When the software for C4ISR systems needs a lifeline in the field, the Communications-Electronics Command’s, or CECOM, Software Engineering Center, or SEC, provides the technical assistance needed to resolve issues and provide support.
“I would look at us like ‘first responders’,” said Medhat Abuhantash, director of SEC’s Enterprise Services Mission Area. “We are firefighters. We are right there on the ground supporting and providing for the care and feed of those systems. As the issues arise, CECOM SEC field support engineers [or FSEs] are the first people to respond.”
“The SEC provides regionalized post production software support in direct support to the CECOM senior command representative in all the Army field support brigades,” explained Abuhantash. “These systems provide interoperable capabilities for combatant command customers to transmit and communicate information across the C4ISR community in garrison and in the field. SEC provides on-site software installation and upgrades, trouble shooting assistance, and reach-back capabilities to subject matter experts in other areas,” said Abuhantash.
The immediate support is vital to sustaining the operational readiness of C4ISR systems. Abuhantash stressed the necessity of the service CECOM SEC supplies.
“ … we provide the critical link between the systems in the field to the software laboratories in the rear. If it’s a problem that we cannot fix through on-site support, we reach back to our regional assets for troubleshooting and diagnosis. If the issue remains, then it is sent to the software labs for detailed analysis and evaluation in a controlled environment. CECOM SEC provides a tiered support structure of on-site FSEs, regional support, and our software labs to provide soldiers with superior field support service,” Abuhantash said.
Software problems that users generally encounter in the field are very similar to those experienced by the typical user in the workplace. As Charles Cantrell, Field Support Directorate director, explains, “Everything is networked. Issues may arise with the network or between the systems exchanging data. It may not be evident to the operator where to start looking for a fix to the issue encountered.”
Resolving a software problem in the field presents unique challenges. According to Abuhantash, “software has to be diagnosed and treated in the operational environment not physically evacuated to a controlled environment. The identified software problem does not necessarily ‘break’ the system; however, it may temporarily decrease the operational readiness. By not taking the system out of the operational environment, we minimize and reduce unit readiness downtime for the Soldier.”
Cantrell added, “The issue may involve a lack of familiarity with additional capabilities of a system or new applications that were installed or upgraded. One aspect of the ‘first responder’ support that SEC delivers is a reach-back capability to a worldwide team of subject matter expert colleagues. When users have a system issue or question in the field and require assistance, they are able to call or email the expert who is located in a different geographic region.
This is an immediate benefit to the Soldier. Depending on the severity of the problem, the subject matter expert may be able to assist the user to resolve the issue without having to be deployed to the site,” he said. Currently, the capability to solve software problems remotely is very limited due to various security firewalls.
The constrained fiscal environment that the Army is currently operating under has required SEC to re-examine how it provides field support services. Cantrell stressed that looking for efficiencies in providing support to the field will result in a reduction in the SEC field support footprint. He explained that in the past, FSEs were embedded providing support to a specific unit. Today the support is regionalized requiring the FSE to support several units located within a geographical region, reducing overall field support cost.
SEC, in coordination with other CECOM organizations, is developing efficiency initiatives to “right size” the field support. In addition to looking at cross-training, field support engineers to be multi-functional support several systems as opposed to a single system. The Army is also looking at “Back to Basics” in order to better train Soldiers in the operations of their particular systems in order to reduce the number of problems requiring FSE support; which will also reduce cost. To align with CECOM’s initiatives regarding efficiencies, SEC will be reducing the number of personnel providing support while not sacrificing readiness.
“We will be reducing the field support footprint in anticipation of changes in Army support requirements and the new fiscal environment, the new norm,” said Abuhantash.
Cantrell also stated that the focus going forward will be on how to right size the support without impeding or hindering the operational effectiveness of war fighting units and to continue to support contingency operations as they arise.