Battlefield knowledge management

We are all familiar with the frustration of a fruitless Internet search, where querying a seemingly simple topic returns a laundry list of enormous documents that must be downloaded just to find one piece of information.

Now picture the frustration of executing such a search not over a broadband link in your home or office, but instead over a slow speed link as a solider deployed in a hostile forward area, under pressure and time constraints to gather critical information in preparation for battle.

The Army may have found a solution by implementing a Battle Command Knowledge System (BCKS) to improve soldiers' abilities to search the Army's Warrior Knowledge Base (WKB). The system is based on MarkLogic Server, an XML-based content platform designed to allow for granular database searches, efficient document delivery, and knowledge and information sharing. The system enables soldiers to find the most up-to-date and cutting edge information that may assist them in the field.

'Enemies are very dynamic, changing tactics all the time,' said Enrique Alonso, director of federal consulting for MarkLogic, which is based in San Carlos, Calif. 'There is a real need to share information among the troops in a fast and efficient way.'

The main feature of WKB is its ability to perform fast, specific searches. Rather than returning search results as a laundry list of links to large documents that would have to be downloaded and perused, BCKS returns very granular answers to queries generated by soldiers. The system is populated by Army content managers, who mine Army resources for applicable knowledge to add to the WKB repository. The content managers assign specific attributes (metadata) that characterizes the content and serves as keywords in the searches.

The metadata parameters follow the Defense Department's Discovery Metadata Specification, a directive from the Pentagon intended to promote net-centric information sharing and reduce silos of information. Metadata may include specific items such as the originating command or a particular author of the content. Users of the system may also upload information to the database.

A critical part of the system is the page-level, document-view concept, in which only the specific page of interest within a document is downloaded in order of relevance. Soldiers may be deployed where bandwidth constraints make it impractical to download an entire document, particularly if only a small part of the document is of interest. Following a query, the system sorts the relevant pages in order, allowing the solder to navigate to each page as they see fit without having to download an entire document over a low bandwidth link.

WKB was implemented three years ago, starting with a proof of concept prototype followed by a full rollout to the field in year two. The last year has been spent adding capabilities to the system.

An example of the type of information input to BCKS is an after action report, a routine report the Army generates after a mission that describes the mission's activities, lessons learned and results. Soldiers can access the report and use it as a reference to strengthen their preparation for an upcoming mission.

Army research projects are also input to the system. For example, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) -- makeshift bombs created by insurgents and typically delivered on the roadside against Army vehicles -- have been a major problem in Iraq. A recent Army study surprisingly showed similarities in the IEDs used in Iraq with those used during the Vietnam War, providing learned lessons that may be of value to soldiers serving in Iraq.

'You can add knowledge that may go back years, but is relevant to current missions,' Alonso said.

Also, BCKS has other useful and practical features. The system hosts discussion forums organized by functional areas, with contributions from generals, colonels, other officers and soldiers. The system is available to 90,000 members directly related to the discussion forums who can search and review the various forums.

WKB also contains the concept of 'virtual documents.' Soldiers in the field do not have dedicated laptop PCs and typically use shared computers. WKB allows them to build a 'battle book' of interesting content that they can store online in their user accounts.

The system, hosted in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, is currently accessible over DOD's Non-secure Internet Protocol Router Network, and will be rolled out on the Secure Internet Protocol Router Network.

About the Author

Dan Campbell is a freelance writer with Government Computer News and the president of Millennia Systems Inc.

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