When a missile is launched against an enemy target, it would be nice to have a lot of good information about that target. But when "decision makers push the fire button, they may have very little data, and sometimes not timely enough data," said Col. Rob Rasch Jr., project manager, Integrated Air and Missile Defense Project Office, or IAMD, at Redstone Arsenal, Ala. "Nowhere in the current Army architecture is there a way to share information from all of our various sensors and weapons to have better integrated coverage," he pointed out, referring to situational awareness for those operating Patriot and other missile defense systems like those used for short-range air defense.

J. Michael Achord, deputy project manager, Integrated Air and Missile Defense Project Office, Redstone Arsenal, Ala., stands in front of the engagement operation center and the integrated collaborative environment outside the Pentagon. (Photo: David Vergun)

His team is working hard with industry to improve the battlefield site picture and the key to doing that, he said, is user-friendly software that soldiers refer to as the "common warfighter machine interface to the integrated air and missile defense battle command system." That software will be easier to use and as the name suggests, will provide a common interface for users, he said. Now, soldiers need to be trained on multiple software systems depending on which missile system or radar they are operating, he said. That costs time and money, commodities the Army has little of today.

Rasch said systems today have provided great capability for the Army, but technology has advanced and soldiers demand modern interfaces. Additionally, with the prevalence of information from sensors that are currently not integrated, he stated the Army can do better in providing that information in a relevant manner for decision makers to make timely and accurate decisions on whether to engage or not. The new technology will be a lot more user friendly and intuitive, he said, because it's being user tested, in some cases user designed, and it has the look and feel of a video game.

The overall program including hardware and software should also provide savings to the Army as almost 400 pieces of legacy hardware in the form of major end items can be removed from the Army's inventory. It costs a lot to upgrade hardware on equipment that's 30 to 40 years old. New radars, relays and other systems that come online will be network "plug and play" ready with one compatible system. The new software is still in the developmental stage. Development testing begins in fiscal year 2015, with limited user testing in early fiscal year 2016. The first units should get equipped by fiscal year 2017 and by fiscal year 2018, initial operating capability could be achieved.

Mike Achord, deputy project manager, IAMD project office, recently showcased some of the new equipment, including the integrated fire control network relay, engagement operation center and the integrated collaborative environment. He pointed out that those are three main components associated with integrated air missile defense and while they look like beefy hunks of metals sprouting antennas, it's the software and hardware inside of them that's the enabling capability for a true integrated air and missile defense capability.

The integrated fire control network relay functions as a transmitter/receiver that extends the commander's capability, enabling better flexibility in employment of sensors and weapons. They are small and can easily get around just about anywhere being pulled by a Humvee. Besides attaching sensors to the relay, a Patriot launcher could also be attached to the relay via fiber optic cable or radio frequency communications. The engagement operation center contains racks of servers and other communications gear mounted on a Family of Medium Tactical Vehicle truck. It can do what a relay can do but much more, providing a common command post environment for all air and missile defense echelons. Typically found nearby the engagement operation center and connected to it will be the integrated collaborative environment, which are basically tents with work stations set up for about a dozen soldiers. Each operator at a work station can pull up his or her function, which is called a "role-based login." That means logistics officers or fire- control officers will see on their monitors stuff they need to know and actions they need to perform specific to their duties.

Recently, Achord said a group of Soldiers from Fort Bragg, N.C., stopped by to test drive the equipment with the new software. "They picked it up quickly," he said, predicting that "it will revolutionize the way we train and fight."