'Cursor On Target' and 'Click To Approve'

By Roland Piquepaille

The Cursor on Target (CoT) initiative is giving the U.S. Air Force the ability to share data across multiple and various systems used by air and ground forces. Currently, voice messages are exchanged back and forth by combat controllers in the field, command centers, air operation centers and aircrafts, allowing for human errors and loss of valuable time. On the contrary, the CoT project, which only cost $800,000 so far, relies on XML to carry and exchange information between these different entities. With CoT, all messages are transmitted in a common XML format, allowing a rapid process of 'cursor on the target' and 'click to approve.' The system, which uses only a few hundred lines of code, has already been tested in Afghanistan and Iraq. These tests have shown that 'sensor-to-shooter paths enabled with CoT software improve the speed of the process by nearly 70 percent, while also significantly increasing firepower accuracy.' Read more...

Here are selected excerpts from this article from Military Information Technology.

A partnership that began in 2002 between the Air Force Electronic Systems Center (ESC) at Hanscom Air Force Base, MA, and MITRE has produced this prototype software initiative designed for speeding information sharing between service communities. Based upon a simplistic, universal machine language, CoT is eliminating the text format problems that have historically impeded the ability of various warfighting elements to communicate easily and quickly in the digital same language.
CoT is made possible by extensible markup language (XML), a simplified version or subset of the standard general markup language (SGML). XML was developed in 1996 by a working group within the World Wide Web Consortium and was primarily directed at electronic business. It wasn't long, however, before the military potential of XML became apparent.

With such an ambitious goal, you would imagine that the project evolved into a bloated piece of software. Wrong!

CoT requires only a few hundred lines of XML code, according to the Air Force. As one senior engineer close to the project commented, the best part is that XML is not rocket science -- it's actually very easy to do and can be widely used.
Employing common message elements, CoT helps space, air and ground forces work as a synchronized unit. At the same time, it brings their communications together as a single network to expedite mission critical information across all segments. It eliminates the problem of incompatible user formats by introducing a common data overlay that lets them communicate.

And why is the CoT software so small and efficient? Just because it focuses on the most important keywords of a message. When you learn a foreign language, you start with simple and essential things, like saying hello or asking for directions.

Similarly, in a fast-paced military messaging environment, some data elements are significantly more useful than others. "Therefore, the Extensible Markup Language allows us to tier the value of the data, accommodating the most mission-critical and important information first and expanding the capability, if needed, upon that foundation," said Richard J. Byrne, executive director for networks and information integration at MITRE.
"The advent of Cursor on Target is a fundamental augmentation of existing machine language standards," he continued. "Each battlefield system contains a myriad of data that takes time to learn and understand. CoT contains a kind of abstract of the key data that's common across the user communities. It provides a lightweight, simplified common interface language that contains the important elements. That means it can be quickly read, or understood, by the next user community in the chain."

So what's the current status and what will be the next steps?

CoT isn't just a drawing board initiative, however, but is already at war and scoring impressive successes. Developed by a team comprising ESC, MITRE, Air Force Special Operations Command, Air Force Research Laboratory and the Navy, CoT was initially designated for deployment to special forces units to provide improved time-critical targeting. Tests have shown that sensor-to-shooter paths enabled with CoT software improve the speed of the process by nearly 70 percent, while also significantly increasing firepower accuracy.
There currently is no official program to implement CoT data message standards across the services. But Byrne pointed out that a coalition of between 40 and 50 systems across the Department of Defense is working to add CoT to achieve rapid, machine-to-machine interoperability. The systems are in various stages of development on a wide variety of platforms.

Here are the conclusions drawn by Colonel Mike Therrien, who is director of the Command Interoperability Program at ESC.

"CoT has been shown to work. It's simple to use, secure and can handle mission-critical information. We would like to see this capability proliferate in terms of solving the interoperability problem."
"I think we were somewhat surprised in that it was an idea that we gave a try, and we found that it became quickly successful," he added.

Source: William Miller, Military Information Technology, September 2, 2004