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Defense

C4ISR Has Come a Very Long Way 
for Government and AFCEA

August 1, 2013
By Kent R. Schneider

 

My reflections on C4ISR are flavored by my recent reading of the book “From Pigeons to Tweets” (SIGNAL Magazine, April 2013, page 66) by Lt. Gen. Clarence “Mac” McKnight, USA (Ret.). In his book, Mac recounts the changes in every aspect of the U.S. Army Signal Corps and the defense environment over the course of his long and distinguished career. Most prominent among these changes were the evolution of technology and capability, and what this meant to command and control and intelligence over time. If you haven’t read Mac’s book, I recommend it.

Through the lens of my nearly 44 years in and around C4ISR, I have seen the transition from paper maps, acetate and grease pencils for situational awareness and single-channel push-to-talk radio, as well as laying and retrieving field wire and multipair cable; installing and continuously reinstalling tropo and microwave multichannel radio; and using couriers and liaison officers for much of our information sharing. I remember using torn-tape relay for message traffic. But I also remember implementing the Army’s first email system and the Army’s first wide-area network. And I am awed today by the tremendous capability that exists in computing, big data, mobility, cloud variants and security. I am amazed at the incredible bandwidth available down to the lowest organizational levels. I also am impressed with the vulnerability that has resulted from all this progress.

Optimizing the Human Weapon System

August 1, 2013
By Lt. Ben Kohlmann, USN

 

One of the most frequent platitudes given by senior commanders to their subordinates is that “people are our most valuable asset.” While this very well may be true in the abstract, the U.S. Defense Department at large prefers to focus its efforts on more tangible items—namely, expensive weapons systems. Even in an era of rapid technological change, the human being remains the linchpin that determines victory or defeat. Yet, despite billions of dollars spent every year on cutting-edge research and development projects for equipment, very few programs are focused on optimizing the physical, psychological and intellectual capabilities of our warfighters.

This is ironic because personnel costs are fast becoming the largest portion of the Defense Department’s budget. Much of these costs stem from widely applied and necessary medical, salary and retirement payments. Yet, treating the human as a weapons system requires concerted research into the realm of pushing human performance to its very limits throughout the spectrum of capabilities. Defense planners currently do a very poor job at capturing these results.

Even the U.S. Army, which boasts a program executive office devoted to the human, does so with a view toward external capabilities such as night-vision goggles rather than getting the most out of the human itself, sans anything else.

The mind is the greatest strategic weapon ever created. More powerful than any computer, its mysteries have only just begun to be revealed. Training such an asset, and understanding the best way to impart relevant lessons, should be paramount. Yet, one of the biggest complaints from trainees is the poor state of military education.

Federal Budget Cuts
 Encourage a Niche Business

August 1, 2013
By Michael A. Robinson

With the nation facing a new atmosphere of austerity and mandated budget cuts, now would seem to be the absolute worst time to target the federal government for defense-related technology contracts. Yet, for one business, tight government funding is more of an opportunity than a challenge.

After all, the Pentagon faces two massive fiscal challenges. The first is the new lean approach to defense spending following the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Iraq and its preparation to draw down forces from Afghanistan. The second deals with today’s complex political realities. Unable to fashion a bipartisan spending plan, Congress has allowed the process known as “sequestration” to kick in. Those automatic budget cuts are expected to take more than $40 billion out of Defense Department spending this year alone for a reduction of more than 7 percent.

And yet, Timothy Coffin is all smiles as he prepares to pick up more federal information technology contracts. A former U.S. Air Force officer, Coffin serves as president of iGATE Government Solutions, a wholly owned unit of information technology provider iGATE Corporation. As Coffin sees it, the era of tight Pentagon budgets actually provides a great growth opportunity for a contractor that understands the overarching theme of today’s spending environment.

Facing both financial and political headwinds, federal agencies have to take a more creative approach to managing their programs and cash flows. That means they no longer can continue to rely on the same old approaches that have served them for decades.

“I am pretty excited about some of the opportunities I see,” Coffin says. “I’m not going after the $10 million opportunities; I’m going after the $100 million, $200 million opportunities, and we’re getting quite a bit of interest from the government in what we consider our value propositions.

