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Imaging System Paints a Big Picture

September 2005
By Henry S. Kenyon

The Common Operating Decision System (CODS) is a decision-making and visualization tool developed for the Norwegian military by Lenco Defense Systems. The technology features high-definition liquid crystal display (LCD) screens arranged in a map table format. The LCDs operate as a single display, allowing users to access satellite imagery and data feeds from radar systems and unmanned aerial vehicles.
Decision-making and planning tool condenses multiple data feeds into one operational image.

NATO and coalition commanders soon may benefit from a Norwegian-designed data fusion and visualization system. The technology allows satellite imagery, three-dimensional terrain maps, and live video and radar feeds to be displayed on a bank of linked high-resolution monitors. The screens can be used in a transportable map table arrangement or in a large display and a static facility.

Creating a common operational picture is both the goal and challenge of network-centric warfare. To operate efficiently, all participating units must have a single, shared picture of the battlefield; however, legacy systems and applications often fragment this image. A tool capable of unifying various data and sensor feeds into a consistent format that can be displayed on a monitor greatly enhances warfighters’ situational awareness.

Providing a data fusion and visualization tool is the goal of the Common Operating Decision System (CODS), a technology designed to interoperate with existing command and control systems. Capable of operating on a variety of computing and display platforms, the most common CODS version is a portable map table comprising nine liquid crystal display screens operating as a single, large display. The screens also can be placed vertically and set up against a wall.

Developed by Lenco Defense Systems, Oslo, CODS can display a variety of satellite, mapping and radar imagery such as tracks from air- and sea-based surveillance systems. This data can then be filtered to meet operator requirements. The system accepts military and civilian geographic information system data formats and features a digital elevation model for a three-dimensional (3-D) terrain display. CODS also can connect to military datalinks and messaging systems to provide commanders with enhanced situational awareness, Lennart Johansen, Lenco’s chief executive officer, explains.

CODS displays symbols and three-dimensional models that comply with international standards or customized data sets. Screen resolution varies from 11 megapixels for laptop computers to more than 40 million megapixels for the large command post map tables. Johansen adds that the system’s scalability permits higher resolution information for large geographic areas when displaying a common operating picture.

The system runs on the Windows operating system, and Johansen claims that it can operate on any Windows platform. The firm is considering a Linux-based version of the system. The software can operate on a server providing data feeds and other graphics data to the map table, or it can be loaded onto a desktop, laptop or tablet computer with a touch-sensitive screen, he says.

CODS began as a project for the Norwegian Battle Lab and Experimentation (NOBLE) organization in 2001. The goal of the effort was to create a common operational picture using available data feeds. “It was designed to be used as a decision-making tool for the commander at the strategic and operational levels,” he says.

According to a NOBLE report, combat scenarios indicated a lack of balance between air, sea and land situational awareness pictures. While the air and sea pictures were sufficient, ground forces had very poor data about their surroundings and their position relative to friendly and hostile units. The program used digital maps on high-resolution liquid crystal display screens to provide imagery and live images to commanders at the strategic, operational and tactical levels. An important aspect of the effort was to reduce the incidents of friendly fire by providing a degree of blue force identification.

The prototype CODS system is already in service with the Norwegian military and has operated with NATO forces in recent exercises as a command and control and battlespace awareness tool. Eight CODS systems are in operation, and some laptop/workstation-enabled systems currently are in use. The Norwegian military is using five CODS systems of varying sizes and capabilities. The two largest units have 25 screens and are being employed for joint and senior command level network-centric warfare experiments. Three nine-screen map table systems are being used for airbase security, aircraft tracking and mission planning or as the core of a mobile tactical headquarters.

Because the multiple screens act as a single display, they produce detailed 3-D maps and operational symbols. CODS displays combine satellite imagery, live data feeds from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and information from several different sources, such as the Norwegian Command, Control and Information System and the Multi Aegis Site Emulator (MASE). MASE data feeds provide real-time radar tracks on all aircraft operating in Norwegian airspace and on surface vessels, submarines and objects such as offshore oil drilling platforms.

Johansen claims that CODS is ready for wide-scale production and use, explaining that it is a proven technology with interfaces into civilian and military data sources such as Link 16. He adds that a variety of other military and government databases can be integrated into the system for joint operations.

CODS has been tested by the U.S. Foreign Comparative Test Office and used in U.S. events such as the Joint Warrior Interoperability Demonstration, now the Coalition Warrior Interoperability Demonstration. During JWID, CODS was the center of the joint tactical headquarters, collecting the common operational picture for the demonstration. Johansen notes that it already has been used in several large NATO exercises.

The technology also has homeland defense and disaster management applications. “You can use it with the Ericsson Call Com system for 911 applications. If you have a rescue center, you can have GPS [global positioning system]-enabled phones reporting into the network,” he says.

For example, a civilian government emergency management unit using CODS could collect data from chemical sensors to track plumes from disasters such as chemical spills and fires. By using an application such as Call Com, citizens in the area where the plume is headed could be warned to evacuate by an alert transmitted to their cellular telephones or wireless devices.

The system is designed for scalability. Johansen notes that the nine-screen graphics table can support three to five end-user computers. A workstation application is used for administration and to provide high-resolution images. An onboard graphics accelerator card is necessary to display images and video, but this is standard equipment on most new model laptop computers, he adds. “You get the same data capability, even on laptop computers,” he says.

CODS units have their own servers, with connections allowing the displays to plug into external systems. All incoming data runs through a common database before it appears on the end-user display. The system then collects new data and sends the updates to the client. In addition, the system can plug into and access information from a variety of databases. For example, a data or elevation model can be added into the system to build terrain. Satellite imagery and other military and civilian data formats can be added. Johansen relates that the system accepts about 130 projections in real time.

The amount of data that the system can handle depends on the size of the attached server, he says. For instance, a large air combat picture with 100 data updates a second or a nautical operations picture can operate with a standard commercial server. All operational data is logged onto the system’s database, which allows users to replay missions and exercises.

Johansen notes that the CODS map table is just the presentation mode with software for bringing up data. The server and a workstation application control the back end of the system. These systems also can be connected. “If you have several headquarters, you can link them together to display the same data and do presentations and situations,” he explains.

User feedback has been positive but indicates a continuing need for greater data fidelity. “It’s always [a request for] more detailed data—higher resolution map data or 3-D models of buildings. For example, an oil platform’s deck plans for a special forces operation, telephone coverage, radio prediction—information like that can be used in the field,” he says.


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