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Communications-Electronics Command Builds in Change

July 2002
By Robert K. Ackerman
E-mail About the Author

Warfighting, technology development go hand-in-hand.

The U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command is experiencing multitasking firsthand as it strives to empower the Army’s transformation while concurrently supporting combat operations half a world away. Fighting a war, developing new technologies, building in interoperability and assisting in homeland security all are part of the Fort Monmouth, New Jersey-based command’s mission.

The Communications-Electronics Command, known as CECOM, is the source for many of the technologies and systems that are driving the Army’s transformation. This ongoing change has been accelerated by recent events in operation Enduring Freedom, as the efficacy of battlefield information systems there has increased the impetus for a fully networked force. This has increased both the importance of the command’s endeavors and the pace at which it must bring about the future.

At the core of CECOM’s immediate responsibilities is support to a wide range of U.S. Army activities in nearly a dozen countries worldwide. Key to carrying out its mission in the future is the establishment of an initiative to ensure that interoperability is incorporated in all information systems at the earliest stage of development.

Maj. Gen. William H. Russ, USA, commanding general at CECOM, says that the command currently is working toward several major goals. The first goal deals with a country at war—maintaining readiness. As U.S. forces engage al Qaida terrorists worldwide, CECOM must maintain the readiness of all of its command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) items across the Army. The general continues that CECOM, as a worldwide command responsible for units strewn throughout all levels of command and deployed in 11 countries, has seen its footprint reduced just as its capabilities have increased. Having fewer people with improved capabilities does represent a move in the right direction for readiness, he emphasizes.

CECOM did accelerate technology insertion for Enduring Freedom. Gen. Russ discloses that the command performed some rapid acquisition in support of combat operations in Afghanistan.

The command’s role in the Army transformation is the focus of another thrust. Gen. Russ allows that if readiness is priority number 1, then transformation is priority number 1A. CECOM’s responsibilities in the transformation include work at Fort Lewis for the interim brigade combat teams and research in the command’s research, development and engineering centers (RDECs) to develop, adopt and adapt emerging technologies for the Army Objective Force.

CECOM is looking at several technologies and systems that it views as important to its work. Gen. Russ cites the multifunctional, on-the-move, secure, adaptive integrated communications, or MOSAIC, as one key project. This advanced technology demonstrator will enable on-the-move maneuver network communications. It is demonstrating technologies to provide capabilities required by the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) Cluster 1 and the Warfighter Information Network–Terrestrial (WIN-T) command, control and communications on the move.

MOSAIC will provide adaptive network protocols, self-healing adaptive networks, on-the-move capabilities and bandwidth management. Gen. Russ notes that MOSAIC can help prioritize bandwidth requirements before the priorities are actually needed.

Many of its leading-edge technologies have been, or are being, developed by government and commercial research. The wireless communications architecture is designed to support multimedia applications, quality of service for mobile/multihop networks and horizontal/vertical handoff in a mobile wireless environment. It will demonstrate connectivity among 15 to 20 nodes in a field environment. Some of its capabilities will be demonstrated early next year.

Another technology demonstrator, Agile Commander, aids a commander and his staff in conducting operations on the move. It offers a knowledge management/data warehousing capability that employs software agents to enable a commander to pull the exact required information when it is needed. The prototype system will demonstrate how collaborative decision aids support a full-spectrum, combined arms capability in operations on the move.

One specific targeted technology is antennas. Gen. Russ notes that ongoing research aims to reduce their size. This is particularly important with multiband systems and reconfigurable bandwidth, which requires being able to reconfigure an antenna system rapidly.

Many of these technologies will have their first taste of operational use in a C4ISR demonstration slated for early in 2003. Known as Battle Command on the Move, this demonstration will feature a number of integrated capabilities designed to permit a commander and staff to command and control forces while on the move.

An operational architecture will be built to show C3 capabilities on the move regardless of platform. The on-the-move commander will be able to receive sensor feeds, including satellite communications, and he will be able to reconfigure the network. Some of the MOSAIC capabilities will be shown. Subsequent phases will build on the results of these demonstrations. Gen. Russ allows that the New Jersey-based demonstration will be connected with Army forces at Fort Knox as well as with other units.

However, CECOM’s work is not geared exclusively to immediately applicable solutions. Gen. Russ has launched an initiative designed to ensure that interoperability is built into all information systems from the start.

He explains that this initiative focuses on an Army enterprise-level technical architecture. The general has tasked CECOM experts to lead a collaborative team to build a template that will ensure interoperability across the Army. This is not limited to a tactical standpoint, as it also will include capabilities compatibility among various systems that must interoperate across the continuum of operations.

Gen. Russ cites as an example the Army Battle Command System (ABCS), which is the tactical component of the Global Command and Control System (GCCS). Comprising subsystems such as the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System (AFATDS), the All Source Analysis System (ASAS), the Maneuver Control System (MCS) and the Force XXI Battle Command Brigade-and-Below (FBCB2), the ABCS is a system of systems that largely were developed separately and then interfaced to work together.

In contrast to this approach, Gen. Russ explains that the technical template for which he has tasked his team would enable interoperability to be incorporated up front in system development. These systems would not need to be interfaced; rather, they would be integrated at the foundation level. The goal will be to eliminate the black boxes that are required to interface two divergent systems, which tend to cause a loss of efficiency.

