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CHIPS Articles: The Army's Central Technical Support Facility

The Army's Central Technical Support Facility
System integration and interoperability to meet warfighter needs
By Army Maj. Shawn Murray - July-September 2008
Today's warfighters trust when they operate their vehicles or set up tactical operations centers the command, control, communication, computer and intelligence (C4I) systems inside will interoperate. Full interoperability of military systems is critical to America's success in the war on terror and for operations into the future. Ensuring interoperability of net-centric systems is the job of the Army's Whitfill Central Technical Support Facility.

The CTSF is the Army's strategic command responsible for supporting interoperability engineering, executing Army Interoperability Certification (AIC) testing, and maintaining configuration control software for all operational through tactical level Information Technology/National Security Systems (IT/NSS).

The CTSF also supports warfighters' digital needs while they are deployed. In short, the CTSF's capability is key to ensuring the interoperability of Army and joint digital systems on battlefields now and into the future.

Located at Fort Hood, Texas, the CTSF was organized in 1996 under an organization now called the Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications Tactical (PEO C3T). It was originally designed to provide a location for the rapid integration, testing and deployment of the Army Battle Command System (ABCS), which was designed to digitize the Army's battle command and control capability.

As digitization of the Army's warfighting capability has grown and matured, the CTSF's mission has expanded to integrate and test more than 200 netcentric systems. The number is expected to grow in the near future as more Army systems become network-enabled.

In July 2007, the CTSF organized under the Army Materiel Command's CECOM Life Cycle Management Command.

The facility employs approximately 200 military and government civilian workers. It provides facilities for more than 400 additional government and civilian workers from several program executive offices in a teaming environment that accomplishes Army interoperability, integration and certification.

The CTSF campus covers more than 264,000 square feet, of which more than 40,000 square feet are dedicated to integration of software and AIC testing.

Because of its reconfigurable design, the integration and test facility can support a wide range of tactical network architectures (many simultaneously), fromindividual vehicles all the way to theater-level. According to Col. Steven Drake, director of the CTSF, the facility's mission "is to provide a unique, innovative and scalable environment, with skilled and dedicated personnel, using qualified synergistic processes in order to support the DoD's net-enabled strategic vision."

Drake says the mission is accomplished by "executing configuration management, systems engineering support and certification testing for Army and joint C4I providers."

As the Army continues to develop new net-centric capabilities, the CTSF stands ready to integrate and test C4I products for interoperability. The CTSF's vision is to become a customer-valued organization ensuring the best net-centric C4I capabilities are available to U.S. Army, joint and coalition warfighters, Drake said.

AIC testing is a part of developmental testing occurring prior to a Milestone C decision. It gives the Army Staff, the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, and the warfighter the confidence that equipment fielded is interoperable and integrated with the other systems on the tactical network.

AIC testing at the CTSF immerses a system under test in an holistic tactical environment to ensure its ability to interoperate with other networked systems. Certification testing is done on behalf of the Army Chief Information Officer (CIO/G-6) to meet Title 40 responsibilities that mandate that no system, application or hardware will be used on the Army's tactical network until it has been tested and certified by the Department of the Army G-6.

To accomplish its mission, the CTSF has three main departments under the Technical Division to provide system integration and interoperability. These departments are Configuration Management (CM), Systems Engineering and Integration (SE&I) and Test. The departments conduct AIC testing synergistically to provide the warfighting community the best-tested tactical hardware and software possible.

The CM Department's staff not only ensure the configuration management for the AIC test floor, but also ensure configuration control of the Army's fielded software baseline.

Each year, the CM shop produces more than 250,000 CDs and DVDs containing approved baseline software to ensure only approved software is used by Soldiers in the field.

CM also maintains a geospatial map library consisting of digital maps used by Army tactical computer systems, ABCS data products and approved baseline software, thus ensuring every map displayed in these tactical systems is the most accurate available.