People Are the Future of Unmanned Systems

August 1, 2013
By Rita Boland

 

The U.S. Army is working to ensure the future of autonomous air platforms by reaching out to the emerging talent in the academic world. Earlier this year, soldiers signed a memorandum of understanding with the University of Alabama in Huntsville to engage students with work in this field as part of their education. The program aims to develop an innovative and prepared workforce in the future. Graduates not only will have had a more specific focus for their studies, but they also will be prepared better for the job market. Shaping studies now helps ensure that necessary skills are available to and even present in the Army later, according to officials from both the military branch and the institute of higher education.

Through the memorandum, the groups will share goals and ideas so students can work on technology while gaining critical skills. Lt. Col. Robb Walker, USA, director of external programs in the Army’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Project Management Office, explains the approach is about talking to each other and explaining to the academics what the Army is pursuing.

Software Increases 
Unmanned Craft Survivability

August 1, 2013
By George I. Seffers and Robert K. Ackerman

 

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is developing new control software to reduce the vulnerability of unmanned systems to cyber attack. This effort is relying on new methods of software development that would eliminate many of the problems inherent in generating high-assurance software.

Unmanned vehicles suffer from the same vulnerabilities as other networked information systems. But, in addition to their data being co-opted, unmanned systems can be purloined if adversaries seize control of them. This problem also applies to human-crewed systems with computer-controlled components.

If the research program is successful, then unmanned vehicles will be less likely to be taken over by an enemy. Warfighters could trust that the unmanned vehicle on which they are relying will not abandon its mission or become a digital turncoat.

This security would extend to other vulnerable systems as well. Networked platforms and entities ranging from automobiles to supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems could benefit from the research. The vulnerability of SCADA systems is well-established, but only recently has research shown that automobiles can be co-opted through their computer-controlled systems. The program’s goal is to produce high-assurance software for military unmanned vehicles and then enable its transfer to industry for commercial uses.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program is known as High-Assurance Cyber Military Systems, or HACMS. Kathleen Fisher, HACMS program manager, says the program is aiming to produce software that is “functionally correct and satisfying safety and security policies.

“It’s not just that you’re proving the absence of a particular bad property from the security perspective,” she explains. “You’re actually positively proving that the software has the correct behavior.”

Building
 a Bigger,
 Better Pipe

August 1, 2013
By Max Cacas

 

Scientists at the U.S. Defense Department’s top research and development agency are seeking the best new ideas to provide a larger-scale mobile network to support an increasing array of bandwidth-hungry mobile computing devices for warfighters.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has issued a Request for Information (RFI) for new technical approaches that would expand the number and capacity of Mobile Ad Hoc Networks (MANETs) nodes available in the field.

“When we look at MANETs, it’s really tough to deliver networking services to more than about 100 users,” says Mark Rich, program manager, DARPA Strategic Technology Office. Those 100 users translate into approximately 50 nodes on a mobile wireless network operating in a forward location, generally supporting everything from tactical and operational systems to advanced video services. All of these functions are carried on a service that is largely dependent on highly secure digital radio systems. Once that limit is reached, network services begin to deteriorate in quality and effectiveness. To support larger deployments or to cover a greater area, military communications experts usually knit smaller networks using other available means, such as satellites.

Coping With the 
Big Data Quagmire

August 1, 2013
By George I. Seffers

 

Researchers at one of the premier national laboratories in the United States are prepared to hand the Defense Department a prototype system that compresses imagery without losing the quality of vital data. The system reduces the volume of information; allows imagery to be transmitted long distances, even across faulty communications links; and allows the data to be analyzed more efficiently and effectively.

The Persistics computational system developed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories (LLNL) derives its name from the combination of two words: persistent surveillance. The system is designed to revolutionize the collection, communication and analysis of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) data so that warfighters do not find themselves drowning in a swamp of too much information. The ground-based system has demonstrated 1,000 times compression of raw wide-area video collections from manned and unmanned aircraft and a tenfold reduction of pre-processed images. Standard video compression can achieve only a 30 times data reduction.

