Army networking soars with Openwings

Openwings, an information architecture being developed for the Army and

expected to revolutionize battlefield command and control, has passed a

challenging hurdle.

Following a successful demonstration of Openwings to V Corps officials

in Europe July 28, Army officials hope they have found the solution to fielding

the behemoth Army Command and Control System.

The system is composed of several command and control systems lashed

together. "We're...using a lot of commercial stuff that doesn't always work

well in a dynamic field environment," said David Usechak, Army product manager

for common software in the program executive office for command, control

and communications systems. "We have people joining or leaving a network

randomly, with no pre-planning. It's not a typical office environment; the

tactical environment is not that clean or easy."

Furthermore, network setup and operation are sometimes too complicated

for the average soldier, and the systems that make up the Command and Control

System were not originally designed to interface with one another.

"It appears [Openwings] is providing a significant number of answers

to that problem," Usechak said.

Openwings, which is being developed by Motorola Inc. and Sun Microsystems

Inc., uses a combination of Java programming language and Jini — software

that seeks to simplify the connection of devices — to form a service-based

architecture for robust, self-healing networks. That architecture provides

a framework that allows devices to be plugged together to form an ad hoc

community.

The V Corps demonstration included two Sun workstations running the

Java and Jini combination. Capabilities demonstrated included:

* Bringing laptops running Unix or Microsoft Corp. Windows NT into the

network without prior planning or setup.

* Enabling wireless communications between laptops and the network.

* Transmitting voice over IP.

The advantages of such an architecture include greater interoperability

among the military services, better ease-of-use and more flexiblility. For

example, if one server goes down, the network will automatically locate

another one, which ensures seamless service to the user, "even though behind

the scenes, there are all sorts of gyrations going on," Usechak said.

"The demonstration pointed out the robustness of this technology, and

how easy in one sense it is to take and start plugging together various

types of hardware and software and to make it work," he said.

Although the companies' successful demonstration of the prototype won't

make or break the effort, Usechak said he hopes it will help persuade Army

and other service officials to provide funding for further development.

"For next year, we know the Army will provide some money to Motorola

to keep this work moving forward, but we don't know yet how much. We're

hoping for about $1 million," Usechak said, adding that the service hopes

to provide some units with an initial capability within the next 20 months.

Industry sources say they hope Openwings will be adopted throughout

DOD and the commercial sector, resulting in a world in which everyday household

items are wired to the Internet. This so-called pervasive computing concept

may also be applicable to the battlefield, according to Chris Yonclas, technical

manager for systems architecture and integration at Mitre Corp., a nonprofit

corporation that offers expertise to the federal government.

Theoretically, the architecture could be implemented right down to the

level of the individual soldier — providing, for example, readily available

information for the maintenance of individual vehicles, Yonclas said.

"I've really been looking more at the upper echelons, on making it easy

for the normal warfighter to do these things without being a computer scientist,"

Yonclas said. "There is potential to carry it down to the individual soldier,

but there are other problems with that, as far as weight and power."

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