Collaboration, Security And Aircraft Loom Large In Defense Programs

June 2006
By Rita Boland
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Experts forecast that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) such as the Global Hawk will have new missions in the future. In addition to hunting for information, they may be equipped with weapons to become fighting aircraft.
Innovation and improvement will affect product development and market growth.

Enhancements in unmanned aerial systems, interoperability and network centricity will drive the U.S. command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance market, according to industry analysts. While each branch of service can expect investment and development in specific areas, attempts to move the U.S. military from a stovepipe structure to a system with greater cooperation and corroboration between government agencies and the military services will pervade the market for the near and long term, they say.

The idea behind network-centric warfare is to simplify and accelerate the dissemination of relevant situational information and intelligence to decision makers, commanders and warfighters. Divisions within one service or different military branches can integrate their manpower and resources to produce the largest advantage over the enemy. On the largely asymmetric battlefields the U.S. military faces today, network-centric warfare is an improvement over traditional information-sharing methods. Commanders have more information readily available to respond to threats. “That’s where net-centric warfare is really going to help with the global war on terror,” says Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president and chief knowledge officer, FedSources, McLean, Virginia.

Command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) advancements and developments will further network-centric enterprises. The U.S. military already has platforms that can provide information to commanders through Web-enabled applications; however, this capability comes at a price. One such challenge facing the C4ISR market is how to keep the information secure.

“You have challenges of handling—moving around—so much information and making it readily available, but also making it readily available with the necessary degree of security and necessary degree of access control,” Bjorklund says. “That is going to be a big management challenge—how to bring together the technologies to keep things very secure but create this environment of access control.”

Current methods of security include features such as passwords and user identification that still leave a lot to be desired. Bjorklund sees a need for industry to help the U.S. Defense Department resolve these persistent security issues.

Other experts concur. Darren Corbiere, an aerospace and defense industry analyst from Frost and Sullivan, San Antonio, expects there will be market opportunities in information security software and hardware. He says that security will be necessary for intelligence gathering and the logistics of passing the information from one source to another through a collaboration program or system. As enemies continue to target U.S. intelligence and technology, the C4ISR market will develop products to ward off attacks. “Cyberterrorism is the [U.S. government’s] big reason for information security,” Corbiere explains.

Advances in security measures should continue as the market maintains its emphasis on and funding for network centricity. “I don’t think net-centric warfare is going away,” Bjorklund says.

But security is not the only roadblock to interoperability among the services. Bjorklund explains that cultural challenges among the different government agencies still pose an obstacle to information sharing. Issues such as access control and dissemination are still stuck in stovepipes. 

Experts agree that information assurance and network centricity are major emphases within the U.S. government, but years of development remain. According to Dr. David Rockwell, senior analyst, electronics, Teal Group Corporation, Fairfax, Virginia, current systems do not provide real interoperability. “True network centricity is still somewhere in the future, and today’s systems will seem stovepiped themselves in a few years,” Rockwell says. Corbiere also describes network-centric operations as a decades-long activity.

Integrating the various systems involved with network centricity and melding those systems with the human element poses a test and an opportunity within the C4ISR market. Developing a high level of interoperability includes meshing the various methods of collecting information—from sensors to radar—and the platforms that carry the collection tools. Experts expect to see funding and advances in aircraft, especially unmanned aerial systems (UASs). “Far more absolute funding goes for aircraft systems,” Rockwell says. “Ground forces systems may grow at a faster rate, but the numbers just aren’t in the same league and likely never will be.”

Bjorklund has noticed increases in market spending on UASs as well. He notes that the government is in some turmoil about how to manage the UAS programs, whether through an executive agency, joint warfighting or other method. The military is realigning from the stovepipe method to bring UASs into the joint environment. Bjorklund asserts that eliminating infrastructures within different branches of service that perform the same research or mission could lead to resource savings. “There are some intriguing increases in that area,” he says.

UASs can be fit for a variety of ISR missions. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) such as Global Hawk and Predator could fulfill multiple requirements based on mission objectives. “One of the most telling changes has been making C4ISR UAVs into hunter-killer UAVs to allow us to fight today’s wars with them,” Rockwell explains. “Why just look when you can also shoot?” He adds that the U.S. Navy has been making significant advances in the C4ISR field and has possible systems entering development for UAV programs.

Even while the C4ISR community moves to arm unmanned aircraft, the military and industry will continue to develop the surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities of UAVs. According to the Teal Group’s Airborne ISR Systems Market Overview, airborne ISR funding will continue to grow throughout the next decade. The biggest sector of the market will be fighter-targeting pods, including the Advanced Targeting Forward Looking Infrared, and navigation/targeting systems such as for the Apache and Cobra helicopters. 

