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Army Technologies

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.

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.

Smartphone Increases Soldier Intelligence

July 26, 2013

10th Mountain Division U.S. Army Rangers and soldiers on the battlefield are now wearing commercial smartphones to communicate with each other and higher commands. Nett Warrior is a Samsung Galaxy Note II with its commercial memory wiped clean and Army-developed software loaded. It displays the locations of fellow soldiers, allows placement of location digital chem-light markers, and enables warfighters to communicate through texting. This information is then relayed to commanders over encrypted tactical radios.

“We are beholden to the commercial industry,” Jason Regnier, project manager, Nett Warrior, PEO Soldier, says. At approximately $700 per unit, buying the devices commercially costs substantially less than procuring similar devices from contractors, he explains.

In addition, the ability to buy newer versions of a device as technology matures means soldiers can transition to up-to-date capabilities as they develop. “So when the Note IIs are gone, they’re gone. Then we’ll have to be ready to buy Note IIIs or whatever it’s going to be,” Regnier relates.

Before the smartphones are integrated into a Net Warrior system, most of the communications capability is disabled, including the cellular antennas and the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities. A USB connection with a soldier’s hip-mounted Rifleman Radio enables communication.

Electronic Warfare Tool Enters Engineering and Manufacturing Development Phase

July 9, 2013

The U.S. Army is creating a software tool that will enable soldiers to coordinate and synchronize electronic warfare operations across the electromagnetic battlefield. The Electronic Warfare Planning and Management Tool (EWPMT) will feature 22 distinct functions, including deconflicting offensive, defensive and friendly signals as well as integrating intelligence and terrain data. As part of the Army’s long-term plan for the Integrated Electronic Warfare System (IEWS), electronic warfare officers could use the software for pre-mission planning and to identify threats.

EWPMT development is taking place in six phases, and during the third quarter of fiscal year 2015, the first set of software tools will be tested in select units. The tool is scheduled to be fully operational across the Army by the end of fiscal year 2019.

Col. Joseph P. DuPont, USA, project manager, Program Executive Office, Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors, shared additional information about the EWPMT and the IEWS in a presentation to the AFCEA Aberdeen Chapter in November 2012 and in an article in SIGNAL Magazine in April.

Spectrum Management System Deploying to Afghanistan

July 11, 2013
By George I. Seffers

The U.S. Army is currently delivering a new and improved Coalition Joint Spectrum Management and Planning Tool (CJSMPT) to divisions scheduled for deployment in Afghanistan. The software automates the spectrum management process, dramatically reducing the amount of time and paperwork associated with spectrum allocation and mission planning in a tactical environment.

For operational security reasons, Army officials cannot reveal exactly which divisions will be receiving the systems or when, but for the next few months, they will be working to get the system out to Afghanistan.

Warfighters are continually confronted with an increasingly crowded radio spectrum—too many devices transmitting on a limited range of frequencies and interfering with one another. Poor spectrum availability can have a devastating effect on operations, and spectrum management normally is a complex and time-consuming process involving frequency access requests that must be approved at multiple levels. “There’s a lot of paperwork associated with the spectrum management process. There are thousands of these [requests] that have to be prepared, submitted, received and reconciled down at the brigade level. Normally, this could take days or even weeks in preparation for a mission or deployment, and CJSMPT can do this in a matter of hours. It provides automation to the spectrum manager to reduce the complexity of his tasks,” says Bob Shields, chief of the Spectrum Analysis and Frequency Management Branch, Space and Terrestrial Communications Directorate, U.S. Army Communications-Electronic Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC), Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

A Joint Environment Changes Everything

July 1, 2013
By Max Cacas

Rear Adm. Robert Day Jr., USCG, assistant U.S. Coast Guard commandant for command, control, communications and information technology, sees the Joint Information Environment as an opportunity to resolve some of the most pressing information technology problems in the years to come as he faces a future with more challenges and fewer resources. He says a military-wide common operating environment will establish “enterprisewide mandates that programs cannot ignore.”

The admiral told the recent AFCEA Solutions Series–George Mason University Symposium, “Critical Issues in C4I,” the Joint Information Environment (JIE) will allow for more efficient system configurations and facilitate consolidation of the Coast Guard’s information technology work force. As the director of the U.S. Coast Guard Cyber Command, he also is mindful that the JIE will improve his ability to control what devices are attached to the network, giving him, for example, the opportunity to quickly detect and order the removal of an unauthorized USB thumb drive inserted into a secure network computer.