The SE&I Department provides direct technical support to test and certification activities, as well as to software developers in their integration efforts. Not only do department engineers verify that new software and data products are compliant, but they also provide network engineering support to Army training events and unit deployments.

Additionally, CTSF SE&I provides support to engineering assessments of new and developing C4I products. The assessments are conducted within the CTSF's realistic tactical architectures that allow developers to test engineering releases of products in a non-attribution environment.

The SE&I Information Assurance branch works with all sections to provide an IA assessment during formal AIC baseline tests and Information Assurance Vulnerability Alert (IAVA) patch testing to update fielded software.

The CTSF Test Department is organized to provide Army and Joint AIC testing. Staffed with test officers, operators, operations research analysts and technical writers, the department provides the Army with the expertise and experience necessary to conduct the most complex interoperability software testing available within DoD today.

Interoperability requirements used for AIC testing come from the Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) capabilities managers (TCM), PEOs and formal requirements documents. From these requirements, program managers and TCMs develop mission threads which describe the flow of information through a multi-echelon architecture.

The test department uses these mission threads to create test cases which embrace an end-to-end approach to look at the cause and effect of information flow through a system in a networked environment.

As part of the overall test process, the CTSF has implemented a rigorous test-fix-test process executed prior to entering into a formal test. This process provides the program manager and the test officers the time to prove the software's interoperability as well as the mission threads before entering formal AIC testing.

This methodical, measured approach to testing maintains configuration control, yet allows software fixes and additional software drops to facilitate development of interoperable functional code in a shortened timeframe.

As the Army continues to conduct more of its operations in a joint environment, the CTSF will provide testing to meet the Joint Staff's mandate for Joint Technical Architecture (JTA) compliance. Many of the mission threads used today already either start or end in the joint arena.

To ensure complementary testing that is not redundant, the CTSF has a formal Memorandum of Understanding with the Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC) to allow the sharing of data and test resources between the two organizations.

This allows Army systems to meet JTA compliance without duplicating effort. As part of this MOU, the CTSF has also recently added JITC liaisons to better integrate our communities.

The investment the Army has made in the CTSF to ensure interoperability for warfighters has become a shining success and a beacon for the DoD in its attempt to develop interoperability across all services and warfighting domains.

While much work has yet to be done to achieve the DoD vision, the Army's CTSF stands ready to be an integral part of the plan to accomplish this goal. With its vast experience and dedicated workforce, the CTSF is meeting AIC integration challenges and has the resources to ensure Army interoperability in a joint environment.

As the Army's only facility to test theater-level system of systems products in a net-centric environment, the employees of the CTSF provide unparalleled, uncompromising, consistent and responsive support to the warfighter.

Maj. Shawn Murray is the deputy technical director of the Central Technical Support Facility, Fort Hood, Texas. Murray holds a bachelor of specialized studies in educational military history from Ohio University. His military education includes the Infantry Officer Basic Course, Armor Officer Advance Course and Army Acquisition Basic Course. He is Level III certified in test and evaluation and is member of the Army Acquisition Corps.

Test operators check cable connections as they prepare for software tests. Photos by David G. Landmann.
Test operators check cable connections as they prepare for software tests. Photos by David G. Landmann.

CTSF test operators keep watchful eyes on monitors during software interoperability testing.
CTSF test operators keep watchful eyes on monitors during software interoperability testing.

Facility ensures quality of deployed systems – Staff members from the Battle Command Network Support Directorate assisted the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division as it prepared for deployment to Iraq at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., in August. The BCNSD is located at the Central Technical Support Facility, Fort Hood, Texas. Photo by Richard Mattox.
Facility ensures quality of deployed systems – Staff members from the Battle Command Network Support Directorate assisted the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division as it prepared for deployment to Iraq at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., in August. The BCNSD is located at the Central Technical Support Facility, Fort Hood, Texas. Photo by Richard Mattox.
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