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Global Aerospace Firm Offers Solutions to German Defense

September 1999
By Robert K. Ackerman
E-mail About the Author

The military’s high-technology challenges are now the commercial defense community’s challenges.

Ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, other barriers are crumbling within the German defense community. The private sector is playing a key role in convincing the military to abandon its old ways of doing business and adapt to the dynamism of the information age.

Interoperability remains a quest as stratified long-term stovepipe systems defy easy interconnection. Burgeoning information systems mandate effective security solutions throughout the infrastructure. And, multiple generations of new technologies appear during the lifetime of a single acquisition program.

The private sector, long the recipient of direction from its military customer, now offers solutions to these challenges based on its own experience in the commercial marketplace. In addition to serving as the source of new electronics technologies and systems, industry is impelling a cultural change within Germany’s defense community to enable these technologies to fulfill requirements effectively.

Many of these issues are being addressed by DaimlerChrysler Aerospace AG, known as DASA. Despite the recently merged firm’s trans-Atlantic flavor, 70 percent of the Ulm, Germany, company’s defense electronics business is in German national sales. Only about 25 to 30 percent involves exports.

Dipl. Phys. Jürgen Dangel, DASA senior vice president and head of command, control, communications and intelligence (C3I) activities, states that the company seeks to concentrate all of its German activities in aircraft, space and defense activities. This follows the firm’s longstanding expertise established by predecessors such as MBB, Dornier and Telefunken as well as resources absorbed by the acquisition of Siemens’ defense activities.

From a corporate perspective, the company’s biggest problem is bringing together individuals who came from other firms with different cultures and business methodologies. Many of these firms had been competitors before they were gathered under the DASA umbrella.

Other mergers may be in the offing. DASA had been engaged in close discussions with British Aerospace to form a pan-European aerospace and defense company along the lines of U.S. giants such as The Boeing Company and Lockheed Martin. These talks failed to conclude in a merger agreement, but both companies are involved in joint programs with other firms in the United Kingdom. “There is no doubt that you have to have further mergers within Europe,” Dangel declares.

Since January, DASA has formed a new organization aimed at the German military market. This new group, known as the defense and civil systems business unit, comprises four divisions: C3I; airborne systems, which includes all electronics for airborne applications; electronics for ground and naval systems; and missile and air defense systems. Dangel relates that this breakdown somewhat mirrors that of Germany’s defense procurement agency, BWB.

Dangel sees opportunities arising from Germany’s recent change in government. The new Gerhard Schröder administration is not linked to past ideas and can begin with a clean slate. Germany’s defense minister, Rudolf Scharping, recently called for common command, control and communications (C3), Dangel notes.

One primary area of work in DASA’s C3I division entails command and control systems. A second activity involves radio communications, which tends to focus on tactical systems. These range from high frequency to millimeter wave systems. A third focus is on communications networks. One major company program is the German army’s new Autoko system.

A fourth operation entails communications/electronic warfare. Dangel explains that this encompasses activities ranging from direction finding to countermeasures. Simulation and training is a fifth activity in the division. Dangel notes that this work resides in the C3I division because it is similar to command and control. While the company is performing some weapon simulation for German forces, its main thrust in this division involves training. The dividing lines among these five disciplines are fading as command, control and communications draw closer under a single activity, Dangel notes.

A significant challenge is to bring together Germany’s military information systems after years of independent development. Dangel points out that each service has its own command system and its own separate communications system. “You have big problems enabling interoperability between even national services,” he states. This difficulty is compounded by the difference between command systems and communications systems. Many command systems were designed with little thought of their operation in different command situations.

Now that Germany is engaging in out-of-area operations such as those in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Kosovo, it is discovering further interoperability problems. These range from difficulties among the national services to problems linking with allies. Citing experiences in the two European regions, Dangel relates that “it was a big problem to have interoperability between all the different forces.”

While joint interoperability is a major thrust in the United States, Germany is discussing how to link its separate forces with common command and control systems. No easy solution is apparent, Dangel warrants. Another need is a common communication system for all German forces that also interoperates with those of allied nations.

In addition to technical problems inherent in breaking down these barriers, cultural challenges also beckon. Dangel notes that many of Germany’s forces have operated their own independent command and control systems for more than 30 years. Each service holds a natural resistance to adopting a standard proposed by another service.

Central to this interoperability challenge is each service’s different mission. Their communications systems tend to be geared toward their own requirements for service-specific tasks. The key to overcoming this, Dangel says, is to define how much C3 can be common before differences begin to emerge.

To help Germany’s forces attain a common command system, DASA is offering solutions to bring existing systems under a single umbrella. Communications between two command systems are not a problem with appropriate interfaces, Dangel says. The issue is to determine the desirable level of commonality to link all these systems.

The primary thrust will be toward internal German interoperability. This will be solved before Germany’s information systems are interoperable with its allies, Dangel predicts.

An information line from surveillance data activities to the command arena is another vital need that Dangel cites. Many countries share the problem of possessing considerable intelligence expertise and data, but are not effectively delivering it into a command and control link for decision making. It primarily is an interoperability problem to supply data for effective analysis and decision making, he says.

