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Battlespace Information Systems

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.

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.

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.

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.

Information Agency 
Changes Security Approach

July 1, 2013
By Robert K. Ackerman

The increasing use of readily available and inexpensive commercial technologies by the military is changing the way the Defense Information Systems Agency provides information assurance. As these technologies are integrated into the Defense Department information infrastructure, the agency is adjusting its approaches to providing security for its networks and the data that reside on them.

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.

Air Force Strikes at New
 Information Challenges

June 1, 2013
By Robert K. Ackerman

Costs, security and operations requirements share top billing on priority list.

The U.S. Air Force is looking to overhaul its networking capabilities to meet new taskings in the post-Southwest-Asia era. Limited resources are changing the way the Air Force moves information throughout the battlespace, so the service must confront its challenges through innovative approaches and cooperative efforts.

The Air Force has to determine which networking issues have organic solutions and which problems must be solved by others—government, other military organizations or even the private sector. It must make those determinations without knowing if it will have the funding to tap outside resources that could meet its needs. And, these issues have to be addressed as cyber and coalition interoperability assume greater emphasis in both planning and operations.

Lt. Gen. Michael J. Basla, USAF, chief of information dominance and chief information officer (CIO)/A-6, U.S. Air Force, is in charge of ensuring Air Force networks effectively support the service as well as the joint and coalition communities. His top concerns are built around space superiority; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR); rapid global mobility; global strike; and command and control.

Gen. Basla relates that, in a discussion with Defense Department officials, he suggested that investments in cyber and information technologies can offset costs in other areas. A nonkinetic effect might be less expensive than a kinetic effect and still achieve an operational objective. But even that option for efficiency faces hurdles, budgetary concerns among them.

Making Tactical Communications History

May 1, 2013
By George I. Seffers

Two brigades from the Army's 10th Mountain Division are preparing to deploy to Afghanistan with a host of technologies that will allow the units to provide their own network down to the tactical edge. The new equipment provides battalion and company commanders with a communications on the move capability and pushes critical data down to the individual squad level.

Army Network Testing 
Increases Commonality

May 1, 2013
By Robert K. Ackerman

The same approach used to test and implement the Army’s single largest networking system is laying the groundwork for extending the network down to the individual soldier. As laboratory tests and field exercises validate the interoperability of separate elements in a network, system conflicts are giving way to greater commonality among different elements.

This effort has borne fruit in the evolution of the Warfighter Information Network–Tactical (WIN–T). The last fielding of WIN–T Increment 1 took place in August 2012, and WIN–T Increment 2 is taking the final steps toward deployment. Meanwhile, WIN–T Increment 3 is beginning to take shape.

As these increments progress toward full implementation, their test efforts are helping leaven out other capabilities. Greater interoperability testing of individual elements in a fully networked environment is allowing engineers to extend interoperable functions farther down the chain of command and into the hands of individual warfighters.

Col. Edward J. Swanson, USA, project manager WIN–T (PM WIN–T), explains that WIN–T Increment 1 provides a static networking capability for forces in the field. While it does not work on the move, soldiers can establish WIN–T linkage at the quick halt—they simply pull their vehicle off the road to a dead stop and immediately begin communications without a complicated setup. Newer WIN–T Increment 1 systems incorporate Joint Network Node Ka-band satellite connectivity, and its capabilities are deployed down to the battalion level. Col. Swanson describes WIN–T Increment 1 as “the backbone of the tactical network today.”

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