ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND (January 27, 2017) – Army engineers recently demonstrated network technology that will allow commanders to conduct mission command using multiple computing devices from brigade down to the edge.
The Tactical Computing Environment, or TCE, developed by the U.S. Army Materiel Command’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, or CERDEC, supports the Army’s Force 2025 and Beyond strategy, which provides the nation with a more expeditionary and agile force.
“The military’s large, fixed ‘TOC Mahals’ have given way to smaller, more mobile command posts in an effort to support the Army’s push for expeditionary mission command,” said Cynthia Carpenter, CERDEC Command, Power, and Integration, or CP&I, data engineering chief. “The TCE provides untethered commanders with the same or better capabilities than they had with their stationary command post networked mission command systems.”
The TCE is one of many CERDEC science and technology efforts that could help the Army achieve its modernization goals.
“We believe that the TCE will provide the vital technologies required for our future forces to conduct mission command in expeditionary environments, which will be critical for staying ahead of our adversaries,” Carpenter said.
Running on the Android Operating System, the TCE allows users to collaborate across platforms such as tablets, laptops, and other mounted and dismounted computing devices, and is network agnostic, which allows it to operate across varying bandwidth levels.
CERDEC engineers also incorporated voice command capabilities and are currently working on additional Advanced Human-Computer interfaces such as speech-to-text capability, which would allow the user to create a text message using his or her voice, and gesture and eye-tracking interaction, for environments lacking the traditional mouse and keyboard peripherals.
CERDEC recently transported the TCE software out of the lab and onto the tactical ranges at its Ground Activity Range in Fort Dix, New Jersey, to test its effectiveness across diverse terrains using the Solider Radio Waveform, or SRW, network.
“The TCE will operate across any network, but we chose to live test with tablets on the lower-bandwidth RF network should that be the only network available to users,” said Andy Harned, CERDEC CP&I TCE project lead.
Engineers traveled on foot and in vehicles throughout the ranges’ densely wooded areas to evaluate TCE’s two modes of collaboration: Mirror and Extend.
“Leaders can use mirror mode when they and their staff are geographically dispersed,” Harned said. “All can view the same map, and all can immediately see changes to the map, such as new graphics, no matter who makes those changes.”
The extend mode allows co-located users out in the field to place their tablets together in a grid to form one, large screen as an alternative to the large video displays traditionally found in fixed command posts. CERDEC engineers successfully employed the extend mode down on the ground and on the hoods of military vehicles.
“It’s like fitting the pieces of a puzzle together to create one large map-based planning environment for Soldiers,” said RJ Regars, CERDEC CP&I test engineer. “The map views stay synchronized no matter who moves their tablet, and when the planning session terminates, Soldiers can disperse in any direction and retain the same plan.”
The Fort Dix test yielded typical SRW related challenges with varying levels of throughput, latency, and packet loss.
CERDEC anticipates that TCE will undergo live Soldier testing in early FY 2018 at the Army’s National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California. Users will have the opportunity to test TCE over NTC’s new wireless range network, and based on lab testing using a 4G network, CERDEC engineers expect to see exceptional network throughput.
Following the NTC test, TCE will be the software component of CERDEC CP&I’s Expeditionary Mission Command Science and Technology Objective, or EMC STO, also in FY 2018. CERDEC initiated the EMC STO to develop Commander-focused mission command technology demonstrators that will inform requirements for the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, or TRADOC, which will meet the Army’s Command Post 2025 vision, approved in the fall of 2015.
“Expeditionary mission command isn’t just about the physical aspects of a command post; you have to make the software expeditionary as well,” Harned said. “If we can give the commander the capability to collaborate with leaders and subordinates at the edge, we will provide tactical agility in the face of current and future threats.”
Pictured above: Christopher O’Neill, CERDEC CP&I engineer, configures the Tactical Computing Environment, or TCE, extend mode, which pieces together various points on a digital map to create one, large map-view similar to what is available in larger command post video displays. (Photo credit: U.S. Army CERDEC/Susan Sodon)