U.S. Army / Spc. David Poleski

Budget standoff delays Army’s artillery-targeting upgrade

New system will replace spreadsheets and PowerPoint to generate options at “machine speed.”

SAVANNAH, Georgia—The U.S. Army is gearing up to replace a targeting process that depends on spreadsheets and PowerPoint decks with a smarter one that collates options automatically. But it can’t get started until Congress passes a 2024 budget.

“As soon as the continuing resolution is lifted, we already have a team ready,” said Lt. Col. Tim Godwin, product manager fire support, command and control at the Army’s Program Executive Office for Command, Control, and Communications-Tactical.

That team will build prototypes for the planned Joint Targeting Integrated Command and Coordination Suite, or JTIC2S, which, like hundreds of other new Pentagon programs, can’t get going under a continuing resolution. The Army is also updating the decades-old Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System, or AFATDS.

JTIC2S will replace today’s Joint Automated Deep Operations Coordination System, or JADOCS, which depends far more on humans’ clerical work. For example, if a commander spots an enemy tank battalion, it takes a lot of time and brain power to ascertain what types of tanks they are, what fires are available from services and partners, and who needs to be called to execute the mission. Targeting and intelligence officers currently map out things by hand through spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations.

“Today, that's a lot of humans in a loop,” Godwin said, on the sidelines of the service’s Technical Exchange Meeting here. “It's a very time-consuming process that takes a lot of manual labor. JTIC2S is to automate that.” 

JTIC2S is designed to process a massive amount of information and to understand, with commanders’ input, “the best targets to execute and who the best executors are so we can move at machine speed,” he said. “We're only going to be limited by the amount of rounds we have.”

Godwin said his team has identified chunks of the old system that will be folded into its replacement.

“We have all the Lego pieces sitting there waiting on us once we can actually expend funds towards it,” he said.

The plan is to send a “minimally viable product” version of JTIC2S into the field to “start displacing systems,” and then to award a contract to a company who can deliver a better version, Godwin said.

A new contracting strategy

The Army is rethinking how it awards mission-control contracts with “big tent” contracts, said Col. Matt Paul, program manager for the portfolio. 

“The government's in the driver's seat, where we're going to look at best of breed on the contract,” Paul said. “Over the next 10 years, we're going to be doing discrete tasks. And we're going to ask vendors to team up and work together based on the nature of the work and the level of complexity.” 

It’s a novel approach for the Army, he said, but one that is modeled after the Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System—the service’s chunk of the Pentagon’s Joint All Domain Command and Control, or JADC2. 

There are “principles of war, I have principles of modernization: agility, data centricity, and modularity are sort of my big three. And so I'm applying those principles to all of our modernization efforts moving forward,” Paul said.

But the key is getting industry on board. 

“These systems have been around for a while. We have a lot of experience with them. We know what works. And sometimes we know what doesn't work. But we want to work with industry on how we go about doing this. And we're looking for some pretty novel concepts of how we do software development for both of these systems,” Godwin said.

Don’t forget about AFATDS

The Army is also updating the decades-old Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System, or AFATDS, which has three main jobs: fire support, so a maneuver commander can plan an attack; technical fire direction, or the math required to get a rocket or cannon to hit a target; and tactical fire direction.

The system works “very well,” but it could be better, Godwin said. 

Having all of those functions in one system makes software updates difficult, virtually rebuilding the entire thing because of what is referred to as spaghetti code. For an engineer, that can be like opening a pantry that looks neat at first glance but upon inspection is hiding holes, wires, and just disorganized items.

“We have to touch so many different elements,” even those that are immaterial to the software update, Godwin said. “And it causes a very lengthy and pricey process to update” and test to make sure all of the elements work together. 

The goal is to rebuild the system using microservices and specific apps that lets units “decide what capabilities they need in the system,” Godwin said.