As the Army moves away from a fragmented approach to development, leaders want to bring multiple systems together. In a perfect world, everything would be interoperable, but to get there, engineers need to start with an interoperable development environment.

“The Army does very well in fielding programs on a case-by-case basis, but as it moves toward a system-of-systems construction, it doesn’t have the ability to test in that way,” said Sherri Bystrowski, acting director, Army Common Operating Environment (COE).

A new testing methodology known as the Federated Integration Environment, or FIE, aims to close that gap.

The initial construct will connect researchers at Aberdeen Proving Ground and the Central Technical Support Facility at Fort Hood, Texas. Plans called for Red Stone Arsenal, Fort Belvoir and the Army Training and Doctrine Command Battle Labs at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to eventually be tied into the system as well.

The need for shared testing capabilities grows in large measure from the rise of Army’s COE. Army documents describe COE as “a new playbook for how Army IT products are built and deployed,” with the aim being simplification and integration across a range of systems.

“COE brings systems into a common infrastructure, migrating them from legacy standalone systems into software applications,” Bystrowski said. “It means reduced training, because every soldier sees the same types of information. It reduces error. It reduces cyber risk.”

To reap those benefits, developers of Army systems need to be able to test their capabilities against those of other existing and emerging systems. That’s what FIE aims to enable.

“We are building a virtual testing architecture,” said Scott Newman, program director, Systems Engineering and Integration for the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center Space and Terrestrial Communications Directorate. Within that architecture, developers will be looking to put their tools through the paces in a rigorous way. This isn’t just a sterile environment for making sure code works: It’s a rough and rugged test environment designed to mimic the trials of war.

“We want to test like we fight,” he said. “That means we don’t just connect all the labs and start testing. There needs to be a representative architecture with the right transport mechanisms, the proper delay, the proper throughputs. In a tactical setting we don’t have unlimited bandwidth, so we want to take that into account in how we test.”

This means, among other things, that the test network must be able to mimic challenged cyber conditions. “Sensors may need to send information at the secret level, so I have got make sure the test link they use to send data to another lab is at the secret level, and the other lab would have to be at the proper security posture to receive that data,” Newman said.

The planners envision a wide range of command-and-control systems being tested across the shared architecture. These might include command post logistics systems, fires applications, blue force tracking, chat systems, location tracking, a range of sensor inputs and other diverse mission command systems.

Within the cyber realm, planners also are concerned about the possibility that test data flowing between geographically disparate military facilities could be vulnerable to interception.

To address this, they have employed the Joint Mission Environment Test Capability. This Defense Department-wide capability serves as a tunneling package, allowing system designers to layer multiple levels of security onto their network. “I could run a test that is unclassified and I can run a test that is secret, and I can do that all at the same time,” Newman said.

Once it’s fully operational the new testing environment should help move Army toward its goal of systems that work together seamlessly. “Before COE the program managers focused on just meeting their individual requirements,” Newman said. “Now that there are interoperability requirements, there is much more collaboration that needs to happen.”

The net result should be systems that are not only easier to use, but also more resilient in an increasingly challenged electronic environment. “If you have everything on one standard, it’s like having a house with just one door,” Bystrowski said. “Everyone knows where the door is and everyone can protect it. There’s no window in the back that increases your vulnerability.”