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Sailors Simultaneously See Same Fleet Readiness Data

December 2011
By Rita Boland, SIGNAL Magazine
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A computer screen view shows a U.S. Navy halo common operational picture within the Command and Control Rapid Prototype Continuum (C2RPC) system application.
Operators at U.S. Pacific Fleet use the system to assess platform readiness in real time.

Combined common operational pictures provide richer situational awareness.

The U.S. Navy is in the midst of a revolution in its systems that eventually will connect information among the command and control, combat, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance realms. Not only does the effort introduce new technology, it also marks a deviation from previous development and acquisition cycles in an effort to roll out tools faster. Proving the value of the technology, sailors in the fleet are clamoring for the prototype even as developers work to transition the pieces into programs of record.

Already in use in the U.S. Pacific Fleet (PACFLEET), the Command and Control Rapid Prototype Continuum (C2RPC) offers the Maritime Operations Center (MOC) there a richer situational awareness at the operational level than personnel had previously. Adm. Robert Willard, USN, started searching for such a solution when he was commander of that fleet; he now is commander of U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM). The Office of Naval Research (ONR), in conjunction with the Navy Program Executive Office (PEO) for Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (C4I), responded to the request and began working with PACFLEET to develop a solution.

The C2RPC gathers and presents information within and across command and control (C2) systems, but Dr. Bobby Junker, head of the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance department at ONR, explains that the prototype is only one piece of a much larger information framework. Eventually, the C2, combat, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) systems will share data accounting for security and latency differences. However, the early version of the technology is so effective in supporting MOC needs that PACFLEET has access to it in its watch floor.

Despite the fact that the C2RPC is only a science and technology prototype, multiple military organizations are interested in using the tool operationally now. The 5th and 6th fleets are in the process of acquiring the technology, while 7th Fleet is working with PEO ONR on the acquisition process pending funding. The Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center already has one, and the Joint Interagency Task Force is using the tool in an evaluation mode. “It was not placed there to necessarily go operational, but to provide a testbed for assessing science and technology C2 concepts for environments in which there are legal restrictions on data sharing, complex fusion of highly disparate data and mission-focused autonomy,” Junker explains. Through the system, which is hosted on Web servers at Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command Center Pacific, users at various levels and locations all see the same information, eliminating the need to find or pass individual pieces of data.

Junker explains the architecture allows users to add input feeds, applications and other tools as they need them. “It serves as a framework for managing huge amounts of information, processing that information and then enabling people to present it to themselves to tailor the output as they need,” he states.

As the prototype makes its way around the operational Navy, the service-oriented architecture on which it is built is moving into a program of record called Afloat Core Services. The functional capability—the software being deployed on a virtualized environment—will be a selected technology for the Maritime Tactical Command and Control System, which is the follow-on for the Global Command and Control System.

Developers began their effort looking for a new way to approach acquisitions. Instead of using the traditional spiral development model, they searched for a way to prototype the capabilities and then deliver a formal solution that could integrate quickly into a program of record. Linda Newton, N-6 deputy chief of staff for C4I at PACFLEET, says personnel involved with the project managed the task by basing the technology on a common framework for which they developed widgets.

Before now, fusing and automating authoritative data sources and common operating pictures into a single one has been difficult, Newton says. It requires returning to major programs of record, then demanding a years-long full-production cycle before technology arrives in the hands of operators. The first idea for the C2RPC was brought up approximately four years ago, and PACFLEET has used it for about two years to achieve a common operating picture with different feeds. The result, according to Newton, is a much richer situational awareness in a much shorter time frame. PACFLEET operators have helped to improve the tool along the way, and developers work closely with sailors to ensure the utility of the system.

Users can access information through a halo common operating picture. This circle of widgets presents all the data fields or common operational pictures that show the readiness levels of resources. For example, it might show which ship is in a certain area; if there are any casualty reports from the vessel; if the network is up; and even what skills the crew members possess.

