U.S. Army technology center fosters communications equipment integration.
The U.S. Army International Technology Center–Atlantic (USAITC-A) is leveraging technologies from Europe that can be quickly transitioned to support operations as part of the global war on terrorism. Its most recent focus is on capabilities that can counter improvised explosive devices.
The battlefield is not the only place where coalition cooperation happens today. The U.S. Army has found that sometimes the answers to
The U.S. Army International Technology Center–Atlantic (USAITC-A) grew out of standardization efforts and science support that began after World War II but before the formation of NATO. Initial work was designed to ensure basic interoperability, covering such everyday matters as refueling and compatibility—
Today, the organization focuses on integration in the command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) domain. It fulfills a wider role: supporting trans-Atlantic cooperation and information exchange among governments; scouring industry, government and academia for technology and products that can fill gaps in the current Army’s capability; and leveraging the European science and technology base to support Army research and development programs.
The Atlantic center is the largest of three Army ITCs with the same areas of expertise and responsibility. It is headquartered in
Bruce Parker, deputy to the USAITC-A commander, explains that in the mid-1990s six bilateral information exchange agreements (IEAs) were established under an umbrella Master Information Exchange Annex. “With the
IEAs are seen as the seed for bigger work. Technical project officers manage the agreements; formal meetings take place twice a year; and many discussions occur in the interim. “They look for niche areas where we want to cooperate and accomplish work on a larger scale. We have pretty much everything covered now. Unless another technology niche develops so that we need to add more, we will probably stay with those 36,” Parker says.
One of the larger projects with the
The MOU frames the programs and sets their parameters. “What we are doing are project arrangements under the MOU—to seek out specific areas where we want to work. The first was C4ISR because under Future Combat Systems, everything derives from the network. The U.S. Army and the USAITC-A staff worked with the U.K. Capability Manager Information Superiority to work out the details and help get it signed. Once that happened, we backed out. We are not staffed to stay involved with programs; we are staffed to help get things started,” Parker says. Other project arrangements are being considered, including logistics, survivability and experimentation.
Fresh impetus to feed technology from overseas into the Army came in 2001 from Gen. Paul Kern,
According to Ray McGowan, chief, CERDEC Applications Branch, USAITC-A, Gen. Kern wanted to leverage more out of the international community at higher technology readiness levels (TRLs). “He rationalized that with this larger staff and direct familiarity with the specific requirements and needs of each command, technology opportunities at TRLs 1 through 7—relevant solutions including finished products and services—could be more quickly realized.
“One example that would fall into that finished product and service category, and which was one of our great successes at the higher TRL levels, has been CERDEC’s analysis on Inmarsat 4 through a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement. The USAITC-A was instrumental in establishing this,” McGowan says.
The Army previously had looked at Inmarsat with a view to integrating it into the core infrastructure, but this was too costly, McGowan says. However, following meetings between CERDEC researchers at the USAITC-A and Inmarsat engineers on the new Inmarsat 4 capability, this decision was revisited. “We saw that not only was there an order of magnitude increase in capability but there was also a comparative decrease in cost,” McGowan states.
The USAITC-A also arranged Inmarsat meetings with the Force XXI Battle Command Brigade-and-Below (FBCB2) team. “During the initial phases of operation Iraqi Freedom, the FBCB2 team’s capability was about 2 kilobits per second (Kbps). We sat them down with Inmarsat and they explained the Army situation. The Inmarsat guy smiled and said, ‘What would you say to 20 to 40 Kbps?’
“This would revolutionize what can be done with an FBCB2 unit,” McGowan continues. “Not only can live updates of regular information be considered, but live updates of software, too. A further interesting issue is that only about 5 to 10 Kbps are needed to do that. There are another 20 to 30 Kbps remaining that can be used as a voice over Internet protocol channel. With that, FBCB2 gives you basic situational awareness to almost a fully integrated node that is downloadable real time and can receive more current updates as the systems progress.”
By establishing an awareness of its needs with Inmarsat, the Army could guide the design process. “In this case, we have done a fairly good job between CERDEC and Inmarsat to basically provide the capability that the Army will need, ahead of Inmarsat’s initial schedule,” McGowan says. FBCB2 is driving the development of a relatively low-cost on-the-move antenna. Inmarsat’s focus was on a high-gain, high-data-rate antenna. The Inmarsat team’s initial idea was to build a new, omnidirectional, low-cost antenna; however, the schedule for completion was later than the Army’s 2008 to 2009 time frame. By putting FBCB2 into Inmarsat’s requirements, the capability is being developed faster than Inmarsat would have done on its own, he adds.
|One of the USAITC-A’s recent success stories, the Force XXI Battle Command Brigade-and-Below (FBCB2) project team is collaborating with Inmarsat to develop a communications-on-the-move satellite communications antenna that will better meet the needs of FBCB2 users in the near future.|
James Harvey, technical director, USAITC-A, explains that sometimes a European research institution has work that actually leads the
The USAITC-A has modest funding. It contributes small amounts of money to conferences organized by European institutions. “What we get for this money is access to the technical and organizing committee members, who are generally the science and technology leaders in
To crystallize collaboration, the USAITC-A also funds travel to make sure the right scientist from
According to McGowan, the science and technology involved is entirely open. “That is one of our operating credos here. When we award research funding, we expect them to publish. First, it keeps us from having issues with undertaking classified research with foreigners,” he says. “Second, and probably the more important factor for us, is that the research they do is open and consequently vetted by the community through peer review. We are not experts in all fields, and we rely on peer review as one of our best protections.”
There are large areas of European technology that the USAITC-A believes will contribute substantially to the Army’s future networks. McGowan notes that many of the Europeans are well ahead in the areas of information technology and telecommunications. “There are countries that are doing phenomenal things in the mobile and computing environments. They are looking not only at how to do things quickly and smartly in a mobile infrastructure but also at how to do sophisticated functions on small computing platforms without the infrastructure. These are the technologies that are really going to drive our network-centric warfare capability,” he states.
“We are looking at having a virtual assistant that sits on the network to allow you to ask high-level questions. These requests are broken down into subtasks, and the agent technology goes out and gathers the information and formulates the answer to the questions you asked. That gives you real-time information more quickly and efficiently than the enemy [has access to]. That is what network-centric warfare is about: being able to provide that quick capability to make decisions to affect the warfighting capability.”
CERDEC is seeking to build a center of excellence to work on agent technology. “We really view this as one of the technologies that will drive command and control and even night vision because large portions of data functions will be done through agents,” McGowan says.
Via efforts like those of the USAITC-A, the Army is developing a holistic international technology portfolio of the best technologies. “We are not saying that all the answers have to come from the
U.S. Army International Technology Center–Atlantic: www.usaitca.army.mil
U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command: www.rdecom.army.mil
Communications–Electronics Research, Development and