Dangel notes that the portable Stinger missile serves as an example of this limitation. In a stand-alone use, the missile can be less effective against fast, low-flying aircraft. However, a user equipped with a laptop displaying air surveillance data can improve the chances of a successful Stinger intercept by more than 70 percent, Dangel states. Providing this small bit of information to the front lines greatly enhances operational effectiveness.

This information integration is second in importance only to interoperability, Dangel declares. Key to its success is providing algorithms that filter data for the user to avoid information overload. The Stinger application, for example, would involve air-tracking data only for the region within the missile’s range immediately surrounding the operator. This filtering likely would take place at the source database that would be accessed by the customer, Dangel suggests.

DASA’s biggest hurdle in this endeavor is in defining surveillance data to enable easy input to the database. Currently, surveillance systems tend to operate under different specifications and are ill-suited for a common database. Officials must adopt the common database approach and ensure specifications that will permit easy connection of any surveillance sensor to the database, Dangel says.

The information filtering problem is another challenge. Each user must have access to the intelligence database but without being overwhelmed by unnecessary data. No decision has been made yet on whether this filtering would apply when the user tries to pull data or if the database would push relevant data to the user without the need for a request. Dangel suggests, however, that the pull activity would avoid the trap of a non-user defining relevance for pushed data.

A third focus is component off-the-shelf and modular off-the-shelf products. Dangel explains that these commercial purchases, which include both hardware and software, can have a strong effect on C3I systems. The driving force for innovation is the commercial marketplace, especially in communications and information technologies. However, this presents the military with two problems.

One involves military specifications. The traditional military procurement program lifetime of 15 years is an eternity to some elements of the information technology sector. Many high-technology products are obsolete long before then, and some of their source companies may even have gone out of business. The defense community must adjust to a new track of replacing computer hardware every five years.

This requirement represents a significant opportunity for defense electronics companies, Dangel observes. It also portends a changing role for these companies. They will no longer be developers of hardware or military-specific software packages, but instead they will be implementers adapting civilian solutions to military requirements. This is more of a system definition and integration role than in the past, Dangel says. He describes it as a “big chance,” adding that “it will be our role for the future.”

This is especially true for commercial communications. The increased likelihood of out-of-area operations opens up opportunities for satellite communications providers. Germany lacks sufficient communications in this context, as it is forced to rely on radio frequency links for out-of-area operations. Connecting German facilities with forces in the distant field requires renting commercial satellite assets. Several governments are discussing the possibility of launching a European military communication satellite, but the growing range of commercial systems almost guarantees their use by the military. “The whole defense electronics/communications family must look very strongly on the use of commercial products for the future,” Dangel relates.

Adjoining most of these issues is information warfare. Dangel warrants that the war of the future will be defined by whomever has information superiority. Obtaining this information superiority will be a prime concern, but many military experts in Germany have different perspectives on information warfare, he says. Some see it as an extension of electronic warfare, while others maintain that it can only be passive, for example. Ongoing Ministry of Defense studies are examining how Germany can achieve information security and obtain information superiority.

This is complicated by the fact that information warfare is not merely a military problem, Dangel notes. Attacks on the civilian infrastructure could be even more damaging to a nation than conventional attacks. “If you really want to destroy something in information warfare, it is easy,” he maintains, adding that the war of the future will not be a conventional war pitting people against people, but instead will be fought with information.

Dangel’s company is currently developing its strategy for operating in this arena. The point of view is to pay less attention to equipping the future battlefield soldier with electronics and instead provide more emphasis on dealing with information warfare. Several special projects aim at defining information warfare and its key areas to generate demonstration programs.

One task is to create common specifications and examine how people react in certain activities. This seeks to address the prevalent problem of differing views on information warfare. For example, firewalls and crypto keys are only a small part of this discipline. “You must understand what your enemy would do to fight you,” Dangel says. “It is not a problem of tactics; it’s a problem of thinking how he could operate at all.”

DASA has defined common project teams that encompass the company and its customers/users. These teams aim to eliminate some information warfare problems and determine the highest priorities for further exploration. The key may be cooperation with commercial companies that are active in the field, which will combine the necessary experience of the military customer with the rapid technology development of the private sector.   The company is embedding security into its systems currently under development, Dangel relates. The problem lies in defining security. Crypto security might be the state of the art, but it alone does not provide protection against a range of information warfare threats. Other elements also must be included as part of a total system solution. Older systems must be brought up to par, and this will require implementing security in their system software. Dangel states that the company is developing special software algorithms for this purpose.

Overall, one way to bring the military into thinking commercially, Dangel offers, is to show defense planners how they can have inexpensive, flexible systems quickly if they outline specifications for the commercial providers. In Germany, tradition has held that people tend to adhere to longtime fixed rules for quite a while. However, the military customer realizes that it has no chance to take advantage of these advanced technologies unless the rules are changed, he states. Yet, this requires a cultural change among ministry officials that must come in the next two years. If this cultural change does not happen within that time period, Germany will lag alone behind other nations, he warns.