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International Defense Contractors Formulate Next-Century Standards

November 1999
By Michelle L. Hankins

Partners create company to meet alliance need for tactical area communication system specifications.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is developing standards for products that will be incorporated into a tactical communications system to unify forces and encourage interoperability on tomorrow’s battlefield in international missions. The alliance must guarantee that the systems it employs in the next century will function with other technologies developed by a plethora of multinational companies. To do this, a major effort is underway to create technical guidelines for the organization’s communications architecture.

The program, known as TACOMS Post-2000, is developing standardization agreements for products entering service after 2005. The program’s work product will then be submitted to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for acceptance. These standardization agreements will focus on battlefield systems as well as area communications systems that link divisional headquarters. Air and naval communications standardization requirements will also be addressed. The TACOMS Post-2000 group is expected to request proposals from companies for the standardization work this year, according to a defense industry professional.

Responding to the call for new NATO standards for tactical communication systems, several defense firms have formed a joint venture to develop a bid for the NATO standards project. Partnering in this effort are British Aerospace Defense Systems; DaimlerChrysler Aerospace (Germany); ITT Industries Aerospace/Communications (United States); Marconi Communications (Italy); and Thomson-CSF (France). Officially announced in August, the new firm, TAC ONE, is based in Paris and operates under French law. Theodor von Keller has been named president of TAC ONE.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization can maximize its communications capabilities by enhancing tactical area communications that link forces in the field to commanders. The objective is to facilitate a secure network that will support the tactical commanders’ communications needs to improve battlefield decision making. This technology would carry voice, data and video transmissions along a high-speed network to provide a common picture of the battlefield in near real time.

Communications equipment based on international design standards would allow units to send and receive faxes and video transmissions and enable videoconferencing. Information passed through the system could be encrypted for security and could include plain text or graphics files. A key to this rugged network is mobile communications.

With a 21st century tactical communications system comprising interoperable products developed in many countries, commanders could receive intelligence information and other data that could be shared between battlefield operating systems. Standardized equipment from several nations also could be used to exchange targeting data from sensor to weapon. The tactical communications network of tomorrow would provide cartographic information from geographic databases. Meteorological information would also assist commanders during missions. Additionally, leaders could connect to a logistics information database if international systems could work together.

The TACOMS concept includes technology that comprises four main subsystems: a wide area subsystem, a local area subsystem, a mobile subsystem, and a system management and control subsystem. Mobile subscriber terminal radios would link users on the various networks and on moving units.

The TACOMS organization is a follow-on to a NATO working group called project group six (PG/6). The PG/6 working group made recommendations about the development of advanced architectures for new communications systems. The Committee of NATO Armaments Directors has endorsed these recommendations.

In July 1998, 12 NATO nations concluded a memorandum of understanding regarding the TACOMS initiative. Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States all signed the memorandum. With the exception of Turkey and Portugal, each nation provides an equal share of the financial backing for the TACOMS effort. Representatives from the participating nations serve on the project steering group to control the program’s direction, and delegates from the countries make up the international project office staff at various times throughout the program.

TACOMS’ international project office is staffed by a project manager from the United States, a principal engineer from Germany and five systems engineers—one each from France, Italy, Canada, Norway and the United Kingdom. The organization comprises the project office, a project steering group and a host entity provided by the French Ministry of Defense.

Each of the five TAC ONE partners is a major international tactical communications equipment producer. The joint venture initiative is aimed at gaining wide acceptance in the international defense community. Together, the companies have a major presence in the defense markets in nine of the nations that support the TACOMS Post-2000 initiative. APEC in Spain, EID in Portugal and Aselsan and NETAS in Turkey are also partnering in the project.

TAC ONE partners will base their work on the use of commercial technologies in NATO’s missions. Through cooperation, the group hopes to increase interoperability of the products that each firm will develop beyond the year 2000. TAC ONE’s response to the international project office’s request for proposals is expected early next year.

Involvement in the standards development process from the beginning allows industry to work with governmental organizations to create technologies that can service military requirements, taking into account company product initiatives. “The aim is to be there where we can influence the standards for the kinds of products we will be producing in the future,” Roger Caley says. Caley is Ptarmigan project executive for British Aerospace Defence Systems, Christchurch, Dorset, United Kingdom. Caley explains that each TAC ONE partner will focus on standards development for products that correspond with an individual company’s specialization.

Caley states that international systems must operate together but says that often products from several countries cannot be used in one network. “They can’t interoperate. Some provide a digital interface; some provide an analog interface,” he illustrates. “All the products that will be developed in this project will hopefully have the same interface.”

The issues driving the establishment of new standards are interoperability and procurement costs, Thomson-CSF officials say. “The need for interoperability has been recognized a long time ago, and all international missions involving tactical communications equipment and systems have underlined the necessity to achieve it with a minimum of effort and cost. Common standards will clearly contribute to that goal,” Thomson officials maintain.

Company officials note that the only widely used standards for tactical communications that are available in NATO are EUROCOM specifications, which were developed in the 1970s. Otherwise, no standards exist for tactical communications that address recent technology developments.

International missions such as in the Persian Gulf, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo confirmed the need for product specifications, Caley observes. Technologies must be developed that operate in tandem with other products as well as in different locations. As an example, he cites Britain’s Ptarmigan system to explain how products are developed with specific functions in mind. Ptarmigan, in particular, was developed for the British Army of the Rhine. When used in different locations, however, the system encountered difficulties. “Because of different terrain, you find that certain systems don’t lend themselves to it [the terrain],” Caley says. Some products can experience failure in areas where temperature, climate and landscape differ widely from the nation in which the product was developed. More satellite communications were needed with Ptarmigan according to Caley.

Thomson officials note the use of commercial technology in emerging system development. “Future standards will rely to a maximum [extent] on civil technology. They will facilitate multilateral cooperation, reducing development cost and increasing the size of production runs,” officials contend. The change from using hardware-based systems to using newer software-based systems increases the need for standards to direct industry in creating interoperable software solutions.

The development of standards would help create a system that would put commanders “inside the decision loop,” John Kirkwood, ITT Industries Aerospace/Communications spokesperson, allows. The standards focus on interoperability to develop the appropriate architecture to enable the most effective communications system.