A map has been the commander’s steadfast strategic planning tool on just about any battlefield throughout history.
In recent years however, the map has evolved to embrace digital networking technology and allow commanders – regardless of their physical location – to share information in real time and collaborate with other leaders on a common operating picture (COP) of the battlefield.
Command Post of the Future (CPOF) is the U.S. Army system that pulls it all together.
"CPOF is the standard on how to do mission command in tactical Army units," Lt. Col. Tom Bentzel, the Army’s product manager for Tactical Mission Command (PdM TMC), said.
Adding, "It’s the main tool used in commanders’ daily update briefs across the Army. It works so well because all the data is live and shared in real-time. We call it ‘WYSIWIS’ or ‘what-you-see-is-what-I-see.’ That concept was revolutionary when CPOF came out, and is still very powerful."
First introduced by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 2004 and adopted by the Army under the Maneuver Control System (now Tactical Mission Command) program of record in 2006, CPOF continues to provide that all-important COP.
Over 17,000 CPOF units have now been fielded to active Army, National Guard and Army Reserve units.
In Operation Enduring Freedom, CPOF-equipped units are able to plot real-time tactical efforts like firefights on a three-dimensional map, and instantly see the updates that staff members make to those efforts.
They can generate pre-formatted orders to supporting units, coordinate the movements of those units using chat and voice-over-internet-protocol (VOIP), and add charts and photographs to improve everyone’s understanding of the situation on the ground.
But like any good technology, CPOF is continuing its evolution.
"CPOF is the workhorse that’s going to support our forces for the immediate future," Bentzel said.
Adding, "We’ve got capabilities in the field that are working, serving the soldiers and meeting their needs. Of course we also continue to modernize our forces and give them the latest and greatest capabilities we can build."
CPOF is the primary COP viewer used by the Army in all theaters, combining feeds from different mission command systems to provide a broad spectrum of information that commanders and staff members can use to collaborate.
It includes the ability to draw and highlight on the map, while showing enemy forces in red and friendly forces in blue via a feed from the friendly force tracking system Force XXI Battle Command Brigade-and-Below/Blue Force Tracking (FBCB2/BFT).
During the recent Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) 12.2, the third in a series of semi-annual field evaluations designed to quickly integrate and assess the Army’s tactical communications network, soldiers operated CPOF to collaborate across multiple, distant stations in real time and continuously.
Now, with two new releases, CPOF is streamlining the next generation of mission command applications to provide the commander with capabilities that enhance performance and versatility while simultaneously reducing system complexity.
This winter, Tactical Mission Command will release CPOF 6.2, offering new capabilities through use of a third-party development kit that allows other warfighting functions to build their own features into the system, creating customized forms, frames and entities.
With this latest version, CPOF can more easily exchange maps and graphics with other systems like the Distributed Common Ground System-Army (DCGS-A), including reaching out to larger map-sets loaded on a server instead of on the local client computer.
It also provides an updated time-saving capability, Personalized Assistant that Learns (PAL), which gives CPOF users the ability to teach the system how to do routine information management tasks such as creating "SPOT" reports or storyboards and then trigger the execution of those tasks based on conditions users set.
Next fall, the command will unveil CPOF 7.0, providing a next-generation architecture that enables entire theaters of operation to collaborate on a single distributed data repository with thousands of CPOF users.
A new interface will also make CPOF more user-friendly and modern.
This 7.0 architecture also provides a much-anticipated "disconnected, intermittent, limited" (DIL) capability, allowing individuals and units to disconnect from the network, continue to conduct mission command operations using CPOF, and then reconnect and resynchronize with the repository.
DIL capabilities provide uninterrupted operations in the event of a network outage or the requirement to rapidly relocate a Tactical Operations Center (TOC).
"I’m excited to get these new versions out there in the field," Bentzel said.
Adding, "With CPOF 6.2 we’re fielding several software upgrades that will enhance its ability to integrate and synchronize operations. With 7.0 we’re improving the user experience, giving them the ability to seamlessly connect and reconnect, and giving other programs more flexibility to build visualizations within CPOF to suit their specific needs.
"Not to mention adding scalability to accommodate thousands of users. That could change the way we deploy the system across operational theaters or even the entire Army."
But PdM TMC, assigned to Project Manager, Mission Command and the Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical, is looking beyond even CPOF 7.0 towards the Army’s Common Operating Environment (COE).
Focused on a new acquisition model, COE allows engineers to contribute smaller applications to the network rather than having to build a completely new system.
The power of collaboration was embraced early-on through CPOF technology, bringing in separate warfighting functions to build a common picture, in real time.
"CPOF started the process to bring in data from all these sources and allow warfighting functions to come into one environment so commanders could do what they used to do around a map," Maj. Shane Sims, the assistant product manager for TMC, said.
Adding, "We’re trying to bring everyone back around the map, but in a digital world."
While CPOF is currently delivered as a complete "thick client" package including computer hardware through its workstation of three screens and a computer, a "thin client" web version is in development that offers similar functionality for any user with access to the Army’s tactical network.
Known as Command Post Web, it utilizes the ozone widget framework (a common government-owned framework) where developers can create applications – similar to how apps are developed for smartphones – to provide commanders with a complete COP.
These widgets provide three-dimensional views for operational and intelligence awareness for ground and air reporting, field artillery planning, logistics, alerts and incident reporting.
Several of these widgets will be fielded as part of Capability Set (CS) 13 with CPOF 6.2 and 7.0.
CS 13 is the Army’s first package of radios, satellite systems, software applications, Smartphone-like devices and other network components that provides integrated connectivity from the static TOC to the commander on-the-move to the dismounted soldier.
In the future, these widget capabilities could exist on a tablet or handheld.
"Take away the laptop and three screens and CPOF is software. And what we’re doing is evolving the capabilities of CPOF," said Sims.
"We’re making it more open so it’s easier for third party developers to interface with it. So with CPOF in the future, the hardware is irrelevant to the software behind it," he added.
Command Post Web was evaluated this fall at NIE 13.1.
"The simple click required to obtain situational awareness from overlaying, pop-up icons was a hit among decision makers," Chief Warrant Officer 2 Mark A. Smith, 2nd Brigade,1st Armored Division, who used the system during NIE 12.2.
"CPOF is a great stationary COP, but when we needed to set up in a hurry, Command Web allowed us to bring our workstations online and utilize the expandable desktop to mimic CPOF’s functionality," he added.
In the wake of recent updates to Army doctrine and a renewed emphasis on mission command from uniformed leaders in the Department of Defense, there is much value in upgrading and evolving CPOF and Command Post Web.
"Soldiers do not wait patiently for us to produce new capability," said Bentzel. "Technology changes fast, and so does the tactical environment. It’s our job to keep up."