“This would be the technical framework provided to all of the builders of these systems up front, so they would know the technical framework within which to operate,” Gen. Russ emphasizes. “Operate within that framework, and you won’t have to worry about interfacing—it will be integrated across the systems that we need in the Army.”

The general emphasizes that CECOM is not working alone on this initiative. The collaborative team for this template will include representatives from joint groups such as the Defense Information Systems Agency, from operational groups and from industry. This team will provide a perspective that can ensure jointness in the framework, effectiveness in operations and state-of-the-art technical capabilities.

A technical architecture that is to serve as a framework in a dynamic technological environment must grow within parameters, he continues. The collaborative nature of this team will ensure that this growth occurs by design rather than by default.

CECOM’s three technical centers—the RDEC, the Software Engineering Center and the Information Systems Engineering Command (ISEC)—are supporting this effort. The RDEC in turn is working with three program executive officers (PEOs)—PEO Command, Control and Communications–Tactical (C3T); PEO Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors (IEW&S); and PEO Enterprise Information Systems (EIS). All three centers are supporting various PEOs.

In addition, the general is creating a virtual center to link all of these physical centers. For example, the ISEC primarily supports the PEO EIS. With the virtual center, the other technical centers will weigh in with their input on any solutions the ISEC provides to the PEO EIS. This increases the ability to learn which capabilities can be shared across the various systems, Gen. Russ says. This collaborative work among CECOM’s three technical centers also enables the creation of an enterprise-level systems engineer.

The general continues that he has asked his team at CECOM to lead the development of the first version of this technical architecture. Version 1 will emerge this month, and Gen. Russ believes that it will help identify some existing shortfalls in systems that currently do not meet joint technical architecture requirements fully.

Industry is a key player in this project because it can bring in select technical capabilities for these emerging standards, Gen. Russ allows. The general wants industry to share its initiatives and capabilities that may support CECOM requirements. This will take “a true strategic partnership” with the command. “We need vendors to continue developing their best innovations, keeping in mind that what we need is integrated solutions that allow for seamless operations,” he emphasizes.

The RDEC also is developing a system-to-system testbed that will link it with the Night Vision Laboratory in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and the ISEC in Fort Huachuca, Arizona. The RDEC is integrated with the PEO C3T, the ISEC focuses on the strategic and sustaining base, and the Night Vision Laboratory works with a variety of sensors. Combined with the technical architecture, this new testbed will enable early system-to-system testing that can be especially useful in determining the effects of individual component changes on entire systems.

Additional information on CECOM is available on the World Wide Web at www.monmouth.army.mil/cecom.

Command Aids Homeland Security Efforts

The basic mission of the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM) largely did not change in the wake of September 11. However, the command is looking at its service to the nation in a different light, according to its commanding general, Maj. Gen. William H. Russ, USA. This new perspective brings the command’s role in homeland security and particularly assistance to emergency responders into sharper focus.

The command contributed personnel and technology to the World Trade Center rescue and recovery effort in the days immediately after the towers’ collapse. Gen. Russ relates that CECOM experts arrived at the disaster site on September 13 to try to help locate survivors. CECOM personnel deployed with state-of-the-art sensor equipment in an effort to find people trapped under the rubble.

Unfortunately, the magnitude of the collapse prevented the rescuers from saving anyone after the first two days. Gen. Russ notes that the CECOM gear helped locate many hot spots in the rubble, which aided firemen both in extinguishing the blazes and in maintaining a degree of safety amid that unstable mass of debris.

Many of the technologies involved advanced sensor systems. Infrared imagers were used both to search for people and to pinpoint the fires still burning under the wreckage. The general reveals that CECOM experts adapted a small infrared camera to fit at the end of a plastic pipe segment that could be inserted into crevices in the debris to peer deep within the rubble. When on-site rescuers lamented the small camera’s inability to pan, CECOM experts rushed back to Fort Monmouth and in 12 hours adapted the technology so that the camera could articulate a 360-degree sweep under the rubble.

Another key sensor technology allowed rescuers to locate cellular telephones under the rubble. These telephones could be located even if they were not transmitting, as long as they were switched on and their batteries still had power. Gen. Russ relates that CECOM experts located about 400 such cellular telephones in the wreckage, but again rescuers could not reach any of their owners through the mass of debris.

At the Pentagon, CECOM personnel worked to restore communications in the aftermath of the plane strike on that building. These personnel worked around the clock to restore communications after significant portions of the building’s infrastructure were damaged or destroyed.

As a result of these efforts, CECOM experts now are working on a homeland security initiative to generate ideas on how the command can assist emergency responders with packages of command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) technologies. CECOM is working in coordination with Federal Emergency Management Agency staff, elements of the Army Materiel Command and other federal entities on this idea. In addition to logistics issues, planners are examining C4ISR capabilities that could be leveraged into emergency response.

Gen. Russ notes that many Army depots are located throughout the United States, and these could serve as equipment sources on which first responders could call in an emergency. CECOM personnel are working with the New Jersey National Guard in a preliminary effort that includes special communications equipment and sensors for sensitive sites. Communications interoperability for first responders is another area where CECOM can provide substantial assistance, the general adds.