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Multinational Collaboration Feeds Solutions at Home

August 2006
By Adam Baddeley

 
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.
U.S. Army technology center fosters communications equipment integration.

The battlefield is not the only place where coalition cooperation happens today. The U.S. Army has found that sometimes the answers to United States’ technical questions reside overseas, and one of its organizations is taking advantage of expertise available across the Atlantic to address relentless issues such as maximizing data throughput and minimizing information overload.

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—U.S. and European trucks that could use the same gas nozzle. Additional efforts aimed to help the European university research community recover from the war.

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 London and has offices in France and Germany. A second ITC is based in Japan with offices in Singapore and Australia, while a single site in Chile with subordinate sites in Canada and Argentina covers North America and South America.

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 United Kingdom being our closest ally, we wanted to do more work government to government. We have helped build that up. We went from six [agreements] then to 36 today with many of them linked to specific programs,” he states.

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 United Kingdom is the Land Battlespace Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). “We are looking for collaboration [between] the U.S. Future Combat Systems and the U.K. Future Rapid Effects System programs to ensure they become interoperable. While this MOU was waiting to be signed, the existing IEAs were used as interim measures to begin the work,” Parker explains.

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, USA (Ret.), former commanding general of the Army Materiel Command. Until then, the USAITC-A’s work focused on finding opportunities in basic research and applied science that could be leveraged to support programs in Army laboratories. As a result of Gen. Kern’s initiative, three engineers from the Army Research, Development and Engineering Command were added to the European staff: one from the Aviation and Missile Research, Development and EngineeringCenter; one from the Communications–Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC); and one from the Tank and Automotive Research, Development and EngineeringCenter. The research and development mission expanded to include significant effort in the applications technology areas. Since then, the mission has continued to expand to focus on issues bearing on the current force and the current fight, while maintaining coverage of issues impacting the future force.

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.
Since its inception in 1947, the USAITC-A has undergone a number of changes. The former European Research Office (ERO) has been integrated into the USAITC-A as its research and development division. It focuses on finding science and technology opportunities that are in some sense unique and unavailable from U.S. sources.

James Harvey, technical director, USAITC-A, explains that sometimes a European research institution has work that actually leads the United States in niche areas. For example, the U.S. Army laboratory programs have significant interest in much of the science and technology of Eastern European countries. In addition to identifying opportunities, the USAITC-A transitions European science and technology opportunities into U.S. Army programs, where program managers are driven by immediate deadlines and budget constraints. This is very challenging, Harvey says.

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 Europe in the subject matter fields covered by the conference. We are considered ‘players’ in the technology field and get much better access than if we had just showed up to attend the conference. Where the conferences organized by civilian institutions are not adequately covering issues of military significance in their technology field, USAITC-A can initiate focused workshops. We usually try to obtain supplemental funding from interested U.S. Army programs when we are paying for most of the workshop expenses, but then we control the objectives, the agenda, the speakers and the participants,” Harvey explains.

To crystallize collaboration, the USAITC-A also funds travel to make sure the right scientist from Europe talks to the right person in the Army laboratories. “One of the rules that we follow is that we will not fund a project overseas unless there is co-funding by a program in the U.S. Army or a U.S. Army program that will commit to future funding once certain exit criteria are met,” he says. “There has to be some kind of buy-in from a U.S. Army program. This provides a mechanism for self-discipline to ensure that the projects we fund are truly of interest to an Army program and will be transitioned into the program. We are always careful that we are not ‘supporting’ foreign science and technology but rather are leveraging capabilities that already exist.”

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.”

Harvey points to a technology delivering benefit today that was funded in this way. In the early 1990s, the organization funded a retired radar engineer, literally working out of his garage in Germany, who had new approaches to quiet ultra wideband antennas. “He was doing this very much more carefully than others, and he was able to build antennas that were about 40 decibels quieter than the industry standard,” Harvey notes. This technology is now an integral part of an important force protection program, he relates.

More recently, Harvey explains, the USAITC-A has been chartered to focus heavily on the current fight. “We are looking at IED [improvised explosive device] detection solutions—all the way from equipment that is being sold right now to technology that is being developed that could affect the issue in the future,” Harvey says.

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.

“Some of Europe’s centers of excellence in software are premium, particularly agent technology,” McGowan states. “Agent technology is what drives some Internet search engines. The core of agent technology is how to use all the information being collected out in the battlespace to ascertain what is pertinent to a decision,” McGowan shares. “How does a soldier who is sitting in a command post rapidly make a decision after surfing through about 2 to 3 gigabytes of information? How can I help him to put together an accurate picture? Agent technology is the answer.

“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.,” McGowan notes. “This office gives the Army the opportunity to ask whether the best answer for technology gaps may lie in Europe. CERDEC is working with our primary customers Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications–Tactical; Program Executive Office Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors; and Program Executive Office, Enterprise Information Systems. Each one is actively going through and identifying their gaps, and we use that information and talk to people who might have an answer. It’s not a wild search; it is very much driven by our customers,” he states.

 

Web Resources
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 EngineeringCenter: www.cerdec.army.mil