The days of the military seeking unique solutions to problems have given way to an era of Commercially available Off-The-Shelf (COTS) technology and integrated solutions pairing military devices and industry innovations. It’s all a part of the Army CIO G6 Common Operating Environment Initiative, which seeks to make platforms more easy to use, and transfer, across operational environments.

In the latest initiative, Army researchers are linking tactical radios and communications systems with cell phones, instant messaging and other commercial communications technology. It’s all possible with Lync 2010, a new Microsoft collaboration product.

The Army has already been spearheading the use of mobile technology, including arming Soldiers in the field with smart phones and tablet devices. Military leaders say it’s not just smart to be using commercial technology when possible, it’s also cheaper and easier to implement.

The Command and Control Directorate for the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command’s communications-electronics center, or RDECOM CERDEC C2D is leading the Lync initiative, pairing it with the military’s situational awareness application Force XXI Battle Command Bridge and Below/Blue Force Tracking, or FBCB2/BET.

Users of either system – Microsoft Office or Battle Command Bridge – can now exchange messages. Applications within the systems enable users to know when an individual is available for communication, and which method he or she my be reached at.

“Whether you’re at the command post or on patrol, you know when someone is online and what the best way to reach that person is,” said Osie David, Fire Support Command and Control system engineer and former solutions architect for the Army’s Project Manager Mission Command.

Adding collaborative systems to military technology isn’t easy. The Cooperative Research and Development Agreement between Microsoft and CERDEC C2D is only the second joint research project between Microsoft and the federal government. The agreement was extended in 2010 to include hand-held devices, apps development and cognitive-based software.

For service members, the ability to achieve near real-time data sharing and collaboration is seen as critical. It increases situational awareness on the battlefield, and gives commanders access to more information.

“Instead of re-engineering each warfighter application to be collaborative, this solution allows users of existing applications to collaborate with other users and their applications,” said Brian Freeman, an engineer supporting the project. “This includes both government off-the-shelf and commercially available off-the-shelf desktop applications like Microsoft Office and Open Office. The potential is huge.”

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