Cursor on Target: The "Sum of All Wisdom" Comes of Age

December 2010
Topics: Command and Control, Systems Integration/Interoperability
When a high-ranking Air Force Officer declared that the sum of all wisdom is a cursor over the target, MITRE accepted the challenge.
uav pilots

Col. Jeffrey Eggers is no stranger to Cursor on Target (CoT): He first encountered the MITRE-developed system in 2004 when he was a pilot flying Predators at Nellis Air Force Base. As a situational awareness tool that strips critical communication requirements to their most essential elements, CoT allowed Predator pilots to correlate the tracks of other aircraft with their own positions and mission plans.

Last September, Eggers learned that CoT offers benefits that go beyond increased situational awareness. Now as the Air Force's director of advanced ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) capabilities, he participated with other CoT stakeholders in a scenario-based competition at the CoT User's Conference in Billerica, Mass. "It was a remarkable display of the way a new technology like CoT can greatly ease organizational interaction and spur cooperation between competitors," Eggers says.

MITRE originally developed CoT for the Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom Air Force Base following a challenge by then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper, who said, "The sum of all wisdom is a cursor over the target." Meeting that challenge, CoT has been used across the military to track hostile and friendly forces, direct the flow of target coordinates, and solve other operational challenges through the use of machine-to-machine communications.

A Timely Theme

"Integration" was the theme of this year's annual conference, which helps keep program managers, users, and vendors up to date on CoT-based capabilities. The theme was based on last year's event when three companies—Insight Technology, Harris, and Thales—demonstrated in near-real-time how their technologies could merge and then perform even more impressive tasks. For example, not only could the integrated technology seamlessly create a target, it could also transmit target information through multiple types of radios to display relevant information on situation awareness displays.

In planning this year's conference, MITRE's Jon Jacoby and his team were interested in taking that idea further. "We decided to explore whether that single demonstration could be scaled to a larger venue," says Jacoby, a principal engineer. "The thinking was that if we could provide a suitable network and CoT-based network traffic, what would all the brilliant people who attend the meeting be able to come up with?"

Split into two teams, the participants applied CoT-based technologies to quickly track and share data to meet the scenario's operational challenges (based upon the Haiti relief efforts in 2010). "It was a remarkably simple demonstration of CoT's value to the warfighter—near-real time integration," Jacoby says.

A New Philosophy of Data Exchange

What they came up with was more than satisfactory to Eggers. "I knew CoT made development and integration easier, but the social effects were astounding," says Eggers. "Representatives from government offices, research centers, and commercial vendors were able to rapidly exchange data from other organizations and technologies that they had never been exposed to before."

Eggers continues to see tremendous potential for CoT. "It's not just another new message format—it's a new philosophy," he says. "CoT can take very tight, rigid, enduring standards with rapid, flexible expansion capabilities, and make them work together in a simple, efficient standard that can bridge isolated government agencies as easily as it bridges two vendors' software tools."

Jacoby expressed satisfaction about the conference. "Overall, it was highly successful," he says. "We wanted to educate people on the fundamentals of CoT, as well as show the possibility of real-time integration. We met those goals."

—by Tricia C. Bailey

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