Hewing to the reality of doing more with less, the admiral also told conference attendees that within the next eight months, the Coast Guard is expected to move to the U.S. Defense Department’s enterprise email system. Adm. Day stated that even though this move initially may cost more in some cases, the long-term benefits to the service will mitigate and justify some of those costs. In addition, acknowledging the futility of reinventing the wheel, he noted that the Coast Guard is adopting the U.S. Air Force’s Virtual Flight Bag, which replaces nearly 300 pounds of printed manuals and charts carried aboard aircraft by crews. Apple iPads will be loaded with digital copies of the same material.

In the Cyber Trenches

July 1, 2013
By Max Cacas

The Army adjusts its training and career path for cyber domain troops and leaders.

The U.S. Army is taking a successful model developed to train chief warrant officers in the realm of information assurance and is adapting it for qualified enlisted personnel and officers. Instead of reinventing the wheel, the program blends already-successful cybersecurity training designed for the private sector with training tailored for the Army’s mission-specific networks. The goal is to create a career path for what is expected to be a cadre of cyberspecialists whose primary goal is to protect and defend the service’s digital infrastructure.

“The Army realized that our networks were being constantly attacked, but we never realized it until after it had taken place,” says Joey Gaspard, chief, Information Assurance Branch, U.S. Army Signal Center at Fort Gordon, Georgia. He adds that in 2007, the service embarked on a program to match staffing and training to be more proactive about cybersecurity. “Instead of consistently sitting there, waiting to be hit, they decided to put themselves in a position where we looked at the training. Commercial industry was already training personnel to defend commercial organizations, so why couldn’t the Army do the same thing?”

In response to that question, the Army embarked on a re-examination of its military occupational specialty (MOS) categories, which describe every job at every rank within the Army. The Signal Center focused on the MOS pertaining to cybersecurity.

Visual Information
 on Your Sleeve

July 1, 2013
By Max Cacas

Recent developments in advanced materials bring the Army closer to next-generation displays for a new breed of warfighter mobile devices.

A coalition of military, academic and industry scientists is approximately one year away from the first working prototypes of mobile devices using newly developed flexible display technologies. The goal is to demonstrate that manufacturing the displays can be done economically, and in quantity, so that they can be widely adopted by mobile device makers, benefitting both the military and consumers. Project managers ultimately hope to introduce mobile devices that are lighter, more reliable and less expensive.

These displays could make possible small screens bearing important tactical information that would be worn on the sleeve of a soldier’s uniform. Another use might be as a pen that fits in a pocket but contains a roll-out display with maps and mission information. The technology even might enable rugged displays worn on the thigh of a field medic with the latest medical record information on the patient in front of him or her.

“The goal of the program is to speed development of flexible displays for the soldier,” says David Morton, program manager for flexible displays with the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Maryland. “They had a recognized need for lightweight, rugged, flexible displays. And, although industry was working on it, the goal of the program was to speed the development so that the Army could get them sooner.”

The ARL is conducting the flexible display research and development in conjunction with Arizona State University and a growing list of industry and academic partners (see box, page 47). The focus of the nearly decade-long collaborative effort is the Flexible Display Center (FDC), located in Tempe, Arizona.

Army Makes Battlefield Cellular Networks Whole

June 26, 2013
By Rita Boland

The Multi-Access Cellular Extension project develops the foundational architecture to integrate the equivalent of commercial cellular technologies into future force networks to enable communications by filling in gaps in fixed infrastructure.

U.S. Army Welcomes Two New Draft Horses to Supercomputing Stable

June 21, 2013
By Max Cacas

The U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland, has unveiled two new supercomputers that are among the fastest and most powerful devices of their kind. The devices are part of a recently opened supercomputing center that is the new locus of the service’s use of high-speed computing not only for basic scientific research and development, but also to solve basic warfighter needs using the latest available technologies.

“The Army Research Lab is the largest user of supercomputing capacity,” says Dale Ormond, director, U.S. Army Research Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM). “To have a supercomputer there gives us a huge advantage as we move forward in our research and engineering mission,” he adds.

At the heart of the new Army supercomputer center are two IBM iDataPlex systems that are among the most powerful of their kind on the planet. “We have the ‘Pershing,’ which is the 62nd fastest computer in the world, and another one called ‘Hercules,’ which is the 81st (fastest),” he explains. The Pershing contains 20,160 central processing units (CPUs), 40 terabytes of memory, and operates at 420 teraflops. The Hercules has 17,472 CPUs, 70 terabytes of memory, and operates at 360 teraflops.

The $5 million dollar center also features state-of-the-art electrical supply systems designed to support supercomputing, and special cooling systems designed to manage the heat that comes from all the CPUs that make up both supercomputers. The new facility has over 20,000 square foot of space, which will eventually house as many as six large supercomputing systems by 2016.

Pershing and Hercules join other Army supercomputers run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg, Mississippi, along with supercomputers operated by the Navy and Air Force.

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