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Joint Working Group Maps Coherent Modernization

October 2001
By David R. Zenker

Government solicits private sector input on evolution of airborne signals intelligence systems.

The U.S. Defense Department is seeking industry input on the design of the next generation of airborne signals intelligence systems. The joint effort, which involves the services, a defense agency and the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence, is known as the Joint Airborne Signals Intelligence Architecture Standards Working Group. It will build on past defense and industry successes to create the next version of the signals intelligence architecture document. The group is led by the National Security Agency and projects publication of version 2.0 in early 2002.

The challenges of future dynamic expeditionary military missions demand a level of integration, collaboration and information exchange that facilitates real-time views of the battlespace. This capability is necessary to enable distributed command and control of dispersed units and capabilities. With revitalized interest in homeland security—including missile defense, critical infrastructure protection and nuclear surety—the range of Defense Department missions remains highly diverse and broad. The application of standardized integrated architectural views and products within the department provides the means to meet information superiority goals that can be documented and measured to show the operational relevance of capabilities to those missions.

Command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR)-compliant architectures are the current Defense Department mechanism for managing the complexities of the operational, system and technical interfaces for interoperability, connectivity, modernization and security. Verified compliant architectures facilitate the quick synthesis of “go-to-war” requirements with sound investments, which permit efficiently engineered warrior systems that feature improved operational capabilities. The ability to compare, analyze and integrate architectures from a cross-organizational perspective is intrinsic to C4ISR-compliant architectures and critical to achieving integration objectives.

The Joint Airborne Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) Architecture, or JASA, version 2.0 is a C4ISR architectural framework-compliant document that describes the airborne SIGINT domain. It will define the construct that airborne tactical SIGINT systems must adopt to fully integrate and bolster current expeditionary military missions and support the various views of future warfighting as described in Joint Vision 2010/2020. These two plans encompass both the military services vision documents and the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance-Integrated Capstone Strategic Plan, which fall under the purview of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence.

That integration must occur within the JASA domain, among tactical SIGINT elements as a whole, across national and tactical SIGINT boundaries, and across differing information disciplines. This is essential to be able to continue to meet the needs of warfighters, planners and decision makers engaged in the missions of the Defense Department and its National Command Authorities.

Key characteristics of JASA include an open architecture, digitization close to the sensor front-end, a high bandwidth digital local area network, interface standards to facilitate connectivity between various hardware implementations, inclusion of security safeguards throughout the architecture, and optimum use of commercial technology. As a standards-based open architecture, JASA enhances interoperability between SIGINT systems and defines a road map for the migration of current systems to ensure coherent modernization.

Transformation studies are ongoing within the series of panels reviewing a revised national security and military strategy; however, the JASA effort remains relevant because of the need for interoperable and integrated information capabilities that directly support the operational user. Since the last call for industry input in 1999 and the release of JASA version 1.0 in November 2000 (SIGNAL, December 1999, page 79), a draft JASA version 2.0 has been developed.

To accomplish this task, the JASA Standards Working Group, or JSWG, employed the Defense Department-mandated C4ISR architecture framework approach to refine, update and document a comprehensive depiction of the airborne SIGINT domain. In the draft, the various architectural views are strengthened in scope, content and concordance to present a complementary airborne SIGINT architectural description that adequately considers modernization efforts to implement future system modifications and new system development.

The operational view describes assigned tasks, information flows and other operational elements within the airborne SIGINT community that are required to support the warfighter. It defines the types of information exchanged, the frequency of the exchanges and the nature of the information exchanges in sufficient detail to ascertain specific interoperability requirements. This view links to the tactical SIGINT domain and the Unified Cryptologic Architecture operational view and supports the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance-Integrated Strategic Plan vectors for the 21st century and the Joint Staff’s emerging joint operational architecture for information superiority, including multi-intelligence discipline correlation, collaboration and fusion.

The systems view captures information flows between JASA elements, the systems that support that flow, and the communication systems that maintain the interconnection. It shows how multiple airborne SIGINT systems link and interoperate, and begins to describe the internal construction and operation of particular systems within the architecture. This view associates physical resources and their performance attributes to the operational view and its requirements in accordance with the standards defined in the technical view. The systems view contributes to the larger tactical SIGINT domain architectural description, the Unified Cryptologic Architecture documents and the emerging Global Information Grid, providing a view of future airborne SIGINT systems that the Defense Department will procure.

The technical view contains services, configurations, standards and conventions that will be implemented in the systems view. It specifies standards and provides some technology forecasting information. This view supplies the technical systems implementation guidelines on which engineering specifications are based, common building blocks are established and product lines are developed. One of the key tenets of the technical view is that it is based on an association between the operational requirements and their supporting systems, enabling technologies and appropriate interoperability criteria. The primary product of the technical view is a standards matrix, including annexes and appendices. It supports the larger Unified Cryptologic Architecture technical architecture and is complementary to the Joint Technical Architecture version 4.

The successful development of JASA version 1.0 was a result of Defense Department and industry collaboration that provided diverse perspectives ranging from operational planning to system implementation. Since the JASA Industry Day in 1995, the department has solicited industry participation in the evolution of JASA. To achieve a similarly successful team effort in developing JASA version 2.0, JSWG is again soliciting input from industry. The plan is to formally release the document to industry for comment this month, collect both industry and Defense Department comments, incorporate those comments into version 2.0, and release the completed JASA version 2.0 in early 2002.

During the coming year, the airborne SIGINT community will closely watch a myriad of changes. To remain operationally relevant, JASA must address numerous challenges: the expected change in national security and military strategies, the emerging joint operational architecture and Global Information Grid definitions, the shift from the C4ISR architecture framework to a Defense Department architecture framework document, and the move toward integrated warfighting concepts.

The belief that JASA provides the bridging mechanism to ensure the integrity and linkage of the airborne SIGINT capability into the future suggests that it continues to play a vital role. Further, JASA provides a foundation to address extended interoperability and collaboration issues surrounding future U.S. participation in operations that will involve coalition activity.

Industry comment on candidate JASA standards and architectures continues to be a key step in the standards and architecture validation process. From a Defense Department perspective, partnership with industry is essential to leverage commercial technological advances into future airborne SIGINT standards and architectures. As JASA stakeholders ponder airborne SIGINT fleet investment decisions, they will continue to develop technical partnerships with industry. The Defense Department increasingly will look to industry for recommendations on innovative solutions to satisfy size, weight, power and performance requirements for new airborne SIGINT systems.

Additional information on the Joint Airborne SIGINT Architecture Standards Working Group is available on the World Wide Web at

David R. Zenker is chairman of the JASA Standards Working Group.