Army Integrates Computers for Improved Processing

By Captain Jeffrey S. Poulin, USA

 

The Army has launched an extensive effort to bring all of its computing assets into a unified framework.Readily accessible databases and a network predicated on a three-tier architecture will allow efficient access to a range of information serving both policy-level and user requirements.


The goal of the Department of the Army headquarters is an integrated architecture of application software, data, hardware and communications supporting the decision making process.Users need faster processing of common computing functions and access to Army databases from all Army computers, including personal computers.

 

In June1987, only 1 percent of the Armyís personal computer population was connected to a military network.The decision support plan underway includes a strategy for networking all command computers, and the plan supports the overall Army information architecture.

 

The three-tier hardware structure incorporates personal computers on local area networks in the lowest tier and large installation mainframe computers and regional computers in the upper tiers.Networking allows local production of unit level requirements, such as text processing, freeing the post main frame for larger, more computation-intensive jobs.

 

The software that comprises the Army decision support system is based on common software called installation support modules.These modules provide each Army post with a standardized automation capability.Proper distribution of the automation workload further optimizes these functions.

 

The Computing Network

The architecture and composition of Army information resources is called the Army information mission area.This mission area is divided into automation, telecommunications, records management, visual information and printing/publication and covers the theater/tactical environment, the strategic environment and the sustaining base environment.The effort underway deals primarily with automation as it affects the sustaining base environment.

 

The Army Information Systems Command oversees the integration of Army computer resources; however, the Army Training and Doctrine Command is responsible for information systems and planning in the theater/tactical environment.Each branch of the military develops systems to support its specific battlefield mission, such as field artillery, but the Training and Doctrine Command coordinates the efforts and ensures that all systems support a unified framework.

 

Recognizing the need for a strong computing foundation from which to plan information systems for the field, in July 1987 former commander of the Training and Doctrine Command, Gen. M.R. Thurman, USA, called for a unified decision support framework for the commandís installations.The challenge was to make the lead in implementing automated systems for command and control and in connecting all end user terminals in the command to the decision support system network.Within a month of Gen. Thurmanís call, the commandís decision support system team publishes a prototype plan for a decision support system.

 

Architecture

The three-tier grouping reflects the power of the machine and the level of management it supports.On the lowest level are user systems, such as personal computers and terminals, which are found in administrative offices and at the unit level.To achieve optimal sharing of resources in the office or unite and to support inter-office communications, these machines can be networked using a local area network, such as Ethernet or a token-ring protocol.

 

The second tier of the Army computer network, the organizational or installation computer system, is typically serviced by a single mainframe computer on each Army post.This computer works closely with personal computers and terminals.The post main frame provides software for users throughout the organization and houses a common database for post requirements.The software installation support modules are found at this level.

 

The final tier comprises the regional service centers and collectively forms a worldwide decision support network.These centers ensure common access to standard systems and provide maximum access to computing resources and data throughout the Army.

 

The three tiers of the network architecture are designed to provide full function interoperability.The capabilities of any computer on the network, including data, programs, electronic mail and military documents, will be available to any connected user.The network will allow more processing to be done locally, thereby reducing the workload on higher-level machines.For example, most office message traffic is between workers in the same office or unit.By connecting these workers with a local area network, messages and files will not have to be transferred through the post mainframe computer.Distributed processing increases fault tolerance or resistance to system failure.If a machine on the network, including the post mainframe, crashes, the problem has a minimal effect on the other resources.

Workstation Strategy

To aid this decision support system network, the Army Training and Doctrine Command issued a workstation strategy.The first part of this strategy addresses the connection of currently owned computer terminals and personal computers into the decision support system network backbone.This effort involves procuring the necessary hardware (network interface cards, cable and so forth) and establishing local area networks and connections to the post machines.Connections at this level now are virtually complete.

 

The second part details the kinds of machines that will be procured in the future.The decision support system will require faster machines, high-level graphics and multitasking capabilities.

 

The workstation architecture dictates that the current XT and AT classes of personal computers should no longer be purchased.Instead, the architecture calls for procurement of machines supporting high-level workstation graphics and multitasking.To the casual user, these machines will function in a manner similar to current personal computers, except that they will be faster and will have better graphics.Internally, the micro channel architecture and more powerful UNIX-based operating system they use will make them much more efficient in a heterogeneous environment where hardware and software from different vendors may be operating.

Installation Support Modules

The premise central to the Army information mission area is that information is a common, shared resource.Installation support modules are standardized software packages that perform tasks common to most Army posts.These modules help to automate installation activities and provide a common basis for post database structure.

 

The software incorporates standard automated procedures into functional modules that integrate day-to-day processes on an installation.Module routines share data with other modules through common databases and interface with the standard Army management information system at installation level.As such, they are the shared software that supports the organizational or installation level of the Army computing network.

 

The 29 modules currently available were designed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.All modules are installed at Fort Sill, and some have been in use for more than six years.By design, the modules share data.For example, in /out processing stations use and update the military personnel database.This database also is used for medical records tracking, the post locator, reassignments, records management and other functions.The central military personnel database eliminates redundant data, reduces errors caused by inconsistent data and provides accurate and timely information to users throughout the facility.

 

Currently available software includes these modules: post locator, in-processing, out-processing, records management, reassignments, orders, officer record brief, vehicle registration, employee training, travel, disbursing, property book, reception, work order management, audiovisual, security, manpower accounting and budget.

 

Fielding of the software modules is moving rapidly.Programmers have rewritten and enhanced the original Fort Sill modules, and evaluators are now completing testing at Fort Gordon, Georgia.Fort Gordon currently has 19 of a projected 28 modules running on the post, including the modules for dental tracking, in-processing, officer records brief, orders, out-processing, post locator, records inquiry, and personnel reassignment.The personal computer and mainframe level hardware installation for the software was completed in March 1989, and the software acceptance test was held in June of that year.The three-week software acceptance test generated feedback on problem areas and on necessary improvements.The Training and Doctrine Command decision support system team and installation module programmers then began evaluating and improving the software based on user comments.Now most of the modules are fully functional and have been fielded at Training and Doctrine Command installations worldwide.

 

Capt. Jeffrey S. Poulin, Ph.D., USA, is a decision support systems officer, Army Training and Doctrine Command integrated systems team, and is a member of the AFCEA Augusta-Fort Gordon Chapter.