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Army upgrading command and control, fires support

January 4, 2017 (Photo Credit: Capt. John DePinto/U.S. Army)
The Army announced this week it has awarded Leidos a contract for the next iteration of its Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System (AFATDS), a command and control software system used to coordinate fires.

The $98 million, three-year AFATDS 7.0 contract will lead to “significant upgrades” for the system, which commanders use to plan, coordinate and control mortars, field artillery cannons, rockets, guided missiles, close air support and other activities, according to the Army’s Program Executive Office Command Control Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T).

The Army is looking to modernize the underlying system architecture and also the user interface, according to information provided by PEO C3T. The next iteration will also incorporate advanced training technologies, with operator-initiated system instructions and embedded refresher training.

The enhanced system will mesh more seamlessly with other Army technologies by integrating into the Common Operating Environment, an initiative intended to transition standalone warfighting capabilities into integrated software applications.

In a 2015 interview with C4ISRNET, then-Project Manager for Mission Command Col. Michael Thurston described AFATDS as a key component in Army’s battlefield interoperability efforts.

“The whole principle of unified data is that all are using and sharing the common data,” Thurston said. “So if AFATDS brings in a piece of information, that can be used for [the command post] or an intel system. You get that fusion of intel and ops data in one unified database. We have to synchronize that data.”

First launched in 1981, AFATDS interoperates with Army and Marine Corps systems, and can interface with Navy and Air Force. More than 4,000 systems operate today in an effort to forge a common operational picture and synchronize fires support.

AFATDS is used “in all U.S. Army echelons from weapons platoon to corps and in the Marine Corps from firing battery to Marine Expeditionary Forces,” according to Raytheon, a contractor on the program. AFATDS also is installed aboard the U.S. Navy LHA/LHD Class big deck amphibious ships in support of Expeditionary Strike Groups (ESGs) for amphibious operations.

Marine Corps documentation credits AFATDS with giving a commander “the flexibility to determine what weapon systems to employ in shaping and dominating his battle space,” noting that AFATDS “greatly enhances the interchange of tactical data between all…tactical command and control systems through the use of graphics, common operating applications, and communications.”

The Army said is it seeking significant enhancements in the next iteration.

“AFATDS 7.0 represents a vital change in the Army's system for automated fires support,” Col. Troy Crosby, the Army's project manager for Mission Command, said in a press release. “The redesigned user interface, role-based functionality and embedded training will provide critical ease of use improvements for soldiers and reduce training times substantially.”

The pending upgrades aim to enhance a C2 system that already has been well-received by field commanders. In a fall 2016 publication, leaders from the Army’s field artillery branch describe how recent improvements to AFATDS “dramatically improve integration of organic and joint targeting sensors and effective data sharing of Army and joint mission command systems. This will enable the targeting process and fire support planning to deliver accurate and timely fires in support of the commander’s scheme of maneuver.” 

The AFATDS 7.0 software upgrade is expected to begin fielding in fiscal year 2020, PEO C3T reports.
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