Working the Rugged Internet of Things at the Tactical Edge


By Robbin Laird

In a famous line from Molière’s play Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, the aspiring social climber in the play discovers that: “For more than forty years I have been speaking prose while knowing nothing of it, and I am the most obliged person in the world to you for telling me so.”

Much like the man who discovered he is speaking prose, the strategic shift which the US and core allied forces are undergoing is learning to speak “kill web.”

And in learning to speak “kill web,” we are refocusing on core issues and redefining them. A key case in point is the thrust and focus of C2.

From hierarchical C2, we are learning what is required to make decisions at the tactical edge.

How can forces can operate effectively at the tactical edge but ensure they are integratable to provide scalability to fit a crisis?

Recently, I had a chance to discuss what a shift from networking to the tactical edge to operating at the tactical edge meant in terms of a focus of activity within a company focused on communications and networking as a core competence.

Mike Barthlow, a former Marine C2 officer, is now working at Cubic Mission Solutions in shaping what they call the rugged internet of things.

We started by discussing what the Rugged Internet of Things meant within the company and why this name for his group was chosen in the first place.

“Our original focus was upon pursuing a tactical networking business, where the emphasis is upon pushing networking to the edge, and connectivity across the kill web.”

“We realized that what is crucial is what happens at the edge of the network.

“You have pushed networking to the tactical edge; but what operational behavior happens in that context with networking capability?

“We are focused on the operator or warfighter or responder at the tactical edge and their view of the operational world.

“80% of my customer facing team are former warfighters; and I was a former chief of joint networking for central command. With the new networking capabilities, decision making at the edge is operarating in ways that in the past only happened at the command post or back in the Pentagon.”

“We refer to this as the edge eating the cloud.

“The speed of decision-making means that the commander at the tactical edge will be making decisions without going back to leverage the cloud computing environment or to tap into its resources in order to make a decision.

“The edge decision makers do not have the time, but increasingly has resources at the tactical edge which are robust and survivable enough to make those decisions as well.”

Question: What you are talking about distributed operations where decisions will be made at the tactical edge with the information available to the operators at the tactical edge.

 What this means is that in effect you will operate with the resources most present in your combat cluster.

 Is that a way to put it?

Barthlow: It is.

“And what we are seeing is a reflection of the evolution of warfighting which I saw at CENTCOM. The traffic patterns were primarily unit-to-unit, not up and down in a hierarchical chain.

“The preponderance of the traffic flow is to adjacent units who are in the engagement zone operating together. There is a sparse support team which needs to get information from the maneuver unit. It’s about being able rapidly to share an evolving collective knowledge base in real time.

“And then the challenge is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the decision at that point of engagement.”

“We’re all collectively operating as one big cybernetic organism.

“And what already see with the F-35 formations is a capability to operate as one mind with precision and effectiveness.

“Our objective is to enable the ability of units at the tactical edge to operate as a collective mindset that’s precise and effective to the lowest unit possible.”

Question: If you are focused on how units and leaders operate at the edge, then you are focused on how they make decisions and how to build tools that allow them to make more accurate decisions more rapidly and more effectively.

 What is your approach to this challenge?

Barthlow: Part of the challenge is managing a speed to thought transition, allowing the operators at the tactical edge to have a decision-making cycle advantage.

“How can I speed up the interfaces among the war fighters at the edge and make sure there’s enough computation capability and bandwidth among them and we can find ways to grow that capability by orders of magnitude?

Question: In other words, your focus is upon the decision-making environment at the tactical edge and working to understand how you can improve that operating environment?

Barthlow: It is.

“We are focused upon product resiliency, flexibility, and capability, anticipating that not only the current but the future decision environment as well.

“We’re focused in part on generating the kind of computing power we need in the smallest form factor possible for today’s environment.

“We’re pushing beyond what we think we need today.

“We’re pushing over the horizon because we anticipate as more information is available more computational capability will be needed,  and we need to work the kind of tools for aiding decisions, such as artificial intelligence, and/or augmented reality glasses, which are being developed and deployed.”

Question: Your focus on the ruggedized internet of things is highlighting the mix and match capabilities which you want to make available at the warfighter at the tactical edge in the smallest form factor possible concomitant with the capabilities which are required.

 Your literature mentions that the evolution of your approach as being customer driven.

 Who is the core customer driving your focus on the internet of things at the tactical edge?

 Barthlow: Our latest product in this area is the M3X product family.

“And we developed it with the Special Operations Community in mind to be able to provide them high performance and flexible small form factor capability at the edge of their SATCOM network.

“We focused on mission flexibility considering the needs of a small insertion force that can seamlessly scale up capability as the force size increases. Using our modular stack, they can have significant computational and networking power in a small logistical footprint.

“And as our conventional force customers have begun to focus more seriously on distributed operations, the work we have done for SOF becomes very relevant for distributed forces working at the tactical edge.

“As the multidomain needs of the force grows, we’re layering in cross domain capabilities. For example, with regard to open source intelligence, it can get processed very rapidly and included in the edge common operating picture. What used to take them two weeks, they can now do in minutes.

“The decision-making which can happen at the edge is now much more rapid and more informed. And we can connect the distributed radio networks and push the data into a stack the size of a couple lunchboxes rather than the legacy big transit cases and data center rack.

“We are enabling data management at the tactical edge that used to take an entire data center capability. It needs to happen in a way that allows for the formation of a cohesive cybernetic organism that is a true rugged Internet of battlefield things. That allows them to operate as a fully synchronized and collectively informed force to execute the mission.”

Mike Barthlow

Mike Barthlow is Senior Vice President and General Manager for Rugged Internet of Things (IoT), part of the Cubic Mission Solutions business division. Barthlow brings over 20 years of progressive experience in communications solutions to Cubic’s defense, intelligence and commercial markets. In his role, he is responsible for the growth and management of Cubic’s Rugged IoT business.

Prior to joining Cubic in 2015, Barthlow held several executive leadership positions including vice president of U.S. DoD Sales for Harris Corporation’s RF Communications Division; director of U.S. Air Force Sales for Harris Corporation; and director of business development and sales for Northrop Grumman.

Barthlow is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served as chief of joint data networks, U.S. Central Command during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

He received an MBA from California State University, a Master of Science in Information Systems from the University of Colorado, a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Pennsylvania and is a graduate of the Wharton School of Business, General Management Program.

For the latest product portfolio in the M3 product family, see the following:

M3X Tactical Edge Solution

The featured photo shows an M3X stack.

According to Cubic:

The M3X product family is an environmentally hardened suite of networking and compute equipment for today’s demanding users.

A patent-pending Raised Angle Connector (RAC) on the top and bottom allow interconnection between modules for both power and data without the need for external cables that often fail when needed.

The modular rail system allows for both vertical and horizontal physical connection amongst stacks of modules.