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Military's Multifaceted Organization Executes Diverse Technology Tasks

August 2000
By Maryann Lawlor
E-mail About the Author

Primary contracting agent ensures current, future combat readiness.

In the electronic ecosystem that is the modern-day battlespace, the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command interweaves the biological community with an abiotic environment. This unique role that the command has played during the last decade is part of the evolution of fighting forces. Its contributions to the inner workings of oftentimes dangerous environments continues as part of the revolution in the way warfighters and commanders carry out their duties. This transformation is far from over.

Maj. Gen. Robert L. Nabors, USA, oversees the entire realm of activities that make up the organization. As commander of the Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM), Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, he is keenly aware that technology can make U.S. troops safer and more lethal. His systems engineering background gives him the knowledge to review an idea for a system and discern whether it is technologically possible. His command experience provides him with the insight to keep the big picture in mind while attending to the details. But, perhaps most important today, his involvement in the joint community is helping the Army successfully integrate into joint operations.

This is why, when Gen. Nabors speaks about CECOM, he explains not only how a system works but also the power its users will wield. The realignment of functions from several Army commands has put CECOM in a position to take technology from the womb to the tomb and help it to grow and move everywhere in between.

As a result of the shifting of responsibilities, the command now focuses on several core competencies that range from technology generation to logistics power projection to depot operations. It is the place businesses go when they want to offer solutions and the place where command Army units turn when they need to make a purchase and want the best value for their money. CECOM also is the lead for several large-scale projects.

On the creation end of the spectrum, some of the technologies that the command is researching include physical security, information assurance, night vision, telemaintenance, en-route mission planning and interoperability. “Of the Army’s 18 advanced technology demonstrations, 11 of them are in CECOM. Some are in basic research, but CECOM develops them into systems that the Army can use, then turns them over to a program manager or to industry to refine. We deal in the art of the possible,” Gen. Nabors explains.

One of the command’s projects involves more powerful and lighter-weight batteries. In Kosovo, for example, CECOM provided the troops with rechargeable batteries, saving $7 million and reducing the amount of equipment that had to be transported and stored.

Once equipment and systems have been developed, the command is also heavily involved in Army acquisition, which is closely related to the logistics of moving materials from the manufacturer to the soldier in the field. Aiming for acquisition excellence, CECOM has the contract vehicles in place and has been heavily involved in streamlining a process that closely follows industry’s best business practices to make ordering and receiving items both easy and efficient.

The wholesale logistics modernization program (WLMP) is one major effort that CECOM developed and recently turned over to a consortium led by Computer Sciences Corporation. It embraces many U.S. Defense Department and congressional mandates by re-engineering business processes, optimizing outsourcing, reducing the logistics cycle, minimizing inventory levels, and maximizing the advantages of acquisition reform.

The single-stock fund moves the single point of sale down to the unit. This system, which was tested earlier this year, is becoming part of the Army’s effort to modernize its logistics processes from the wholesale level down to the retail level.

Ultimately, the business processes will integrate seamlessly with the global combat support system–Army to provide a single wholesale/retail logistics system that can sustain integrated, joint and multinational operations.

“Technology allows you to reach from the president to the foxhole in one fell swoop. Equipment can go from the manufacturers to the soldier, and the system does all the paperwork, including ordering, accounting, shipping and so on, and it is all done automatically,” the general explains.

As a national inventory control point, CECOM supports the Army’s effort to keep enough equipment on hand to meet an operation’s needs without extreme overages, which would require warehousing. This approach reduces the financial burden of storing items. At the same time, the ability to respond quickly and send out supplies as needed decreases the amount of materials a unit must carry into an area of operations.

But CECOM’s role does not end with the creation and distribution of information technology and supplies. Tobyhanna Army Depot in Pennsylvania also falls under the auspices of the command. Among other duties, the depot provides maintenance support to the Army’s diversified equipment worldwide.

CECOM has 228 logistics assistance representatives who not only repair equipment but also train on-site personnel to conduct the repairs themselves.

The command also supports 80 to 85 percent of the Army’s software, the general relates. More than 700 of the command’s personnel provide maintenance for the software that is used for a variety of purposes from business processes to weapons systems, he says.

In addition to its design and support responsibilities, 11 project management offices are under CECOM’s jurisdiction. One of its largest projects is the redesign of all Pentagon communications systems (SIGNAL, May 1999, page 57). Command personnel are working with an industry team on the $890 million renovation. In Europe, the command is building a telephone data network from scratch, the general relates.

Gen. Nabors is keenly aware of the recurrent issues in the military that continuously need to be addressed, and interoperability remains at or near the top of the list. According to the general, 20 percent of the joint systems cause 80 percent of the interoperability problems.

“CECOM is playing a critical role in Army/joint interoperability. We are taking the lead in developing and fielding set information standards and protocols, which are currently implemented across the Army in order to achieve cross-functional interoperability between systems and joint services.

“In response to a Pentagon initiative, we’ve established within CECOM one of three joint service offices [Department of Defense] DOD-wide to enhance the interoperability of command, control, communications, computers and intelligence [C4I] systems among the Army, Navy and Air Force. The offices, which are known as the CINC [commander in chief] interoperability program offices, or CIPOs, are located in the C4I acquisition commands of the three services—CECOM, the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command [SPAWAR], and the Air Force Electronics Systems Center [ESC],” the general says. Six exchange officers from each systems command plus two leaders make up each CIPO and not only focus on fixing today’s interoperability problems but also on causing new systems to be born interoperable, he adds.

