Northrop Grumman [NOC] and the Army are gearing up for four major flight tests of the Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System (IBCS) that begin in May at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.

IBCS replaces the legacy command and control systems for seven systems, pulling data from multiple sources into a network to provide a single common picture for soldiers. This information is easy to interpret and share at all levels.

As an open architecture system, IBCS could eventually allow other systems to be incorporated, such as Blue Force Tracking.

“The big advantage is that it allows the Army to fight the way it was always intended to fight, in a cost effective and efficient manner,” said Daniel Verwiel, vice president and general manager of the Integrated Air and Missile Defense Division at Northrop Grumman Information Systems.

The coming tests “represent the culmination of all the assets”–software and hardware– developed for the single, open architecture system that will provide one common battle command system for all Army air defense assets that are fully integrated with other Army and Joint IAMD systems, he said.

While not able to discuss all the tests, Verwiel could say that said one test would use a Patriot missile and a Sentinel radar. Using those assets and wireless communications, the system will detect a threat in the air, track it, identify it and issue a fire order to a Patriot missile.

“One of the goals is to be able to pull assets and capabilities that have traditionally been stove-piped into a single command and control infrastructure,” Verwiel said. “That infrastructure will allow the Army to engage a threat with a missile using a sensor never intended to work with that particular system.”

Companies working with Northrop Grumman include not only major players such as Raytheon [RTN], Lockheed Martin [LMT], and Boeing [BA], but myriad smaller partners, each of whom bring something to the IBCS program. Testing and simulation was conducted first at contractor software labs, then at government facilities.

At the same time, ICBS development takes into account the cyber threat, he said, implementing techniques and technologies to deal with the sophistication and evolution of cyber harm or ability to pull information from networks as they deploy.

“It was a mammoth undertaking,” he said, an “accomplishment all contractors and the government should be proud of.”

Verwiel said, “we have high confidence” all the flight tests will play out as they did in the comprehensive modeling in the lab, though being tests, they may uncover weaknesses or areas that need improvement.

IBCS is more than another box in a tactical operations center. At White Sands, all the basic IBCS hardware and software components will be on hand: engagement operation centers, integrated fire control network relays, and command and control software.

Using Northrop Grumman’s “user experience,” which incorporates such things as psychological principles and features from the gaming industry, input and output data are presented in an intuitive way to the user.

And here’s where the Army saves in a major way:  in training. “It’s reduced by orders of magnitude,” Verwiel said. However, there’s not one single advantage that ICBS brings to the table, but several.

The Army wants a system that is consistent across all layers of command, so it can issue commands and control those commands, Verwiel said. The system can continually be updated and integrate new assets via the modular open architecture. With a small, cost effective footprint, the service would save on fielding and logistics, and be easy to train soldiers. The system would eliminate the cost of retraining, because the system is the same no matter the echelon of command.

The Army is scheduled for a Milestone C decision on ICBS in roughly the August 2016 timeframe, with plans to field the system starting in 2018. The system would eventually be fielded to all the air defense brigades and battalions.