Rapid app response: Marines to embed development teams with deployed units

The Marine Corps is fleshing out a service-oriented architecture approach to help provide its deployed forces with rapidly developed command-and-control applications.

The Marine Corps is developing a new process to create and support applications and network services for its deployed forces. The capability is designed to allow warfighters to request and access software tools wherever they are, from bandwidth-rich headquarters facilities in the United States to forward operating bases on the thin edges of the network.

A key goal of the service’s Expeditionary Software Development System is to deploy technical teams to develop applications to support Marine Corps users in the field, said Col. Peter Reddy, director of Product Group 11 at the Marine Corps Systems Command in Quantico, Va.

This new capability will make use of service-oriented architectures to move away from proprietary program stovepipes and to align the corp's various programs together so that they interoperate, Reddy said Jan. 25 at the IDGA Network Enabled Operations conference in Alexandria, Va. The combined programs will ultimately interoperate with broader Defense Department-wide SOA efforts, he said.

Before ESDS, individual commanders traditionally hired local developers to build software applications for them, Reddy said. However, the details about the specific necessity of those processes were often lost when the commanders who commissioned them rotated to new positions, he said.

The goal of ESDS’ rapid response integration process is to create a network of development teams that are either sent out centrally from Quantico or embedded with deployed units. These teams will develop applications to support immediate warfighter requirements, but Reddy said they will be connected back to the enterprise, organizationally and institutionally for oversight. “We really think this is going to be a key tenet of what we’re going to do,” he said.

One example of this process is chat, an important function for units in forward operating bases. Reddy said Marines must currently cut and paste chat comments from one application into another, which is very inefficient. By analyzing the workflow, the command is revising the process to allow chat information to automatically post to the center of a tactical operations center’s battle command display with a journal log below it.

The revised chat capability will be ready in the next six months, Reddy said. He added that although the modified chat capability is not revolutionary, it is tailored for a unit’s specific workflow and environment.

The services developed by units in the field and the support teams will become incorporated into the Marine Corps' main software baseline. Among the capabilities the service is preparing is a Marine Corps application store/software resource center. This is not intended to compete with the Army’s app stores or Forge.mil, Reddy said. Instead, the applications store’s purpose is to provide the service with a better understanding of the types of applications that are in demand and being developed by Marines.

One key challenge is to understand how to manage applications and related services. “What is a user need? How do we work the certification and security for somebody who wants to apply and get an app?” he said.

The Marine Corps software resource center/apps store may only last a few years and then be replaced by a DOD or joint system, or it may remain, providing applications unique to the Marine Corps, Reddy said. “This is a part of that rapid response integration — distributed users with engineering rigor developing capability close to the user and then making those available to the enterprise through this resource center,” he said.

To help deployed forces, Reddy envisions rapid-response integration teams embedded at the battalion and regiment echelons. There might also be some higher-level work at the Marine Expeditionary Force or command level keeping track of and coordinating the unit-level work. All of these efforts would be tied back to Quantico.

The current focus is on tactical and ground-centric systems, but the Marine Corps is also working with supporting aviation capabilities. The goal of this work is to be interoperable with other SOA efforts in the Marine Corps, the other services and DOD. “This framework allows it to be rapidly scaleable across a variety of C2 applications,” Reddy said.

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