interoperability across DOD’s intelligence and operations communities because it is non-proprietary and government-owned. Ozone allows Command Web users to access and interoperate with the Web version of the Distributed Common Ground System – Army (DCGS-A), Bentzel said.

To provide additional flexibility and interoperability, Command Web includes a third-party programmers’ kit that enables units to develop their own applications and widgets. Users can exchange and develop graphic images and visualizations (unit symbols and other tactical representations used on maps) for CPOF. The Command Web program manages and vets its own applications repository, Bentzel said.

Command Web was designed to operate at echelons above the company level, where units have access to the high bandwidth connections necessary to support CPOF. However, Bentzel said, the program is looking for ways to get around this challenge.

The scarcity of CPOF units is another reason behind the development of Command Web. He said that while some types of units, such as logistics forces, may not need to use CPOF all the time, Command Web allows them to access it when and where they need to.

The capability originated from an Army effort to eliminate data stovepipes for command systems by providing a consolidated server environment capable of managing existing systems and hosting new capabilities as they are developed. This includes systems and applications such as Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System, TIGR and DCGS-A.

“The idea is to bring all of these functional areas together into one server/client framework so that we don’t have a bunch of different systems out there that have trouble interoperating,” Bentzel said.

Command Web will be part of a major demonstration at the next Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) exercise, to be held in the spring of 2012 at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. At the NIE, Command Web will merge applications with DCGS-A capabilities, allowing DCGS-A users to access tools such as the 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional map capability, Bentzel said.

About the Author

Henry Kenyon is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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