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U.S. Forces-Korea Get the Picture

November 2004
By Maryann Lawlor
E-mail About the Author

 
The common operational picture (COP) of the northeastern United States on the High Resolution COP Display System includes all of the aircraft in the air at a specific time. Each airplane is tagged with an identifier and information about its heading, speed and altitude.
System helps clear the fog in area of responsibility.

High-resolution displays are allowing U.S. troops operating in Korea to view and share an uncluttered, near-real-time common operational picture of the region so they can monitor activity and respond to it faster than could an adversary. The images can be shared both horizontally and vertically with warfighters located throughout the command’s area of responsibility, providing not only situational awareness but also situational understanding.

The Korean peninsula has the largest concentration of military units in the world. When trying to view these entities in the Korean theater on a common operational picture (COP), a map becomes cluttered very quickly because of the relatively small geographical area. Since 1998, U.S. Forces–Korea (USFK) command has been considering obtaining a technical capability that could address this problem and, in 2001, purchased its first data wall. The data wall allows the command to put together a seamless high-resolution display that presents information in a legible format.

Col. Richard J. Petrassi, USAF, chief, Joint Command Information Systems Activity (JCISA), USFK, says that after demonstrating the clarity of the map to the command, the next challenge was to determine how to share the image. “First, we shared the image to other data walls within our command post using RGB [red, green, blue] cabling and a large video matrix. This was fine for a short while, but we were challenged again to get the image out to the warfighters in other command posts,” Col. Petrassi explains.

In the past, the total available image resolution was the standard extended graphics array (XGA) of 1024 x 768 pixels. Although a digital map can reproduce this resolution, the size of the area that can be displayed while maintaining this quality of resolution is limited. For example, the standard    1-to-100,000 ratio map at this resolution could only display a geographic area of 33 kilometers east to west and 20 kilometers north to south. To show the entire map, it would be necessary to zoom out to a 1-to-300,000 scale map, creating a cluttered viewing area that was difficult to read. The command was seeking a COP display that could present a geographical area of 40 kilometers north to south and 100 kilometers east to west at a 1-to-100,000 ratio.

This capability is being delivered to the Korean theater by a team led by Information Systems Support (ISS) Incorporated, Gaithersburg, Maryland, through its High Resolution COP Display System. The system is meeting the needs at a number of command posts as well as in the field and involves a combination of technologies.

One of these technologies is screen scraping. It allows the video wall controller to grab a computer image via transmission control protocol/Internet protocol, or TCP/IP. The computer image can then be shared across the network and viewed anywhere on the network. The resolution does not have to be reduced to transport the image. Douglas Henderson, audio video systems engineer, USFK command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems support, NCI Information Systems Incorporated, Reston, Virginia, explains that the software pulls the image off the frame buffer on the video card before it is sent to the output of the video card. “If you load a program or an image, it will actually appear on the data wall before it displays on the local monitor,” he relates.

Cost and speed are the two greatest benefits of this technology, he adds. “In the past, when someone wanted to have an image displayed, we would have to run a high-resolution RGB cable from a matrix or the desired display device to the computer, use a costly interface device, then program a control system to recognize that this is a source that is now available. Depending on the location of the computer and matrix, this can cost $800 to $5,000, take a day to a week to install and is limited by the type of facility. Using screen scraping, this can be done in 30 minutes at no additional cost,” Henderson explains.

Another element of the system is called the Web COP. The software searches for a computer that is on the network, looks for the command and control personal computer (C2PC) that is running on the computer, captures the image of the C2PC window, then places it on a Web site as a jpeg file for open viewing. As a result, multiple sites can display the image simultaneously. “It is not real-time, but it can be refreshed every minute, so the data is never too old. If a site has low bandwidth, it can reduce the number of times that it refreshes,” Henderson states.

Lee Price, command, control, communications, computers and intelligence projects manager, Asia division, ISS, explains that the Web COP solved the network lag problem when multiple controllers wanted to display the same computer image. “Any computer residing on the secure GCCS-K [Global Command and Control System–Korea] network can be pointed to the Web COP server. After that has been accomplished, any video wall controller can be pointed to the Web COP server and can display any of the computers listed there. JCISA developed this capability from scratch. We can now display any computer residing on the GCCS-K network at its native resolution, which is a critical element, without experiencing the wide area network lag problems we faced in the past,” Price offers.

