Army research centers team to advance mission command capabilities
It begins with a thought, matures into a concept and culminates as a Soldier-ready, next-generation technology.
“It” is an advanced mission command capability, developed to provide agility for today’s expeditionary forces, and its roots can often be traced back to the U.S. Army Materiel Command’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, or CERDEC.
“Our research and development investments allow Programs of Record to explore new ideas or refine existing capabilities,” said Lisa Heidelberg, chief of the Mission Command Capabilities Division, under CERDEC’s Command, Power and Integration Directorate. “Every development phase spent with us comes with lessons learned, often via direct Soldier feedback, to help mitigate risk for those programs.”
CERDEC is currently teaming with Program Executive Office for Command, Control Communications-Tactical, or PEO C3T, on two efforts that support expeditionary mission command: one to make command posts more mobile and another that will provide voice-enabled mission command while on the move.
The Display Viewer Application, or DVA, is a software application that replaces the cumbersome video box and cables currently used to display the command post’s common operating picture across multiple monitors.
“The DVA allows information to pass over the existing local area network; therefore, we can eliminate some of the size, weight and complexity burdens associated with setting up the command post,” said Mr. Lynn Epperson, the newly designated Project Lead for PEO C3T’s Command Post efforts, to include the Command Post Integrated Infrastructure, or CPI2, initiative.
CPI2 emerged from the Army’s Command Post 2025 Concept of Operations at the Mission Command Center of Excellence Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and was created to manage command post capabilities across portfolios; it is expected to become a Program of Record in FY 2019.
The CERDEC/PEO C3T collaboration to transition the DVA from a hardware box to a software application will provide more than size and weight reductions; it will also produce significant cost savings for PEO-C3T.
“The DVA is expected to offset cost even in the short term by replacing end-of-life hardware components within the current command post system,” Epperson said. “If we take into account ancillary equipment and fielding costs, what would have required many millions of dollars will now cost significantly less.”
PEO C3T will realize additional cost savings because the DVA is a government-owned solution, which means they will incur no license fees, enjoy reduced lifecycle costs savings and the time to field will be reduced, Heidelberg said.
In addition to simplifying the command post set-up, the DVA allows users to share their desktop views with each other, without affecting what is on the video display monitors, and use pre-defined templates to display for standard meetings. Following an operational assessment with the Department of Defense, the DVA has achieved a certificate of net-worthiness, and is currently under test to confirm that it is Information Assurance, or IA, compliant.
“Any system deployed within a command post must pass strict IA tests to ensure it does not interfere with any other command post systems,” said Tyler Barton, CERDEC DVA project lead. “We’re confident that PM MC’s lab tests will confirm IA compliance, allowing us to transition the capability to PEO-C3T for Soldier evaluation.”
The Army’s Force 2025 and Beyond emphasizes an expeditionary force that enables mission command on-the-move, with capabilities inside vehicles that are not always conducive to the keyboard/mouse/display paradigm.
With a nod to “Siri,” CERDEC’s CP&ID and Night Vision Electronic Sensors Directorate, or NVESD, is integrating voice activation command capabilities into a Soldier-worn, heads-up display. CP&I’s Single, Multimodal, Android Service for Human-Computer Interaction, or SMASH, allows Soldiers to control computing devices using voice inputs. NVESD has integrated SMASH into the Heads-Up Display of their Heads-Up Navigation and Tracking (HUNTR) project, allowing soldiers operate the heads-up display without looking away or putting down their weapon.
PEO C3T’s Project Manager Mission Command, or PM MC, is considering incorporating SMASH into its Mounted Computing Environment, or MCE. MCE is the follow-on to the Joint Battle Command-Platform, or JBC-P, a touch-screen blue force tracking situational awareness tool mounted in military vehicles.
“SMASH would be a powerful compliment to MCE; it would reduce the Soldier’s cognitive load from four-to five mouse clicks down to one voice command,” said Lt. Col. Shane Sims, product manager for JBC-P. “We will look at transitioning this capability to the JBC-P program of record for management as quickly as possible.”
With 12-hour missions still fresh in his mind, Capt. Adam Vogel, assistant product manager for Future Initiatives, JBC-P, is working with CERDEC to further explore the integration of SMASH into JBC-P.
“When I was a 1st platoon leader in Mosul, Iraq, we used the touchscreen maps in Force 21 Battle Command Brigade and Below [the pre-cursor to JBC-P] to clear routes,” Vogel said. “If we could have used voice commands to display our maps and overlays, we would have saved multiple steps, and most important, we would have kept our eyes focused on what was outside the vehicle.”
Using open-sourced voice recognition technology, CERDEC developed SMASH to work with a variety of Mission Command systems. It allows Soldiers to pre-load typical phrases, even using various accents, so the capability can recognize verbal commands.
“With SMASH, you can speak commands to your computer, and your computer will hear and respond,” said Andy Harned, CERDEC CP&I Tactical Computing Environment project lead. “The nice thing about voice-enabled commands for JBC-P, or any mission command capability, is it gets you away from the click menu command to express intent; the computer can understand and go directly to that capability rather than having to navigate,” Harned said.
The most pressing concern to using voice commands in the heat of battle is noise. CERDEC conducted a variety of real-life scenario tests, including tests from within an M1068 tracked military vehicle driving over rough terrain.
“We also performed aircraft and gunfire-related testing in our lab’s sound booth,” Harned said. “We used real-life battle noise recordings at high volume, and users could still hear the voice commands in that environment.”
The DVA and SMASH capabilities are a representation of how the science and technology and program of record communities are collaborating with Army capability developers and Soldiers to create the mission command capabilities of the future.
“I think we have a great working relationship with CERDEC,” Epperson said. “They have already done the reconnaissance to help us shape our material solutions, and we’re confident that this partnership will help the Army realize its goals for an expeditionary force.”
The U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities that provide decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the Joint warfighter and the nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command