Capt. William Hopper, USN, the N-31 current operations at PACFLEET, says that the Navy also is building missions sets and interest models associated with certain ships that will allow leaders to direct the right assets more easily to execute a mission. He says that currently, an overwhelming amount of information comes in to a watch floor, and personnel have to assimilate those sources before decisions can be made. The C2RPC and its associated technologies will automate those processes. Some examples of what the Navy will build into interest models and into the halo common operating pictures include ship movements and interactions with other navies. Already, the system allows watch officials to brief information up the leadership chain all the way to the four-star level and receive almost instantaneous feedback.

Newton says that in the past, watch officers have had to contend with several common operating pictures along with multiple email feeds and chat rooms. “It’s really hard for an individual to take all those sources of data and make heads or tails out of them,” she explains. By putting all the information together in the halo, users can more quickly understand readiness issues.

As more organizations employ the C2RPC, the situational awareness will broaden further. Newton explains that events occurring in a part of the world that falls under one MOC may have relevance to another. She uses the example of a missile crossing various countries and combatant command areas of responsibility. “We would want to share that data,” she states.

Capt. Hopper says another real-world example is the piracy activity around the Horn of Africa. In that area, the seams of PACOM, U.S. Central Command and U.S. Africa Command meet. The naval officer explains that the C2RPC will allow users to coordinate the ships and the equipment in the event of a pirate attack. Though the data might not change, the ability of the command elements and watches to collaborate will be enhanced.

Newton says another benefit of the C2RPC is that it presents common visual tools. The military likes to orient geospatially, but in some situations—cyberattacks for example—a map might not tell the whole story of who and what is affected, she explains. A construct with a standard visualization format means that users can move information more quickly into the planning stage, enabling them to examine consequences and impacts, make recommendations to commanders and then monitor and assess actions.

As the C2RPC rolls out across the fleet connecting C2 systems, Junker says that work is wrapping up on enabling general information exchange between combat systems and C2 systems, which will allow information from the two fields to be shared. The ONR is working with various Navy program executive offices on these efforts and on the ISR piece, which is the focus for 2012 and beyond. The initial work will center on developing a common structure for unmanned vehicles so those platforms will communicate transparently with the C2 and combat systems. The result should be a total framework for common information sharing and decision making. “We’ve got to reduce the number of people pushing data around,” Junker states.

Once the framework is complete, algorithms, applications and other technologies will be necessary for automating the various processes. Developers are creating a set of services that enable one site or platform that becomes part of a larger group to discover automatically all the information services in the rest of the group. “What we’ve really set out to do is to recognize the fact that information from one mission area might be relevant to another,” Junker says. Experts want to remove the bottlenecks that prevent necessary data from reaching the people who need it.

The systems are fabricated via virtual machines using VMware. Junker says that earlier this year during an experiment, the systems would not synch. Company representatives told them no one had tried to use the products in that way before, so they worked to develop schema to resolve the issues.

Junker explains that the systems are built on an open architecture that enables plug and play of modules. In addition, every piece of software is either Navy-owned, government off-the-shelf or general-use commercial products not driven pricewise by the military, or the Navy has totally unrestricted licensing rights. “All the software within this meets one of those three tenets,” he says. “Therefore, this infrastructure can never be held captive by anybody.”

The systems are meant to be intuitive for users, who can tailor the display to their preferences. For example, sailors could take information from the Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center and overlay it on their planning maps through machine-to-machine information transfers. Junker says a big issue in information sharing is data interoperability because machines cannot always talk to each other, and words have different meanings for different systems. He explains that in this project, developers actually are enabling machine-to-machine communication and addressing the data interoperability issue.

The work and its advances also have applications outside the Navy. The ONR is collaborating with the Air Force and the Office of the Secretary of Defense to integrate their efforts into the framework. Junker says that if the systems are designed correctly, personnel can add capability easily and affordably.

WEB RESOURCES
Narrated C2RPC Demo: www.youtube.com/watch?v=smrMzjlExws&feature=related
C2RPC Overview Video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JPhZpIEH8U
ONR C4ISR: www.onr.navy.mil/Science-Technology/Departments/Code-31.aspx
Pacific Fleet: www.cpf.navy.mil