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Mobile apps for improved tactical situational awareness

Dec. 11, 2013 - 03:45AM   |  
By C4ISR & NETWORKS STAFF   |   Comments
GEOINT apps are particularly fertile ground for improving situational awareness for troops at the tactical edge.
GEOINT apps are particularly fertile ground for improving situational awareness for troops at the tactical edge. (Exelis)
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A key element of the Army’s Capability Set 13 (CS13) strategy is to bring new networking capabilities to the military, in the form of radios, mobile devices, vehicle-mounted data terminals and an on-the-move network. The goal is to improve situational awareness for troops on the ground.

After extensive testing under the Army’s series of Network Integration Evaluations, CS13 systems are now in Afghanistan with the 4th Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, which is training and advising the Afghan Army, and reports that the systems are performing well.

Some blind spots in situational awareness still exist, however. New tools are being developed to address these points of vulnerability. For example, the next-generation Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below/Blue Force Tracer (FBCB2), known as Joint Battle Command-Platform (JBC-P), will be a key capability of the Army’s Mounted Computing Environment (MCE), designed to create a common operating picture and enable the rapid development of secure and interoperable applications.

“If you compare the mobile, handheld computing environment to an iPhone and compare the stationary command post computing environment to a desktop computer, MCE — with JBC-P being the core capability — is the iPad,” said Lt. Col. Michael Olmstead, product manager for JBC-P. “You might not necessarily need the same app for the handheld that you need for the command post, but just like the commercial model, they would be compatible and interoperable.”

The military is also looking at mobile device applications that can augment higher-level, vehicle-mounted systems like JBC-P. For example, DARPA’s Transformative Apps program has fielded more than 3,000 mobile devices to Army brigades in Afghanistan and developed more than 50 apps since 2011.

DARPA recently held a Geospatial Mobile Integration Technical Exchange between industry and military whose purpose was to create common standards for a new “frontier space,” according to TransApps program manager Doran Michels.

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Apps related to geospatial intelligence are expected to be a particularly fertile ground going forward in regard to improving situational awareness for troops at the tactical edge, said Jim Phillips, director of geospatial intelligence for Exelis. The company’s product called Jagwire, for example, is used to get near real-time battlefield imagery and video to troops.

Version 2.0 of the Jagwire software is rolling out this month with the ability to integrate with the data analytics of the ENVI platform for an end-to-end imagery solution. Advanced analytics include algorithms that can detect differences between two images taken of a specific location at different times. That means a commander or other end-users can get actionable intelligence immediately, instead of having to run an analysis after retrieving data from the server. Previous versions of Jagwire focused primarily on data dissemination rather than this type of pre-delivery analysis, according to Phillips.

For the future, Exelis is working on the ability to push visual information to night-vision goggles as an overlay that lets the soldier see the critical information without having to pull out a handheld device.

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