Army inspects open architecture

Openwings, an information architecture being developed for the US Army and expected to revolutionise battlefield command, control and communications, faces a challenging hurdle today when the technology is demonstrated to the Army's V Corps commander in Europe.

The architecture could also be a leap toward what some call pervasive computing, in which cars, household appliances and an array of other products become connected to the Internet.

Motorola and Sun Microsystems are developing Openwings for the Army and will demonstrate a prototype to Lt. Gen. James Riley today as part of a week-long conference on Army digitisation.

"For this demonstration, we took a narrower focus and looked at some initial, short-term things that can be done to solve some of their problems," said Motorola's Guy Bieber, lead architect for effort. "We're looking at how systems can come together with no administration."

One key element of the architecture is that it will allow forces to spontaneously add new hardware and software without reconfiguring the entire network.

The architecture provides a network of three grids - a sensor grid, a command and control grid and an engagement grid - tied together via a distributed information network known as an information grid.

The concept calls for individual elements to automatically join a grid and start producing information for other elements in the grid. For example, if an unmanned aerial vehicle sensor flies into a specific mission area, it would automatically be registered within the sensor grid as a provider of services, such as infrared sensor data.

Once the architecture - which is designed to support distributed command, control, communications, computer and intelligence operations - infiltrates the Army, industry sources hope it will spread across the Defense Department and, ultimately, dominate the commercial sector as well.

Today's demonstration is important, according to Army and industry sources, because - if successful - it will prove the viability of the concept on the battlefield. The demonstration will include having devices join a network at random without prior planning or setup.

"This is an important demonstration because it will show how this technology and approach can help solve some interoperability problems," said David Usechak, Army product manager for common software in the program executive office for C3 systems. "[The next step will be] to continue developing the architecture and approach. Hopefully, the companies involved can get some support to continue this effort."

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