Cursor on Target meeting imparts info and updates
Capt. Michael Brownlee, Cursor on Target program manager, speaks to local and virtual attendees during a CoT user group meeting this spring. The program office held the meeting to provide the CoT community with technical information, updates and tutorials. (Courtesy photo)
Posted 7/17/2013 Updated 7/18/2013
by Patty Welsh
66th Air Base Group Public Affairs
7/17/2013 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- Hanscom recently hosted a user group meeting for the Cursor on Target program to provide attendees with technical information, updates and tutorials.
Cursor on Target is a technology that was developed after Sept. 11, 2001, to improve situational awareness by allowing basic information covering What, Where and When -- the key attributes for describing events -- to be transmitted very quickly through a set of data templates. Typical CoT messages can provide timely notification regarding friendly and hostile troop positions; targeting information; and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data.
"We wanted a solution to provide needed information to warfighters on the tactical edge accurately and tersely," said Jon Jacoby, CoT lead engineer. "CoT allows messages to be transmitted machine-to-machine in order to support the warfighter's ability to make critical decisions, such as engaging an enemy or tasking friendly assets."
Previously, personnel often had to handwrite or type critical information, such as coordinates, into a system. CoT reduces the chance for human error. In addition, because of the concise nature of the messages, they can be relayed in areas where bandwidth may be limited.
"Warfighters in the field do not always have the ability to connect to a high-speed network like we do at home," Jacoby said. "In many operational areas today we are still subject to satellite and handheld radio communication constraints."
Another benefit of CoT is applications that were created in 2002 still can be used today without any updates.
"The schema and applications that make up Cursor on Target are being used 24/7, on all continents, by all services, on more than 300 platforms," said Jacoby. "And today there are more than 1,500 members of the user group."
That is a significant growth in the user base, which in 2010 had only about 500 members.
"We have a strong Cursor on Target community and it's continually growing," said Capt. Michael Brownlee, program manager.
For this year's user group meeting, as the program office knew there would be travel constraints due to sequestration, an option for virtual attendance and participation was included.
"Not only did that allow us to have more U.S. participation, it also allowed for international participation," said Andrew Wehrli, program management support contractor. "Users from disparate locations were able to connect and collaborate."
According to organizers, between the local and virtual users, more than 20 CoT participating systems were able to be part of demonstrations during the meeting.
Personnel from the program office here definitely felt the meeting was worthwhile.
"We want the program office to be seen as the hub for the Cursor on Target community of interest," said Wehrli. "We want to be able to point the users in the correct direction and share best practices."
During the two-day meeting, attendees were introduced to the new CoT Software Development Kit, or SDK.
"It's already fairly easy to incorporate Cursor on Target," said Brownlee. "Having the software kit will make it even easier and quicker for the users."
Jacoby added that by providing an SDK with common programming interfaces, not only is it easier to develop new CoT-enabled systems, but the SDK also can reduce some of the errors that are common when developing new applications.
"This increase in quality has the additional benefit of reducing testing and deployment time," he added.
The program office here is working locally with the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass., to evaluate the kit. Using a beta version of the SDK, Natick's engineering team was able to implement CoT situation awareness support in a matter of days rather than the several weeks it would have previously taken.
"Their response has been very favorable," said Jacoby. "Moreover, this is yet one more example of the Air Force's initiative in supporting (combatant commands) and our sister services. And it's not all one-way; our collaboration with Natick has produced valuable feedback and will shape development of extensions to the SDK in FY14."
The team here is also looking for additional ways to share and improve CoT data.
Because of the tremendous amount of information available, within the past few years the program office has put all their publicly released information on forge.mil, and the CoT community represents one of the largest groups on the site.
They are also working toward developing a military standard, or MIL-STD, by next year to provide a documented standard, thereby reducing confusion and allowing applications to be incorporated easier, quicker and cheaper.
Additional areas CoT could be used for in the future include personnel recovery, law enforcement and emergency medical response.
Given the worldwide use of CoT and need for U.S. and coalition warfighters to integrate with civilian authorities outside the United States, such development will be an aid to both combat and humanitarian response missions, said Jacoby.
"Perhaps the most important benefit of CoT is a simple fact: Once your system speaks Cursor on Target, you can exchange data with hundreds of platforms and thousands of end-users," he said. "You get exponential value from a single investment in a simple technology."
For further information about Cursor on Target, contact the program management office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor's note: Since the writing of this article, the SDK has been finalized and is available on forge.mil.