Army addresses data, services continuity for next generation command posts

The U.S. Army is exploring ways to ensure critical data and services remain available to geographically dispersed Soldiers in its next generation of expeditionary command posts.

The Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C5ISR) Center, a component of Army Futures Command’s Combat Capabilities Development Command, is leading science and technology research to make command posts more mobile, modular, agile and survivable.

The Center’s Survivable Command Post effort addresses infrastructure and integration challenges associated with geographically dispersing command posts, said Tyler Barton, the lead for the C5ISR Center’s Command Post Concepts Team.

“Traditional command posts are composed of a gathering of several semi-fixed physical structures and vehicles. The Army is seeking to break the command post into clusters nodes, if you will. That can be spread out so it’s harder for adversaries to locate and target. If one of the clusters is disabled or destroyed, the other command post nodes can survive and carry on the mission,” said Barton.

However, the further the command post elements are dispersed, the more it increases the risk of Soldiers losing connection to each other and the applications and data hosted in the tactical services infrastructure (TSI) of the other nodes. To mitigate these challenges, the Center is exploring solutions to enable data replication and synchronization for the continuity of mission-essential functions (CMEF).

“Our CMEF work will enable data and services to remain available to the disparate staff sections across the dispersed nodes of the command post, even when they are cut off from their primary data source. If the connection to the platform hosting the TSI is disrupted or destroyed, synchronous replication will ensure that Soldiers in the other command post nodes will still have current, relevant information in a timely manner. It’s redundancy for resiliency,” said Christopher Shin, a computer scientist with the Center.

The Center is adapting commercial servers and data distribution software in addition to developing automated workflows for this effort. The team was able to successfully exercise CMEF in a tactical environment during the 2020 Network Modernization Experiment (NetModX), the C5ISR Center’s annual array of field-based experimentations that inform Army acquisition decisions, science and technology specifications, requirements and strategies.

“We used NetModX to validate that the solutions we’ve been developing work while validating the parameters around the CMEF performance, such as bandwidth usage, data chunk sizes, how much data needed to be sent, and how ‘up-to-date’ could we keep our replicated nodes,” said Barton. “We were able to come out with an overarching set of specifications that we validated were important to consider for such a capability, so we’re heading towards what the ideal specifications would be.”

The C5ISR Center is now leveraging Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) with industry to explore software and hardware solutions for server resiliency, data recovery, system flexibility, and efficiency ñ especially in terms of reducing size, weight and power requirements.

A CRADA is a legal agreement between a government agency and industry or academia to mutually pursue specified research, development, and integration efforts.

“Through these partnerships, we are able to examine commercial technologies that may be adapted for the tactical environment, thus helping us to understand the realm of the possible and where technology is heading. Likewise, industry has the opportunity to gain insight to the Army’s operational requirements and technology gaps, and tailor the development of their products to meet those specific needs before entering the competitive acquisition process,” said Shin.

The Command Post Concepts Team will integrate CMEF and other technologies from its Survivable Command Post effort with Command Post Integrated Infrastructure (CPI2) systems and vehicles during an operational assessment with the 4th Infantry Division in the fall of 2021.

The C5ISR Center will use Soldier feedback and lessons learned to further develop and mature these technologies for transition to Product Manager CPI2 within Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications ñ Tactical as early as fiscal year 2022, where they will be potential candidates for inclusion in Capability Set 23 ñ a collection of network capability enhancements informed by experimentation, demonstration and direct Soldier feedback, scheduled to be fielded in 2023.

“It’s critical that as we disperse the command post, we also proliferate the data and services to the new nodes in a reliable way,” said Barton. “Ultimately, this work will allow a command post to be functional, effective and maintain a high-op tempo when it’s most important.”

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