Corbiere extends his forecast to include unmanned sensors and unmanned ground vehicles. He says robotics and future combat systems, which include unmanned devices, are areas that are growing and becoming increasingly important to the military, and he predicts that the U.S. Army will increase the number of its future combat systems. “The Army has undertaken a very ambitious project to create basically a mobile battlefield, an information sphere if you will, which will allow the soldiers and commanders to draw information very quickly from multiple sources,” he says.

Corbiere adds that further enhancements to the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS)—software-programmable tactical radios—will be part of the C4ISR marketplace. JTRS will provide troops with voice, data and video communications and interoperability across joint battle space and will assist in the Army’s development of the mobile battlefield.

According to Corbiere, the integration of information and intelligence will allow the Army to pinpoint resources in an economical fashion and to have a greater impact on the enemy. The U.S. military will have mass fires without requiring massive numbers of troops. “All of the software, communications, sensor integration … it will all be networked, and we’ll have a very accurate picture of the blue forces and red forces on the ground,” he states.

C4ISR advancements also will help the military find the enemy, Rockwell notes. “It’s already a whole new world out there,” he says. “The battlefield will get even more sci-fi with more advanced C4ISR. However, without mind control, we will never know what people will do before they do it. More advanced C4ISR will simply help us find ever larger numbers of enemies, unless we have more success in making friends through other means.”

Corbiere states that the Defense Department is making a concerted effort to ensure programs are joint projects from inception. He asserts that the need to be joint in every platform is one market driver. The department is recognizing that it has a smaller fighting force but that it can be more effective by becoming truly joint instead of propagating proprietary technologies. The military already is developing programs that reach across the services in areas such as radios, satellites and UAVs.

By spending resources to improve the UAV program, the military gives troops a platform that provides persistence in operations with less manpower. This persistence is demonstrated in the military’s most prevalent use for UAVs—information gathering. “You don’t always have to send in troops to see what’s going on over the hill,” he says. “You can send in a UAV and take a peek at what’s going on over there.”

However, this persistent surveillance capability continues to face a number of challenges. For example, advances are still needed in power sources so that UAVs can remain in flight for longer periods of time. One answer is batteries; another is fuel cell technology.

Some experts expect that fewer new military products will be developed; instead, the military will improve on existing C4ISR tools. Rockwell predicts new commercial products will upgrade military products.

Dr. Jeffrey Goldman, chief scientist for ITS Corporation, Arlington, Virginia, says recent trends indicate that improvements to existing products will see more funding and attention than the development of new products. “I have started to see some shifts in spending that began a few years ago,” Goldman explains. “At that time, the government was looking to shorten the time line from applied research to operations. That has forced fewer new developments in favor of improvements to existing products, which offers a quick turnaround.”

Goldman says the push toward faster transition to operations, which lends itself more to service needs than to product needs, best serves the troops. “I think the warfighters are poised to get the most benefit because their applications are already in use,” he notes. “With the shift toward improving existing products, they will see their immediate system improvement needs addressed.” Goldman expects to see a rollout of maturing technologies such as secure voice over Internet protocol, radio frequency identification and secure identification applications.

Whether developing new products or improving existing applications, the United States has a larger budget for technological capabilities and products than its enemies and allies, giving the United States an advantage. Bjorklund explains that even Osama Bin Laden uses technology to communicate with his organization, and he uses it well enough to survive. For the United States to remain dominant, Bjorklund says, “we just have to be better at it.”

Bjorklund states that one way the U.S. C4ISR market can focus its efforts to ensure U.S. technological superiority is to concentrate on availability, not reliability. In his experience, the assets are reliable when in use, but troops who need the tools may not always have access to them.

Another area of the C4ISR market that is expected to experience increases in funding and development is the intelligence sector. Corbiere believes the intelligence field will grow out of a larger flow of information that was not considered intelligence before and an infusion of intelligence from different sensors. He forecasts data fusion as one of the largest growth areas.

Bjorklund also foresees greater funding in the intelligence sector of the market. “Just scanning through budget line items that have now been proposed that are in the public domain, there seems to be a market increase in the proposed spending in the market in intelligence systems,” he says.

Rockwell expects a big factor in the U.S. C4ISR market to be intelligence-related as well. He believes the United States will continue to emphasize signals intelligence, or SIGINT. The function of capturing SIGINT could be another capability for UASs.

All the effort and funding spent for progress in C4ISR aim toward needing fewer troops to carry out operations and advancing the abilities of the human system. “Technology is not going to replace soldiers,” Corbiere says. “It’s going to augment them.”

 

Web Resources
Frost and Sullivan: www.frost.com
FedSources: www.fedsources.com
Teal Group Corporation: www.tealgroup.com
ITS Corporation: www.itscorporation.com