December 21, 2011

U.S. Army's Common Operating Environment

News Report

As reported on U.S. Army's web-page, U.S. Land Forces are focused on the development of a Common Operating Environment that will streamline communications between Soldiers in vehicles and higher headquarters, creating seamless interoperability between the computers, sensors and applications they use.

The Technology

Developed in October 2010 by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, the Common Operating Environment, or COE, is a set of computing technologies and standards. They are designed to enable secure and interoperable applications to be rapidly developed and executed across a variety of environments. "Through this Army-wide effort to collapse capabilities and integrate them into vehicles, Soldiers can communicate more seamlessly with upper echelons," said Peter Dugan, a systems engineer with the U.S. Army's Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical, known as PEO C3T.

The Mounted Computing Environment, or Mounted CE, is one of several computing environments that support this goal. The Mounted CE is a standard in which systems are set inside vehicles that have large amounts of processing power, but contain much less bandwidth than a tactical operations center. The application includes three classes of capabilities: the first involves transmitting small messages connected to a host; the second includes integrating more functionality and sharing data at the local level; and the third concerns adapting to the new environment.

Michael Anthony, chief of the Mission Command Division for the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development, and Engineering Center, or CERDEC, Command and Control Directorate, known as C2D, said employing a common set of standards into a Common Operating Environment on the tactical network would enable users to "copy and paste" information across separate tactical applications. "Just like we do when we take a bullet from a Microsoft Word document and paste it into a PowerPoint slide," he said.

In addition to the Mounted CE, the Other computing enviroments that support the goal of the COE are:
  • Data Center/Cloud CE: a service-based infrastructure for hosting and accessing enterprise-wide software applications, services and data. Common services and standard applications for use by a large number of users over wide area networks.
  • Command Post CE: client and server software and hardware, as well as common services (i.e. network management, collaboration, synchronization, planning, analysis) to implement mission command capabilities.
  • Mobile/Handheld CE: which provides operating and run-time system, native and common applications and services, software development kits (SDK), and standards and technologies for hand held/wearable devices.
  • Sensor CE: which provides a common interoperability layer, implementing standards and technology for data services, NetOps, and security for specialized, human-controlled or unattended sensors. The Sensor CE does not specify specific hardware and software for the sensors.
  • Real-Time/Safety Critical/Embedded CE: which provides the real-time infrastructure that allows the development of telemetry (i.e. avionics and vetronics) as well as the integration of vehicle health sensors. This CE will include an abstraction layer to reduce the burden of integrating C2, Comm and Sensor systems to the real-time platform.
  • Generating Force CE (pending): business systems which span all Computing Environments and include Post, Camps and Stations, and the Operating Force. This also includes the U.S. Army’s Enterprise Resources Planning (ERP) systems.
The Context

Conventional approach to information technology implementation and management may be cumbersome and inadequate to keep up with the pace of change. The acquisition process focuses on the development and fielding of systems by programs that were established to deliver capability for a specific combat or business function. Based on functional proponent requirements, program managers individually choose and field hardware platforms and software infrastructures. Meanwhile, to support ongoing conflicts, U.S. Army and combatant commanders independently procure commercially available solutions, often installing and customizing them in theater. As a result, deploying and deployed units frequently must plan and execute operations using multiple computer systems with different hardware, operating systems, databases, security configurations and end-user devices.

On the 28 of December 2009, a Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army (VCSA)'s memorandum requested the U.S. Chief Information Office/G-6 to develop both 'as is' and 'end state' network architectures. The requirement for a Common Operating Environment (COE) became central to the directive to CIO/G-6. The intent was to standardize end-user environments and software development kits, establish streamlined enterprise software processes that rely on common pre-certified, reusable software components, and develop deployment strategies that allow the users direct access to new capability.

The "Army Network Architecture Strategy – Tactical version 1.1", dated 6 April 2010, was crafted in response to the VCSA‘s memorandum. Since then, CIO/G-6 has written the Guidance for ‘End State’ Army Enterprise Network Architecture version 2.0 to provide direction for the entire Army Enterprise Network.

On October 2010, the U.S. Army published a guidance for a Common Operating Environment Architecture for the Army Enterprise Network. Both the Chief Information Office/G-6 and the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology (ASA(ALT)) approved the guidance on Oct. 20, 2010.

The COE Architecture and the U.S. Army’s overarching “End State” Architecture are expected to drastically reduce the time it takes to deliver relevant applications to those who need them. The COE augments Army Software Transformation, an effort to standardize end-user environments and software development kits, establish streamlined enterprise software processes that rely on common pre-certified, reusable software components, and develop deployment strategies that allow users direct access to new capability.

The benefits of a COE Architecture are lower costs, improved inter-operability and easier system maintenance. In order to obtain funding for developing and acquiring IT devices or systems, all programs under the U.S. Army Acquisition Executive will need to comply with the COE guidance and plan. The guidance and plan also provide direction to industry partners.

The guidance is one of several annexes to the overarching document “End-State Army Enterprise Architecture” that guides future network procurements and establishes minimum technical architecture standards for the acquisition or development of IT and National Security Systems.  The “End State” document and some of the annexes will be published in the near future. To help guide the COE effort, the Army CIO/G6 developed a maturity model that can be used to conduct cost-benefit trades and to evaluate programs’ alignment with the COE goals.

References: U.S. Army (1,3,4), AFCEA (2)

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