One of the key benefits of the system is that it not only allows images to be shared but also offers high-resolution images of a larger geographic area. While the standard video card used on a GCCS-K computer provides an output resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels, the High Resolution COP Display System uses two Colorgraphic Predator Pro four-headed video cards in the COP computers. The cards provide an XGA resolution to each of eight outputs. “We configure the array as three wide by two high, which translates into 3072 by 1536 pixels,” Price explains.

Various sizes of video cubes configured in sets of six are available. “We have used 50-inch, 67-inch and 84-inch cubes in our video wall installations. The size of the cubes is driven by several factors. Cost, room dimensions and number of images to be displayed are just a few. We also have developed a transportable system for the 8th U.S. Army to use in its field units, in the back of a truck or in a tent. These are critical as the units in the field need to be able to develop and view the same high-resolution images as the commander’s command and control facilities have,” he adds.

Henderson emphasizes that the biggest problem with creating the high-resolution COP is displaying it. “You cannot use a standard monitor, plasma, projector or liquid crystal display for displaying the COP. We have found a company in Korea called Elport.com that custom makes the desktop display and portable wall display for us,” he shares.

Although the system offers significant benefits, it cannot totally replace the RGB technology. Price notes that one advantage of the traditional methodology is that it addresses security issues. “Not all computers that need to be displayed are available on the secure network. This means that you still have a requirement to display computers via a hard-wired system. The disadvantage is that the computers are not on the network, so systems such as the Web COP cannot reach them via a wide area network,” he offers.

Henderson adds that there are other disadvantages to the RGB approach. “This type of signal can be sent over copper cable for about 250 feet before there is significant loss. The advantage is that you do not need a network for the image to be displayed; it can be full-motion video; and it can be connected to other display devices such as plasma displays or projectors. The disadvantages are the cost as well as being limited to viewing the image only in the facility where you are located because the higher the resolution of the computer image, the shorter the cable length,” he explains.

Although the High Resolution COP Display System resolves these issues, it is not without shortcomings. Sharing images requires bandwidth, a commodity that Price points out will always be in high demand. However, Henderson relates that screen scraping primarily takes place on the local area network rather than on the wide area network. “Bandwidth inside of the facilities is a minimum of 100 megabits per second. The initial push can be large, but after that, it only sends the data that changes on the screen. This works great for maps, Web sites and PowerPoint slides. Today, sources that have full-motion video need to be done with RGB cables. In the future, we hope to eliminate the need for that as well,” Henderson explains.

Col. Petrassi relates that the High Resolution COP Display System offers significant benefits to U.S. troops in Korea. “Anything that helps the warfighter gain and maintain situation awareness increases his ability to win any engagement. These tools obviously help in gaining situational awareness, but they go beyond that. They help the warfighter achieve situational understanding by giving him a near-real-time display of friendly and enemy forces in enough detail that he can see and react faster than the adversary. And these images can be shared horizontally and vertically throughout the command. They are not available just in the Headquarters–Combined Forces Command warfighting location. Potentially, this will save U.S. and ROK [Republic of Korea] lives and treasure if hostilities ever erupt again on the peninsula,” he says.

Currently, more than 30 systems have been fielded and more will be installed as funding becomes available. Price believes that as the system matures and users become more aware of the capabilities, improvements will be made. “Developing filters to allow different classification-level systems to be used in conjunction will be one of the next requirements I foresee,” he says.

Henderson adds that the controllers now in use for the data walls are PC-based, so as technologies advance, the platform will most likely be modified. “As an example, until recently, if the command had a list of critical items that needed to be displayed, they would use a computer on the tactical operations center floor, make a PowerPoint slide show, then display it continuously. This eats up valuable desk space and computer resources. Now, these items are pushed to a Web page that can be displayed using the data wall controller directly. This frees up the computer in the tactical operations center for more important work. In the future, we believe that streaming video for unmanned aerial vehicles and other items will be available directly to the controller,” he explains.

Web Resources
U.S. Forces–Korea: www.korea.army.mil
Joint Command Information Systems Activity: www.korea.army.mil/org/j6/JCISA-Test/html/index.asp
Information Systems Support Incorporated: www.iss-md.com/home.php
NCI Information Systems Incorporated: www.nciinc.com