Army aims to make mission command more expeditionary

The ultralight, expeditionary command post tent can be erected in just a few seconds, shown here at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Aug. 2, 2016) — Mission command — the exercise of authority and direction by the commander to empower leaders to execute missions — is one of the most fundamental aspects of warfighting.

Yet, the communications infrastructure that enables mission command is time-consuming to set up and operate, and it is decades old.

Command post tents must be erected, all the communications gear must be wired up, and heavy generators and communications gear must be hauled in vehicles.

That’s not very expeditionary, said Lisa Heidelberg, the chief of Mission Command Capabilities Division, Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center. She spoke during a media day here, July 28.

Her team’s efforts are focused both on the physical configuration of command posts as well as software applications.

“Right now, our command posts are large and commanders are restrained to their CPs to do mission planning and operations,” she said. “To get to an expeditionary force, you need to enable the commander to be mobile, to be able to command from outside the CP.”

What that means is the commander needs to be able to execute mission command on both mounted and dismounted patrols, as well as in the traditional CP, she said.

Nick Grayson, a junior prototype engineer at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., shows SMASH in action.
Nick Grayson, a junior prototype engineer at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, shows SMASH in action.

She and others at the division then went on to describe some of the research being done to make mission command more expeditionary, as well as some prototypes recently tested at Network Integration Evaluation exercises, conducted annually at Fort Bliss, Texas.


Although one of the goals is to get to the point where a commander can execute mission command on the fly, the traditional CP will not go away anytime soon, Heidelberg said. So focus on the CP is how to improve setup time of the tent that houses the Soldiers and equipment.

Tyler Barton, project lead for the division’s Expeditionary Command Post Capabilities, said that his team has developed an ultralight, expeditionary CP tent that can be erected in just a few seconds.
The tent is so light that it can fit inside a Humvee, so it doesn’t need its own trailer, he said.

The Joint Light Tactical Vehicle is the Army’s longer-term solution to field light vehicles, he noted. By integrating the ultralight tent into a Humvee today, the Army will be able to retrofit its current fleet to provide expeditionary command post options.

Soldiers from 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, successfully tested the tent at NIE last October, he said. Results of the testing will go to U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command to inform the requirements.


Another factor of CP setup time involves wiring everyone’s computers together to enable mission command, Barton said.
Barton’s team has successfully eliminated all of the video cables that are tied together inside a 200-pound transit box, known as a Jupiter Switch. That heavy box containing the wires and switch are no longer needed as well, he said.

An app known as the Display Viewer Application now connects everyone’s computer over a wireless local area network, he said. That’s dramatically reduced setup time.

The ultralight, expeditionary command post tent can be erected in just a few seconds, shown here behind a vehicle at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.


Heidelberg mentioned that one of the goals to make mission command expeditionary is for commanders to no longer need to command from laptops inside a CP.

Cyndi Carpenter, chief of the division’s Data Engineering Branch, said her team is working to develop a tactical computing environment, whereby Soldiers can communicate on patrol or in vehicles without the use of a keyboard or mouse.

“We want to do that through gesture, voice interaction and eye tracking,” she said.

Her team has developed a voice interaction app that does this. It’s known as the Single, Multimodal, Android Service for Human-Computer Interaction, or SMASH.

Zachary Deering, a computer engineer for the branch’s Tactical Computing Environment, or TCE, helped to develop this app, which he said is completely government-owned and sourced so there’s no licensing costs involved.

It incorporates open-source voice recognition as well and is designed to be used by the Army and across the Department of Defense in existing communications gear, he added.

It’s nearly impossible to type into a keyboard while driving off-road or on dismounted patrol, he said. Voice recognition could replace the commands entered on a keyboard. That’s why this technology will be useful once it’s fully developed.

Nick Grayson, a junior engineer for the branch’s TCE, demonstrated how SMASH translates voice commands into actions on a topographic map monitor display of a battlefield.

Using just his voice, Grayson was able to show where enemy forces and friendly forces were and where various equipment was located.

Some of the commands he used:

- “Zoom Out”

- “Zoom In”

- “Hide All Layers”

- “Show Blue Force Layers”

- “Show Red Force Layers”

- “Show all layers”

- “Symbol search UAV [Unmanned Aerial Vehicle] rotary wing”

- “Symbol search reconnaissance force”

- “Draw phase line”

As Grayson spoke, his commands almost instantly translated to changes on the monitor.

This not only eliminated a mouse and keyboard, it also sped up processing time from minutes to seconds. He explained that keyboard entry is ponderous and thus takes a lot longer. Their app bypasses some of the keyboard steps normally taken.

Currently, SMASH has integrated all of the battlefield symbology found in the joint Military Standards 2525D specifications, he said.

TCE’s analysis of mission command showed there are currently about 40,000 commands used. SMASH could incorporate all of those commands, he said, but realistically, it would be hard for Soldiers to memorize them all.

So here’s what Grayson thinks might be how SMASH could be implemented. A Soldier could carry, or tape inside a vehicle a laminated card of commonly used commands. Once the Soldier memorizes those commands, the card would not be needed anymore.

Then, the Soldier could add his or her own commands to SMASH’s vocabulary. What’s really cool, he said, is that if the Soldier transfers to another unit, his or her commands will be remembered by the system and be available for use no matter where the Soldier might be.

Grayson said user trials of SMASH were conducted at Fort Riley, Kansas, with good results and feedback from users incorporated.

Carpenter said SMASH apparently was a smash with the Army, as it’s ready to transition to a program manager. She added that SMASH is also going to incorporate a night vision aspect and will transition to Net Warrior Futures.

Thus far, she said, SMASH has only been tested in the lab and with users. The next test is in a field environment.

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