“The CECOM, SPAWAR and ESC commanders have also established a Joint Forces Program Office [JFPO], which will evaluate solutions for cross-CINC applications, focus on the compliance of C3 [command, control and communications] systems with joint technical architecture and recommend development of common products. The JFPO, which is initially located at SPAWAR, will arrange for C4I experiments with the U.S. Atlantic Command, the executive agent for joint warfighting experimentation,” Gen. Nabors explains.

CECOM’s Digital Integration Lab, SPAWAR’s Maritime Battle Lab and the ESC’s Command and Control Unified Battlespace Environment will be used to test C4I systems for joint interoperability.

“Each CIPO will work directly with specific regional commanders in chief to meet their C4I requirements. CECOM will work with the U.S. Southern Command, U.S. European Command, U.S. Forces Korea and U.S. Special Operations Command. The ESC will work with the U.S. Space Command, U.S. Transportation Command, U.S. Central Command and U.S. Strategic Command; and SPAWAR with the U.S. Atlantic and Pacific Commands. No one puts anything into the CINCdoms without checking with the others,” the general relates.

Information operations is another issue that tops the priority list. CECOM’s current focus is largely defensive, and the command is engaged in supporting information assurance initiatives for the tactical battlefield as well as for the critical infrastructure of post camps and stations.

“Our Information Systems Engineering Command develops key security solutions such as firewall and intrusion detection system architectures in support of the Army’s network security program, which focuses on wide area data transmission. Additionally, CECOM supports security engineering for the overall Pentagon renovation and also engineers security solutions for CECOM’s product manager defense data networks whose mission is to upgrade the installations. In this last case, we’re implementing security solutions along with the infrastructure upgrades, not as an afterthought,” Gen. Nabors explains.

“In the tactical world, CECOM is currently executing a tactical command and control protect program in order to provide information assurance throughout the tactical environment. The objective of the program is to develop, integrate and validate hardware and software tools that will secure the systems and networks of the Army’s first digitized division and future combat systems,” he adds.

Current security approaches of interest to the command are network access control; intrusion prediction, detection and response; malicious code detection and eradication; and security management. To address future threats, the command is examining tactical biometrics, tactical public key infrastructure, neural networking, high-speed tactical guards, trusted operating systems, virtual private networks, and next-generation intrusion detection sensors. “Perhaps our greatest challenge is integrating an overall management system into low-bandwidth tactical environments,” the general offers.

And bandwidth certainly is a high concern for a command that supports not only the fighting aspects of a mission but also the multitude of other components of the battlespace. New technologies allow a commander to both hear and see operations in real time, which is a distinct advantage in planning, Gen. Nabors relates. However, capabilities such as video need adequate bandwidth. In addition, ancillary services such as telemaintenance and telemedicine will create new demands for bandwidth as they become more widely used.

Despite their bandwidth requirements, Gen. Nabors views the addition of remote contributions to the battlespace as an important one. Rather than sending dozens of maintenance or medical personnel to a location, mission commanders will be able to send only a few people who will draw on the expertise of others located back at the command center or even on another continent. Bandwidth can replace personnel on the battlefield with little or no detrimental effect, the general offers.

“There will never be enough bandwidth. One thing we have to do is get the most important message through first. Communications systems have to have a dynamic routing protocol, so that the most critical messages can be like an ambulance coming through on a highway. Systems need to understand the priority of this message, and it doesn’t matter who the subscriber is,” the general says.

Compression technologies and proper training will also help manage bandwidth constraints. “We need to be helped with wise users. They have to be disciplined not to send huge files. The problem is that people are used to the Internet, but on the battlefield, you have to be more conservative about your use,” he offers.

Another area that CECOM is exploring, particularly for tactical applications, is the use of wireless technology based on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products. “Some of the key obstacles we’re trying to overcome are the lack of a mobile backbone infrastructure and of course the security implications. We’re working with our industry partners on new and emerging technologies of wireless local area networks, traditional cell phones and the recent introduction of wireless access that enables devices such as personal digital assistants and cell phones to access e-mail and Web-based content,” Gen. Nabors says.

The general greatly values the contributions businesses can make in developing a strong military. “Industry plays an essential role in our process to equip the soldiers with the very best equipment at lower prices and to ensure that our armed forces remain the pre-eminent military in the world. We need to be on the same team. … I encourage industry to continue to direct their efforts toward converting to single processes in our defense manufacturing facilities to ensure that all services and contracts employ single standards, commercial in particular, to the maximum extent possible.

“It is the pursuit of profit in the commercial sector that drives the violent advancement of the technologies that make future communications capabilities possible. There is no alternative for DOD but to continually leverage COTS technology. We must adopt and/or adapt COTS technology aggressively if we are to stay ahead of enemies who have access to the same global technology marketplace that we do,” the general states.

Gen. Nabors envisions a future for CECOM that includes achieving several strategic goals. Minimizing the time needed to transition from concept to operational capability, maximizing information system integration and interoperability while increasing systems and platform effectiveness, and optimizing logistics and acquisition processes are among these objectives. He also has an eye on the command’s customers. Providing a world-class quality of life within the command and for warfighters and their families is another goal, as is understanding and anticipating the customers’ needs and exceeding their expectations.

“I envision a great future for CECOM. During the past several years, while other commands have downsized, CECOM has grown. It has grown not just in the gross number of civilians and soldiers but in mission. These new missions create synergies that might not have otherwise occurred. The Army is already reaping the benefits—the logistics modernization effort is a good example. More great things are coming,” Gen. Nabors predicts.