An Interview with Major General Campbell,
Program Executive Officer,
Command, Control, and Communications Systems, U.S. Army

By Kathryn DeNitto, DCE Technology Manager, Open Software Foundation

Major General Campbell
"The DCE product line ... will be
integrated not just within the Army
but within all of the global command
and control systems that are being
sponsored by the DOD."

Q Why did the U.S. Army choose DCE (Distributed Computing Environment)?

A The Army has a requirement to digitize the battlefield. In our current parlance, digitizing the battlefield means providing our war fighters modern computer technology (hardware and software) and communication systems. Our intent is to provide commanders, their staffs and individual soldiers with systems they need to operate inside the enemy commander's decision cycle.

Historically, we put together systems that were vertical in nature - some called them "Stove Pipes" - which addressed a specific function like intelligence or operations or fire support or resource management. But a commander needs to integrate data from multiple heterogeneous systems so that he can see a common picture of the battlefield - see his disposition and the enemy's disposition, see the status of his resources, see the status of his fire support systems - and orchestrate and manage all of those war fighting systems, using the data that's available from all of his command and control systems. He has a requirement for tools that allow him to ask unanticipated questions and to integrate data in real time so he can make intuitive judgments on how to deploy and employ his forces.

We have made a commitment to use commercial technology (both hardware and software). We've made a commitment to build an architecture that will provide battle commanders and soldiers with consistent tools that can be used across the full spectrum of war. And we've made a commitment to use products that are mainstream - mainstream within the technology that the commercial industry is employing - so that we can leverage the investment that commercial industry has made.

Q How did the activities in the commercial sector influence your decision?

A In trying to build a system that integrates data from multiple sources, we looked at what industry was doing and determined that the client/server architecture being built by industry was consistent with the Army's needs on the battlefield. To provide systems that would allow a commander to ask for and receive data in near real-time, we chose to use DCE products as part of our architecture (as part of our middleware). We looked for tools commanders could use now - tools that would grow and evolve in the future as industry makes advances in their product lines - tools that would allow users to employ a GUI to point and click on an icon and activate client/server software to generate the desired purpose.

We have determined through a study of commercial products that the DCE technology provides us the tools we need for the commanders and their staffs to integrate and correlate information that is retrieved from heterogeneous systems on the battlefield.

And as we build our Army battle command architecture for the future, it is our intent to use DCE as part of our infrastructure to provide the tool kit that the commanders can use anywhere on battlefield to access information from a full range of systems extending from servers running on high capacity workstations in command centers through the 486 and the Pentium-based laptops that are used by individual soldiers. That's the context and rationale for choosing DCE.

Q Government procurements demand vendor neutrality. How does DCE fit the bill?

A Yes, vendor neutrality is very important to us. We will build systems in the future based on open systems architecture concepts. We will go out on competitive solicitations to industry and we will procure industry products that meet the open systems architecture guidelines. Then we'll insert this technology into fielded systems.

It's important to us as we implement DCE that we have vendor neutral software that can be implemented across the full range of workstations and PCs that will be deployed on the battle field. The Army systems and those deployed by our sister services must be able to interoperate in a joint and combined environment, because that's how we'll conduct military operations in the future.

Q Explain how DCE meets your interoperability and scalability needs.

A DCE provides us with the capability to interoperate across heterogeneous platforms and to operate with platforms that vary in their capacity.

The Army may choose to buy systems from one vendor, the Navy or Air Force from another, and within a service there may be systems that are provided by multiple vendors. We must have the capability to interoperate across all of the systems, whether they are new systems to be procured in the future or whether they are legacy systems that are part of the suite of command and control systems that are used by our war fighters.

It's important that that same software can be used across a range of platforms that extend from laptop class devices operated by individual soldiers or embedded in weapons platforms, to the high performance RISC processors that we are employing in our operation centers. We use the scalability features of DCE to achieve commonality across platforms. Its client/server features allow us to distribute processes across a network in a manner consistent with various hardware environments.

Q How large is the scope of the DCE project?

A DCE is part of the architecture that we'll be using in each and every one of our command and control systems worldwide.

Q Is this a combined Department of Defense (DOD) and Army commitment?

A We're working with the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), and the other services on a "common operating environment" (common hardware, common software) - an architectural infrastructure based on industry standards which will be common on systems used by the Army and other services as well.

The war we fought in Desert Storm was characterized as joint warfare and coalition warfare. We will probably never go to war again as an individual army. The whole concept, the whole doctrine, is joint warfare, and, in order to accommodate interoperability horizontally across forces as well as vertically within the forces, we have to have a common environment and a common infrastructure. In building the common operating environment, the Army is in lockstep with the Defense Department and is providing software modules for DOD's common operating environment.

A key feature that has been chosen to be part of that common operating environment is the DCE product line, which will be integrated not just within the Army but within all of the global command and control systems that are being sponsored by the DOD and implemented by DISA.

Q How would the DCE system aid a soldier in the field?

A From an operational perspective, it is really important that deployed soldiers have the ability to access the computing power and databases that reside in local or remote workstations. DCE provides us with the capability to allow an individual soldier with a workstation or low-end device embedded within his or her weapon platform to access the databases that reside on the higher-end servers and RISC processors. It permits commanders and staffs to integrate functions horizontally.

Q Would you describe a specific application?

A Let me give you an example of how we would use DCE across different systems in a Tactical Operations Center. The Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System develops the fire support plan. As the fire support planner is doing his job, he requires access to information on the logistics support posture. So using DCE's client/server environment, he would have access to resource information on such things as fuel, ammunition and fuses which is available in the Combat Service Support Control System. Conversely, the logistician operating the Combat Service Support Control System needs access to what the fire support planner is doing so he can concurrently develop his logistic support plan. DCE enables those planners to synchronize their activities and to operate on a shorter cycle time because each has access to the other's data and plans. That access is achieved by way of the client/server architecture that's provided by DCE.

Q How does the choice of DCE figure into your future plans?

A In our decision to use DCE, we have made the assumption that as DCE evolves it will remain backwards compatible with our legacy systems - and as DCE expands we will import new capabilities from the commercial sector.

It is vitally important that the Army stay in synch with the commercial world, and as industry evolves into object-oriented technology, the Army will follow industry. We are counting on DCE to serve as the baseline for the implementation of object-oriented technology within our war fighting systems. And, we are counting on the DCE community to bring those tools to us so that we can implement object-oriented technology without having to go through a major retrofit of our systems, or without having to go through a redo of our investment strategy. I expect to continue using DCE as long as it remains a mainstream commercial standard that provides responsive support to our war fighters. We'll be active participants with standards groups to help make the future versions of DCE even better than today's.