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News Briefs

March 17, 2008
SIGNAL Staff

Red Flag for Future Combat Systems
The U.S. Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS) may fail if its computer network does not perform, according to a new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). Although the FCS network and software components are the glue that holds the various robotic and vehicle components together, the report concludes that both of these important features are not yet stable at the system level and below. The GAO report notes that while such instability may be expected with a relatively immature program, the FCS is halfway through its development and following an ambitious schedule. These shortcomings have led to rework and deferred system functionality. Another concern cited is the complexity of the system’s software, which has grown to 95 million lines of code. This may lead to higher costs than the Army is estimating. The program faces a series of reviews beginning in next year and culminating in a full network demonstration in 2012. Because the vehicle and other systems composing FCS are so tightly linked to the software and network components, any delays at this point would affect the entire program. In the event of a delay or failure amid the general uncertainty surrounding the program, the GAO recommends that the Army keep alternative plans for the FCS ready.

Rescue Ready
The U.S. Coast Guard has declared the Rescue 21 program operationally ready. The program is now the Coast Guard’s primary command, control and communications system to locate vessels in distress and to rescue mariners in regions in which it is deployed. The service recently accepted Rescue 21 at the Jacksonville, Florida, Coast Guard sector, which brings total system deployment to 11 regions. Once fully implemented, Rescue 21 will provide communications along the U.S. coastline, Great Lakes region, Hawaii, Guam and San Juan. Full implementation is scheduled for 2011.

New Marine Tactical Vests on Indefinite Hold
U.S. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James T. Conway, USMC, has ordered that purchases of the Marine Corps’ new modular vests cease after they drew complaints about design and practicality. The heavy vests, like the older design, are built around protective ceramic plates. And although the vests have proved to be a lifesaving resource, other features along with their weight, such as the pullover design, are drawing enough negative feedback to halt delivery. The Marine Corps ordered 84,000 vests in 2006, 76,000 of which have been delivered and are being worn by all Marines being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Alternative options, including adding features to mitigate irritants or moving on to a next-generation vest, are currently being evaluated.

Wireless Jigsaw in Space
Future satellites may end up being little more than free-flying wireless networks. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is developing a system that will allow satellites to be built in orbit from prefabricated components. The goal of the Future, Fast, Flexible, Fractionated, Free-Flying Spacecraft United by Information Exchange (System F6) program is to demonstrate that a cluster of smaller, individually launched, wirelessly networked spacecraft modules can replace traditional large, single-unit satellites. Each fractionated module contributes a unique capability to the rest of the network such as computing, ground communications or payload functions. Another objective of the System F6 program is to launch a demonstration fractionated spacecraft system into orbit in the next four years.

Secure Messaging for Italian Military
The Italian ministry of defense is modernizing its core communications infrastructure. The Italian Joint Military Message Handling System (IT-JMMHS) will provide NATO-standard, secure and interoperable messaging for the nation’s military. The goal of IT-JMMHS is to replace the ministry’s current messaging system with one that meets NATO standards. The Italian government has selected EADS to develop the hardware and software for a testbed and the overall messaging infrastructure for several military installations. If the system meets validation and security criteria, the headquarters of Italy’s Joint General Staff will be the first operational site equipped with IT-JMMHS.

Universities to Lead Homeland Security Centers of Excellence
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has selected 11 universities to lead five new centers of excellence. The academic institutions will receive grants of up to $2 million per year over four to six years. The centers of excellence are located across the country, and each has a specific focus area including border security and immigration; explosives detection, mitigation and response; maritime, island and port security; natural disasters, coastal infrastructure and emergency management; and transportation security. The efforts involve examining ways to increase the safety of people and infrastructure through methods and technologies.

ISR Development Agreement Signed
The U.S. Army’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center’s Intelligence and Information Warfare Directorate and Lockheed Martin Corporation have signed a cooperative research agreement to develop tactical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities. The partners will work to develop tools and technologies that will support current and future Army warfighting requirements. Efforts include investigating capabilities that enhance persistent ISR in a global networked environment, improve situational awareness and knowledge management across multiple domains and improve decision-making abilities at all echelons. The research covers experimentation, development and analysis of operational concepts and wargaming.

Marines Undergo Explosive Hands-On Training
U.S. Marines from the 2nd Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Company, 8th Engineer Support Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, are undertaking “Five Week Road to War,” an intensive training course focusing on improved handling of deadly improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The lessons vary between classroom sessions and practical application as Marines are taught about electronic theory and circuitry; chemical, radiological and biological threats; and techniques in working with IEDs and EOD equipment. In the field, the Marines get hands-on experience in assembly and disposal of IEDs and apply course training to real-world scenarios and simulations.

Microsoft Gazes Into the Future
Researchers from around the world touted their wares at TechFest 2008, an annual Microsoft Corporation innovation fair. Nearly 40 new technologies were displayed at the gathering, and several dozen more were accessible only to Microsoft employees. Innovations demonstrated included novel user interfaces for collaboration and a see-through touch screen for mobile devices that allows users to interact with a translucent computer screen by touching the back of the device. In addition, attendees had the opportunity to see the WorldWide Telescope, a visualization environment that combines imagery from advanced ground- and space-based telescopes to allow guided explorations of the universe.

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