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French Program Pursues Universal Connectivity

September 2005
By Henry S. Kenyon

 
The goal of the French army’s Maitrice d’Oeuvre d’Ensemble des SIC Terre (MOE SIC Terre) program is to create a core architecture that will allow all command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems to interoperate. This architecture will feature plug-and-play functionality permitting systems such as this manportable satellite terminal to communicate with other tactical battlefield equipment and data applications.
Shared data applications underpin servicewide plug-and-play functionality.

The French army is developing a common operational architecture that will allow all of its command and control systems to interoperate seamlessly. A key part of the initiative is integrating legacy equipment and applications into an Internet protocol framework without requiring expensive replacement and redevelopment programs. When complete, the effort will provide the army with a global backbone that operates a common set of software applications that conform to NATO interoperability standards.

The Maitrice d’Oeuvre d’Ensemble des SIC Terre (MOE SIC Terre) program grew out of French Ministry of Defense requirements to unify its various command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems, explains Pierre Suslenschi, vice president of the C2ISR business unit in the Thales Group’s Land and Joint Systems Division, Paris. It was necessary to unify all of these applications under a single architecture because many of these programs were procured separately and provided specialized services in areas such as artillery and air defense. “Most of those programs were started some time ago, sometimes a long time ago, and are at different levels of maturity,” he says.

Suslenschi notes that two overriding concerns drove the rationale for MOE SIC Terre. The first was the short-term need to enhance consistency and interoperability. Thales was chosen as the lead integrator to deliver an operational capability to an end user, in this case French army digitized brigades. Industry’s extensive involvement in the program precludes the government from entirely shouldering the burden of managing the interoperability work, he explains.

The other objective is to launch a new generation of systems that is based on what Suslenschi refers to as the “common core.” This will be a shared communications and data trunk consisting of software and equipment operating at all echelons. It will feature shared software components underpinning all of the applications in the command and control chain. All future systems will operate within this common operating environment. The common core will provide seamless management of the tactical Internet, which will allow users to plug communications applications directly into the common core without completely modifying existing systems.

The MOE SIC Terre program also focuses on integrating and enhancing the consistency of legacy systems, either by migrating them to NATO standards or by developing new ones to provide a more homogenous chain of command. “The key principle is to dramatically enhance interoperability,” he maintains.

The common core allows software designers to develop applications that are specifically focused on a primary mission. Because these systems will share the underlying interoperability programs, protocols and operating features, they will plug directly into the architecture, eliminating lengthy and expensive redevelopment work. “If you develop an intelligence system, you can focus only on [developing] specific intelligence applications and have all the standard stuff provided by the common core,” he explains.

Consisting of several layers, the common core features a tactical intranet at its lower levels. This layer sits between tactical radios, tactical communication networks and applications designed to provide commercial-level continuity of service on the battlefield. These features include connectivity, messaging and directory functions specifically designed for tactical systems. For example, this layer will manage addressing for tactical radio networks. “You can address one unit on the battlefield, and you don’t have to care where it is. The systems manage the way to address and locate it on the tactical network,” Suslenschi explains.

The tactical level also will manage quality of service, which is necessary for combat radios with limited bandwidth. This level integrates and encapsulates tactical users, provides network management and includes the features necessary for tactical and mobile operations. Other functions include maintaining the system’s multiple data feeds to tactical applications. Suslenschi describes this first level of connection as a federation. “You integrate all these communication services, all these intranet services. This may be for a brigade command post, for example, or it may be hardware—all the equipment ensuring an interface with the network,” he explains.

The second level consists of a set of application services such as terrain maps, data interoperability systems, core database management and common software sets that interact with ground force systems. This level includes a comprehensive core of application services that can integrate into new systems.

“The idea is to save money in the future by limiting the development of new systems to only what is really specific from the user viewpoint,” Suslenschi explains. He adds that a key part of this philosophy is developing a family of plug-and-play applications that can interact with the common data core with little or no modification. Standards are an important part of this interoperability development. The program adheres to NATO data protocols such as the Multilateral Interoperability Program standard for land and joint command and control systems.

The MOE SIC Terre program was launched in late 2004 with a budget of 200 million euros ($241 million). Program execution is scheduled in three phases. The first goal is to integrate a fully digitized brigade by the end of 2006. This phase includes the integration and qualification of all legacy systems. Suslenschi explains that work on the new common core is underway and is scheduled to be online by late 2007 or early 2008.

Suslenschi notes that the provision for a digitized brigade is actually an armywide deployment instead of a single unit. But such large rollouts take time because new equipment and software must be integrated into command vehicles and command and control systems.

The second phase includes the release of new software supporting a complete command chain system that is based on the integration of the common core into different command and control systems. This phase will be complete by 2009 with full operational capability scheduled for 2011. But Suslenschi emphasizes that the main part of the program’s development will be launched in 2008 and 2009 for qualification and integration. In 2011 the program is scheduled to deliver a complete command chain for a brigade, integrating all systems from individual platforms to the brigade command post, plus all specialized systems such as artillery and air defense applications, he says.

Although the French Ministry of Defense initiated the decision to launch and award the program, Suslenschi explains that Thales used its Battlelab (SIGNAL, October 2004, page 55) and its internal interoperability initiative to provide input and to demonstrate the benefits of an interoperable system to the government. “This is not a research and development project anymore. We have to deliver something operational that can be used in the field,” he says.

MOE SIC Terre also interacts with other French network-centric warfare programs such as the Bulle Operationnelle Aeroterrestre (BOA) (SIGNAL, September 2004, page 42). BOA is an advanced technology demonstration that aims to integrate all software and hardware assets into a seamless network to shorten sensor-to-shooter loops. Suslenschi observes that not only is this a C4I system, but also it involves the research and development of new types of vehicles, weapons and sensors as well as their networking. “The BOA demonstration will add new features to manage more real-time communication and to shorten sensor-to-shooter loops, but it will use the MOE SIC Terre common core,” he says.

The French military is developing common software and communications components that can be shared by all the services. Thales is developing a new combat system for the French navy called SIC 21 that is built around a common core of naval applications and a servicewide information system. MOE SIC Terre is reusing many of the software components from the naval program. Because both systems use the common core and share many applications, they will be able to interoperate at the joint level, he says.

MOE SIC Terre also is developing specific applications to manage communications in ground operations. Although new programs are under consideration, Suslenschi emphasizes that MOE SIC Terre and other initiatives are providing constant, evolutionary improvement to French military systems.

 

Web Resources
Thales: www.thalesgroup.com
NATO Multilateral Interoperability Program: www.mip-site.org
French Ministry of Defense: www.defense.gouv.fr/sites/defense/english_contents