Story by Rachel Gray on 09/11/2018"This new software is amazing," said 1SG Alex Joy of the 3rd Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment (3-27 FAR) in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. "The speed is mind-blowing. The parking heading colors are cool. The auto-execute feature is a game changer."
For two weeks in late August, the 18th Field Artillery Brigade (18th FA Brigade) in Fort Bragg, N.C., fielded and trained on the new M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) Software System Suite Version 8.0 (V8); the first government developed and owned fire control system (FCS) software for an Acquisition Category (ACAT) 1 combat weapon system. The V8 software fielding marked a historic milestone for the United States government, unveiling its capability to successfully create and maintain its own FCS software without outsourcing to private companies. This fielding also revealed the positive, excited feedback and high demand from 18th FA Brigade Soldiers, the U.S. Army's premier HIMARS brigade.
"[V8] is way faster and I like the accessibility of the programmable function keys," HIMARS SPC Andres Fernandez divulged inside a HIMARS cab during a dry fire. The programmable function keys give Soldiers more navigational control over the software. The launcher chief, SGT Joseph Schaeffer, continued, "It relays more information back to us about advisories, what our launcher loader module is doing, and digital communications." The launcher crew explained with enthusiasm how the user friendly software would positively impact their fire mission operations. These complimentary comments were not atypical. Numerous HIMARS launcher crews agreed that V8 was easier to navigate, more clearly labeled, intuitive, and was fully mission capable in significantly faster time than V8's predecessor, the Legacy Version 7 series.
Previous, obsolete and outdated Legacy software poses many challenges for the Army's modernization efforts. However, the primary push to organically design a government owned FCS software was born from reducing lifecycle costs, improving cyber security posture, and mitigating obsolescence. The government team, Precision Fires Rocket and Missiles Systems (PFRMS) Project Office and Systems Simulation, Software and Integration Directorate (S3I), teamed together nearly 7 years ago to tackle these problematic elements of the old FCS software. After years of development, validation, verification, and collaboration with U.S. Soldiers, the HIMARS FCS software was successfully redesigned as V8.
V8 boasts a new, enhanced graphical user interface with a modern, intuitive design, more reliable safety parameters, faster launcher software start-up and shut down times, a clearly identifiable auto-execution feature, additional lines of text for Soldiers to read numerous warnings and advisories, and colored coded parking headings to prevent Soldiers from needing to calculate heading allowance. The Interactive Electronic Technical Manual Reader was revamped to be a clearer, user friendly, printable, Adobe-like program. The V8 software can also be easily modified to support language translations.
"Version 8 is a true, fundamental leap forward," said LTC Aaron Sadusky of 3-321 FAR. The LTC spoke highly of V8, commenting that some in his brigade, like his 1SG, "loved it."
"The overall speed of the software [is] extremely impressive," remarked 1SG Joy. "The start-up and shutdown times will be advantageous in certain operations. The reduction in start-up time helps market ourselves to adjacent services, like the Air Force, and faster shut down time gives a technical advantage because it helps eliminate position errors." 1SG Joy had more encouraging comments for V8 developers. "The auto-execute is a key feature and a game changer. You are not fumbling around menus trying to find your fire mission unlike in Legacy. It will certainly change the way I train my troops."
Both of the 18th FA battalions' Fire Direction Center operators, launcher crews, and maintenance crews all received V8 training and 32 HIMARS were loaded with the V8 software. S3I and PFRMS were directly involved in classroom instruction and dry fires to address or identify software improvement opportunities. The data collected from the fielding will improve upon an already dependable, quick, and practical interface for the user.
The fielding in Fort Bragg fueled the true mission of S3I and PFRMS: to create a reliable and advanced FCS software for the user. The ultimate goal of each office is to support Soldiers and provide them with the equipment needed to clearly meet their objectives and increase their survivability. After the fielding, it is without question that V8 is intuitive, popular, and the pioneer for future government created and owned products. PFRMS and S3I are currently using V8 as the baseline for the future Common FCS software which will be deployed on both HIMARS and M270A1 heavy launcher fleets.