By Dialogo August 10, 2011 Army researchers have linked tactical radios and military chat systems with cell phones, instant messaging and other commercial communications technologies as part of an effort to streamline collaboration across the force. The integration of emerging commercial software with the existing tactical communications infrastructure has far-reaching potential as the Army expands communications for soldiers at the tactical edge, shares more battlefield data with NATO allies and equips users with tools to help minimize information overload. “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. Spearheading the effort is the Command and Control Directorate for the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command’s communications-electronics center (RDECOM CERDEC C2D). Engineers there have integrated the software with a widely used military situational awareness application called Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below/Blue Force Tracking (FBCB2/BFT). A user can trade chat messages with an operator of FBCB2, which enables war fighters in vehicles and aircraft to exchange messages, such as the location of an enemy or an improvised explosive device, and share a common operating picture of the battlefield. Beyond text chat, CERDEC also used the software to enable voice communication between users and Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System radios, cell phones and Voice over Internet Protocol phones. With a mouse click, an individual could place a call to another user and reach him or her on whatever communication medium was available. There was no need to remember phone numbers or take extra steps to call a radio. The CERDEC C2D team is now exploring other potential uses of the technology, such as adding the software presence and functionality into Command Post of the Future, which ties together collaborative capabilities and allows commanders to share the Common Operating Picture through map displays, charts and other data. With NATO allies also investing in similar systems, the technology could potentially serve as a way for the U.S. to share battlefield data and information with other countries without providing them an actual system, David said. Within U.S. forces, CERDEC C2D’s work could also serve as a “bridge” improving communications between deployed joint forces and the supporting workforce at home, as well as within both groups, according to West.