AUGUST 9, 2016, ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – Mission command, the exercise of authority by a 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. Mobile and expeditionary command posts 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 on improving the physical configuration of command posts as well as developing new software applications.
“Right now, our command posts are large and commanders are restrained to their (command posts) 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 (command post).”
What that means is the commander must be able to execute mission command on both mounted and dismounted patrols, as well as in the traditional command post, she said.
THE INSTANT COMMAND POST TENT
Although the primary goal is to reach the point where a commander can execute mission command on the fly, the traditional command post will not go away anytime soon, Heidelberg said. So researchers have focused on shortening the setup time of the tent that houses the command post’s Soldiers and equipment.
Tyler Barton, project lead for the division’s Expeditionary Command Post Capabilities, said that his team has developed an ultralight, expeditionary command post tent that can be erected in just a few seconds. The tent is so light that it doesn’t need its own trailer and can fit inside a Humvee.
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 new expeditionary command post options.
Soldiers from 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, successfully tested the tent last October at a Network Integration Evaluation exercise at Fort Bliss, Texas, he said. Results of the testing will go to Army Training and Doctrine Command to inform the requirements.
Another time-consuming factor of command post setup involves wiring everyone’s computers together to enable mission command.
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. They have also eliminated the heavy box.
Instead, an app known as the Display Viewer Application now connects everyone’s computer over a wireless local area network, he said. That has dramatically reduced setup time.
Another goal is to eliminate the need for commanders to command from laptops inside a command post.
Cyndi Carpenter, chief of the division’s Data Engineering Branch, said her team is working to develop a tactical computing environment that will allow Soldiers to 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 to achieve this kind of functionality. 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, helped develop the app, which he said incorporates open-source voice recognition. It is designed to be used by the Army and across the Department of Defense in existing communications gear.
It’s nearly impossible to type into a keyboard while driving off-road or on dismounted patrol, he said.
In a demonstration, Nick Grayson, a junior engineer for the branch’s Tactical Computing Environment, showed how SMASH translates voice commands into actions on a topographic map monitor display of a battlefield.
Using voice commands like, “”Symbol search reconnaissance force” and “Draw phase line,” Grayson demonstrated how one could use the app to provide the locations of enemy forces, friendly forces, and equipment. Currently, SMASH has integrated all of the battlefield symbology found in the joint Military Standards 2525D specifications.
In doing away with the need to issue commands with the mouse and keyboard, the app speeds up processing time from minutes to seconds, he said.
User trials of SMASH were conducted at Fort Riley, Kansas, where it received positive feedback from users. SMASH was apparently was a smash with the Army, Carpenter said, and the project is ready to transition to a program manager.
Thus far, she noted, SMASH has only been tested in the lab and with users. The next step is testing it in a field environment.