Paving the Way for Network-Centric Operations

September 2003
By Henry S. Kenyon

Testbed offers European forces sensor fusion, training and simulation capabilities.

A prototype command center allows engineers and military officers to test the interoperability of new technologies and to simulate operational scenarios. Based on existing intelligence gathering and battle management systems, the demonstrator links equipment and provides commanders with real-time data collected from a variety of sensors. Data fusion and decision-making tools permit simulation participants to experience the effects of rapid processing of intelligence information—a clear picture of the battlespace and a shortened sensor-to-shooter loop.

As demonstrated by U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, network-centric warfare dramatically increases operational tempo and reduces friendly fire incidents. European military and defense planners have noted the need to coordinate advanced fighting systems and have begun a number of programs to develop networked command and control technologies. A major requirement for NATO and European Union members is the ability to seamlessly link their legacy systems into future network-centric architectures.

The goal of the network-centric operations simulations (NETCOS) demonstrator is to test the performance of all types of equipment and platforms in virtual scenarios. Developed by the European Aeronautic Defence and Space (EADS) Company, headquartered in Paris and Munich, Germany, the prototype consists of a networked command center linked to a variety of simulation software programs.

One aspect of EADS’ efforts is to study methods to integrate European defense and information systems into operational networks, explains Hermann Alteheld, sales and marketing account manager for air force command and control systems, systems and defense electronics, Dornier GmbH, which is a part of the EADS group, and located in Friedrichshafen, Germany. The NETCOS demonstrator can generate a variety of interactive scenarios involving ground, naval and air units to test system interoperability for war gaming and analysis purposes.

In its initial version unveiled at the Paris Air Show in June, the NETCOS prototype combines both new and legacy technologies in one architecture. The demonstrator ran an air defense scenario, collecting data from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), ground reconnaissance units and radar systems. Its air defense component then detected simulated theater ballistic missile launches, predicted their trajectories and directed interceptor missiles against the incoming ordnance.

While noting that NETCOS is only a prototype, Alteheld offers that it could be quickly turned into an operational model and that the concept came from suggestions by the company’s military clients. “We got some information from the French and German air forces, and we used our own money to realize these ideas and to demonstrate that EADS can create such centers,” he says.

The demonstrator consists of a series of specialized, networked workstations. A central command area provides a graphic view of the operation on several large monitors. Arrayed nearby are three additional stations that receive and filter information in areas such as air defense, information dominance and avionics.

The satellite workstations feed sensor data into the center. For example, one screen displays the joint common operational picture for a given scenario. This includes information about the locations of allies’ land, air and naval forces as well as those of known enemy forces to provide commanders with real-time situational awareness.

The NETCOS center is divided into two parts. One is devoted to processing intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance data while the other focuses on battle management. This is the first time these areas have been networked together, Alteheld says. All of the components of the center are connected through a high-level-architecture network to run the simulation. Although each station has a specific task, the data is channeled into the battle management center to coordinate the simulation. This permits the separate stations to operate together during a scenario, he explains.

The demonstrator operates at the level of the combined air operations center, which is the tasking element for NATO air forces. Air defense functions are directed through a surface-to-air missile operations center (SAMOC), designed to coordinate the deployment and use of Patriot, Hawk and Medium Extended Air Defense System weapons platforms. SAMOC, which will enter service with the German air force in 2004, blends communications and systems administration with planning, reconnaissance and mission control capabilities. It also can cover extended air defense functions such as theater ballistic missile defense.

SAMOC can collect sensor data and generate a picture of friendly and enemy air forces across a battlefield. The center provides operators with images gathered from long- and medium-range radars and permits forces such as the German military to plan the deployment of air defense weapons by graphically mapping the missile coverage arcs from individual batteries. A real-time picture of an engagement is generated through radar data feeds and offers threat analysis, engagement monitoring and simulated air defense scenarios.

The NETCOS demonstrator primarily uses commercially available equipment. Alteheld explains that a fully deployable, ruggedized version would be too expensive as an initial prototype. However, SAMOC is fully operational and designed to function with military protocols. Because the data exchange between various military systems can be complicated by encryption and operating protocol differences, EADS engineers used commercial network technology to connect the laboratory’s components.

Another important function of the center is to explore ways to shorten the sensor-to-shooter loop through methods such as data fusion. Because EADS manufactures and connects a variety of UAV, sensor, and command and control systems, its in-house resources offer a number of potential cost savings through standardization. NETCOS’ open architecture permits legacy systems to be easily integrated into the sensor loop. “We want to show that we are able to control the whole loop. But if a nation has another UAV or their own station, we can integrate them,” Alteheld says.

Sensor input can be accumulated for a specific scenario—for example, data from Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft and high- and medium-altitude UAVs. Air tasking orders can then be relayed to UAVs or to waiting fighter aircraft. Officers view this intelligence data and make final decisions about target selection.

Among the technologies featured in the demonstrator is a multisensor tracking system for air defense that will soon enter service with the German military. It can channel data from up to 20 sensors and track as many as 20,000 targets. Despite the amount of information transmitted, it operates at the relatively low bandwidth of 300 kilobytes per second.

NETCOS uses NATO data and communications standards and can interface with Link 16. Different components of the center, for example SAMOC, also have a number of tactical datalinks. This modularity makes the demonstrator’s parts interchangeable, allowing them to operate in different combinations. The current system can run only six missions in parallel. However, Alteheld emphasized that this is a prototype. He notes that it is difficult to collect the status and perform the mission planning of various platforms such as tankers.

EADS developed the center to showcase its technologies and to meet growing European interest in network-centric command and control systems. One of the tools used in NETCOS to connect equipment is called operations network (OPSNET), an interoperability application designed to connect legacy systems with new ones. Alteheld notes that interoperability is one of the main problems Europe’s armed forces face. “The different nations want to keep their old systems and integrate new ones. So we use OPSNET, which was developed for the French air force, to solve our interoperability problems,” he says.

Tools such as OPSNET offer advantages in connecting legacy command and control and sensor systems into networked battle management plans. In the past, sensor systems ended at the groundstation where the data had to be transformed into an image or a report then sent to another battle management center, Alteheld says. But OPSNET permits data to be sent directly to a management center where software tools can sift through and prioritize the information. Some of the center’s tactical workstations collect all available data and move it to an intelligence-processing center. But distinguishing between the important and the unimportant in large volumes of sensor data remains a challenge for battlefield intelligence gathering, he observes.

While the EADS management team will determine future applications for NETCOS, it plans to continue development work because the simulation aspect of the center is very important for training soldiers in combined and joint operations, Alteheld says.

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