The existing data processing infrastructure for national security is not designed for the amounts of information being generated by unmanned aerial systems and other platforms. In addition, the communication bandwidth supporting data transmission for air to ground and the archive storage capability are too slow to support fast-turnaround human analysis, according to LLNL researchers. “These [ISR] cameras are picking up more data than we know what to do with, and there are not enough humans on the ground to analyze every pixel,” explains Sheila Vaidya, deputy program director, defense programs, Office of Strategic Outcomes, LLNL.

Soldiers See Through Steel

August 1, 2013
By Rita Boland

Researchers are developing new ways of enabling troops inside personnel carriers to see their outside environment without increasing their vulnerability to hostile fire. The goal is to provide enhanced 360-degree situational awareness from sensors installed on a vehicle as well as from other off-board cameras in the area.

Service members sitting inside certain armor-protected military vehicles are often similar to sardines, encased in a metal box with no means for ascertaining their surroundings. These all-metal, no-window platforms put troops at a definite disadvantage, unable to eyeball threats or opportunities.

A rapid-development group is working to improve knowledge of the outside environment using a glass-pane alternative that fits onto the back door of such platforms. The team also has created a version that pulls in additional systems for even more data sharing.

The Virtual Window effort is an innovation project at the U.S. Army’s Tank Automotive Research and Development Center (TARDEC). The premise behind such initiatives is to tackle problems through innovative means faster and at less expense than standard, high-dollar research programs. In the case of the Virtual Window, an industrial designer named James Scott drew an image on the back of an infantry carrier that would show occupants the environment on the other side of the ramp. Leadership quickly took to the idea, giving researchers the go-ahead to pursue it. “We looked at how to provide situational awareness visually without putting in actual glass,” explains Andrew Kerbrat, program manager for the effort.

U.S. Air Force Races to Modernize Critical Battle Control System

August 1, 2013
By George I. Seffers

U.S. Air Force officials are upgrading the battle command system used for managing all airborne platforms, including fighters, bombers, tankers, unmanned aerial vehicles, helicopters and cruise missiles. The modernized system will provide warfighters with faster access to real-time operations and intelligence information, better planning and collaboration tools and enhanced situational awareness while dramatically reducing sustainment costs.

The Theater Battle Management Core Systems (TBMCS), which resides within an air operations center, first was fielded about 13 years ago after a five-year development effort. Technologically speaking, a lot has changed since then. The system now is being made over with modern components, improved network centricity and better graphic user interface features that will make the upgraded version faster, easier and less expensive to operate than the original. The upgrade should be completed by March 2015.

At the heart of the overhaul lies the Air Tasking Order Management System (ATOMS), which will allow commanders to plan, organize and direct joint U.S. air operations. ATOMS includes an updated command and control air operations suite that will allow warfighters to perform mission planning and re-planning quickly and efficiently and will completely replace three existing applications within TBMCS: the Theater Air Planner, the Execution Management Re-Planner and the Master Attack Planning Toolkit. “When push comes to shove, TBMCS is the most important software in the air operations center right now. It runs the air operations center. We’re updating all of the TBMCS source code, and ATOMS is the core piece of that,” explains Capt. Scott Gross, USAF, ATOMS program manager, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts.

Contract Protest Does Not Change NGEN Vision

August 1, 2013
By Robert K. Ackerman

 

The U.S. Navy’s Next-Generation Enterprise Network will introduce a host of new capabilities for users when it is implemented. These improvements will become apparent over time as the system’s flexibility allows for technology upgrades and operational innovation on the part of its users.

The network’s overall goals remain the same despite a protest over the contract award. However the protest is resolved, the program is designed to provide networking at less cost and with more flexibility to adjust for changes that emerge as a result of operational demand or technology improvements. These new capabilities could range from greater use of mobile technologies to virtual desktops dominating user environments.

Terry Halvorsen, Department of the Navy chief information officer, emphasizes that the user community at first will see little change when the Next-Generation Enterprise Network (NGEN) begins operation. The Navy’s goal is for a seamless changeover from the existing Navy/Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) to NGEN. “The user community initially won’t see any differences as we move forward in NGEN,” he says. “Everything we’re doing initially should be transparent to the user, and we have good plans in place to make that happen.”

NGEN aims to serve 800,000 users, 400,000 workstations and 2,500 locations in the United States and Japan. The Navy’s Fleet Cyber Command/10th Fleet will be operating the network with full command and control. Contractor personnel will perform some hands-on activities.

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