By Ann Roosevelt

The Army is moving faster with the common controller under development by Lockheed Martin [LMT] that will allow ground and air sensors to be controlled from one device, part of the service’s incremental modernization strategy going first to Infantry Brigade Combat Teams (IBCTs), a service official said.

“Originally, this was an Increment 2 system [for] brigades 10 and beyond, but the decision was made a little over a year ago, that although it’s an Increment 2 device, they’re going to accelerate it to brigade four, or Increment 1,” Maj. Mark Taylor, assistant product manager for Common Controller under Program Executive Office Integration, said in an interview yesterday.

The first three brigades would use low-rate initial production Increment 1 equipment, he said. In December, the Army will be going for a production decision for Brigades 2 and 3, he said. “We’re not quite ready for that, so Brigade 4 would be the fielding time.”

That would mean fielding in 2013-14, Taylor said, compared to the initial fielding date of 2015-16 for Increment 2.

Spiral 2 of the common controller takes all the command capability from all the different unmanned sensors–Textron‘s [TXT] Tactical- and Urban- unattended ground sensors (T-UGS, U-UGS) and the iRobot [IRBT] Small Unattended Ground Sensor (SUGV)–and puts it on one device.

“Right now, the U-UGS are controlled by the [network integration kit] NIK. There is no hand controller, Taylor said. “We’re working this in to Brigade 4 to have a hand controller for the Tactical Unmanned Ground System. It’s something still in the works, not an official part of the program as yet.”

The device shape is different in Spiral 2, where it looked something like a game controller with a landscape screen and handles at each end. Now, it looks a little like an iPad with more buttons and a “waist” and portrait view.

The Increment 1 common controller will replace the unique controllers that each contractor built for their specific platform and move those control functions onto one device. The common controller will talk to the NIK and send digital images and other metadata, similar to what the unique controllers do.

It is the network that is being examined in technical tests and by soldiers that will allow the movement of images and data that is laying the foundation, as the service says, to make IBCTs more effective and lethal and, importantly, survivable.

When the program hits Spiral 3, Increment 2, for Brigades 10 and beyond, “that’s where this really takes off and does things current controllers won’t be able to do,” Taylor said.

“With Spiral 3 Increment 2, we will also be interoperable with Ground Soldier System…we’ll be able to talk, pass messages to Ground Soldier System,” he said.

In Spiral 2, the controller will not only control current devices. “We’re also going to add the Multimission Unmanned Ground Vehicle (MM-UGV) formerly called the Armed Robotic Vehicle-Assault Light produced by Lockheed Martin, and the Counter IED vehicle. It will be an Increment 2 platform.

“The common controller system is an open architecture, so we can incorporate different unmanned ground systems and unmanned aerial systems,” he said.

This opens the possibility of bringing other service systems into the common controller in the future, potentially adding another layer of jointness. However, such considerations are in a very preliminary stage.

In the Pentagon courtyard, Taylor put the device through its paces, pointing out it has joysticks, hard buttons and soft keys on the screen that do different things, depending on which platform is being controlled.

The controller has an easily visible screen adjusting to conditions whether it’s day or night. Taylor showed the easy-to-read display in the bright sunlight outside and deep shade in the BCT Modernization tent in the courtyard.

The device can display a map with the controller’s GPS position and sensor platform coordinates. It was easy to see where a hypothetical SUGV was, and how if it was out of the controller’s sight, the operator can see what the onboard sensor sees in real time. That video can be watched, recorded or both.

The common controller uses what is called Warfighter Machine Interface Services, which allows a common setup for all the platforms, so in the future all the training is a lot easier because soldiers are used to set up.

The Spiral 2 device weighs 3.3 pounds, lightened from the 8-pound Spiral 1 of last year (Defense Daily, June 23).

The entire Common Controller system weighs in at about 14.5 pounds, Taylor said. The display device comes with a computer that goes on a soldier’s back or load-bearing equipment. The lithium ion batteries are the same as those used by the Ground Soldier System, which will reduce the logistical burden.