Last summer the Army made a big move toward forging a common operating picture when the Program Executive Office folded Project Manager Joint Battle Command-Platform into Project Manager Mission Command.

The combined entity has gotten off to a strong start, said COL Michael Thurston, PM, Mission Command. "We have created some great efficiencies over the past year not only in contracting but also system engineering and development, and we are really looking forward to the common operating environment and how we can make our systems more capable and easy to use for the soldiers," he said.

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Thurston spoke at a C4ISR & Networks video roundtable, joined by several members of his team: LTC Michael Olmstead, PdM, Joint Battle Command-Platform; LTC Shane Taylor, PdM, Tactical Mission Command; and LTC Timothy Gearhart, PdM, Strategic Mission Command.

At its heart, PM Mission Command focuses on the warfighter experience and the need to simplify systems usage on the ground, said Olmstead of Joint Battle Command-Platform (JBC-P).

"One of the things we really focused on for JBC-P is the intuitiveness and the user interface that the operator sees, the ability to clear out the screen, declutter the screen," Olmstead said. "They turn on the system, it works. It's easy to use. It's intuitive. They don't have to go through multiple menu instructions to find that they need."

Planners want to improve systems in part by opening up development on the commonly available Android platform. That makes it possible for a wider range of developers to create software solutions. In the meantime, Olmstead is turning to end users for further input. "We are looking to get as much feedback as we can," he said.

The effort to forge simplified, common usage scenarios goes beyond the immediate needs of soldiers on the ground. As the Army operates on the international front, it also is seeking global command and control systems that will allow optimum interoperability with coalition command, said Gearhart.

In an ideal system, each partner would be able to populate one another's data sets with relative ease. A user group of 27 nations already meets quarterly to achieve that end. "We make sure that all of our systems will interoperate, we follow the same architecture standards," Gearhart said. The ability to leverage such data could give commanders in the field greater options, he said. But there are challenges to getting there. For example, any system will have to include comprehensive storing and labeling capabilities to indicate classifications and what can be released.

As planners consider issues of interoperability and data sharing on the front lines, they also are looking for ways in which commanders may be most readily able to access that data for use in real time.

The PM Mission Command team has another task at hand: the development of the "command post of the future," as Tactical Mission Command's Taylor described it. In the past 10 years, the Army has fielded some 20,000 systems. Now it is time to migrate tactical applications and new capabilities onto a common framework.

This merging of information will create an opportunity to port data across common user interfaces, to ensure users share the same picture regardless of their places in the user chain. The Army won't be able to make that happen on its own.

"There are certainly new technologies coming out every day to help us," Taylor said. "We want to be able to work with industry to come up with designs that allow us the most flexibility, the most modularity, so that as industry comes out with a new capability, we will have the ability to rapidly integrate that into our existing framework."