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Army melds tactical, commercial comms networks

Maybe it'll be a commander's dream come true, or maybe it'll be a soldier's nightmare, but here it is: The Army is making strikes in melding its military networks with commercial communications equipment, the service said this week --  it has "linked tactical radios and military chat systems with cell phones, instant messaging and other commercial communications technologies as part of a wide-ranging effort to streamline collaboration across the force."

Service officials dream of a future in which General Halftrack can be sitting at his desktop computer back at headquarters and, if he wants, reach all the way down to Pvt. Smitty out at FOB Jackhammer. The general could theoretically see whether Smitty is up on chat and ping him directly to tell him about his commitment to warfighting excellence. And that's not all.

Here's how the Army's official story put it:

The integration of emerging commercial software with the existing tactical communications infrastructure has far-reaching potential as the Army expands communications for soldiers at the tactical edge, shares more battlefield data with NATO allies and equips users with tools to help minimize information overload, service officials said.

“Whether you’re at the command post or on patrol, you know when someone is online and what the best way to reach that person is,” said Osie David, Fire Support Command and Control system engineer and former solutions architect for the Army’s Project Manager Mission Command. “Things are still in the early prototyping stage, but there’s certainly potential to share information more quickly and easily among NATO partners and U.S. forces.”

Spearheading the effort is the Command and Control Directorate for the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command’s communications-electronics center, or RDECOM CERDEC C2D. Engineers there have integrated Lync and its predecessor, Office Communications Server 2007, with a widely used military situational awareness application called Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below/Blue Force Tracking, or FBCB2/BFT.

A Microsoft Office user can then trade chat messages with an operator of FBCB2, which enables warfighters in vehicles and aircraft to exchange messages, such as the location of an enemy or an improvised explosive device, and share a common operating picture of the battlefield.

“The potential for lower echelon forces to have a richer communications capability between stationary command posts and mobile FBCB2-equipped platforms by leveraging this new technology is huge,” said retired Lt. Col Jeffrey From, science and technology specialist at the Mission Command Battle Lab at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. “I was impressed with the work CERDEC C2D has done integrating Lync with our existing Army mission command systems, and I see great potential in a system that can operate at the tactical edge, in the lowest bandwidth environment,” From said.

The story goes on:
Beyond text chat, CERDEC also used Lync to enable voice communication between Microsoft Office users and Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System radios, cell phones and Voice over Internet Protocol phones. With a mouse click, an individual could place a call to another user and reach him or her on whatever communication medium was available. There was no need to remember phone numbers or take extra steps to call a radio.

“If a general is on a phone or a (computer) and needs to communicate, you could actually bridge that with a mobile radio unit and have that connection be seamless,” said Phil West, a principal technologist with Microsoft. “If an officer is speaking with an individual, it can traverse a number of types of systems.”

The users’ “presence” was also integrated into several applications, letting others know whether someone was available to collaborate.

The full story is full of details about what else could be possible if the Army can put a fully cross-pollinated net into action. But could it be potentially worrisome to establish an "always available" communications environment on the battlefield? We all know what instant messaging can do to one's productivity in an office environment ... what do you think? Show Full Article

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