Research Aims to Fill Army Information System Requisitions

March 2005
By Robert K. Ackerman
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U.S. Army researchers are developing new technologies that will link forces throughout the battlespace and enhance situational awareness far beyond current capabilities. Among these technologies are efforts to network aircraft, unmanned air vehicles and satellites with ground vehicles to provide situational awareness over the next hill.

Ongoing programs and blue-sky innovations guide laboratory efforts.

Disposable sensors, a single radar set that performs several tasks and electrical power devices that refuel from a diesel truck’s gas tank are just some of the innovations that may reshape U.S. Army operations on the battlefield of the future. This research is altering the vision of the transformational force even as ongoing programs pick up speed, and it promises new and exciting capabilities to further extend the Army’s battlefield supremacy.

Research into these and other innovative systems is being performed at the U.S. Army Communication-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, or CERDEC, at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. CERDEC’s research largely is split between two areas: supporting new systems that are coming out in a few years and exploring new avenues of technology that can change the way wars are fought.

CERDEC is working with the other services and in the joint laboratories on several collaborative programs. Army research laboratories perform much of the basic research and pass their work forward to CERDEC for product development and integration. The center in turn develops the new technologies for battlefield use and determines how their incorporation will affect the force as a whole.

“The real challenge is in understanding how all of this stuff is going to work together,” says Gary P. Martin, acting technical director of CERDEC. “We are spending more effort in system engineering activities to understand how to best integrate all of these technologies together—and how to understand how well they will perform.”

As all of the Army’s new systems become networked, bandwidth availability becomes the primary challenge. Martin observes that logistics information, command and control (C2) and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) data all will be riding over a common networking infrastructure. So, optimizing the use of the bandwidth will be essential to ensuring that warfighters can move this information when needed.

While CERDEC’s work touches the entire domain of command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR), several areas stand out. Martin cites network connectivity as one broad area that comprises specific areas linked to existing programs such as the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS), the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) and the Future Combat Systems (FCS) programs. He notes that the WIN-T program has several subsystems that are being built under the same software communications architecture as JTRS. And, many common research areas link all three major programs.

Several programs focus on feeding JTRS. The center is working on the soldier radio waveform, which is a mobile, ad hoc self-forming/self-healing networking waveform that is designed for low-power devices. These include manportable systems, small unattended ground vehicles, intelligent munition systems and little unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). This effort is connected to the JTRS program.

Martin relates that many people try to relate mobile military communications to Blackberries and cellular telephones, but the military challenges are far different. “We bring the cell towers with us integrated in these capabilities,” he emphasizes, adding that mobile ad hoc waveforms are the way of the future for networking.

However, that does not rule out the cellular industry as a contributing factor. Much of CERDEC’s research into communications technologies focuses on the transport layer, and the center tries to leverage commercial technologies as much as possible in this sector. “There is a lot of innovation going on in the wireless domain,” Martin points out. “While we can’t necessarily directly apply PCS [personal communication services]  or cellular technologies, there are a lot of technologies built into a cell phone or a base station that we can use.” Many of the devices currently being built for the cellular industry largely are applicable for the center’s JTRS work, he says.

The center is working on several broadband antenna technologies. The advent of systems such as JTRS with multiple waveforms will require broadband antennas that eliminate the need for changing antennas every time the user changes a waveform or performance capability. This antenna research applies to ground-based JTRS applications as well as to airborne uses for small UAVs and helicopters, for instance.

In some cases, CERDEC has partnered with other organizations such as the Space and Naval Systems Center (SPAWAR). The Navy center developed early models of a wearable antenna that CERDEC is further developing so that JTRS radios can connect to an antenna integrated into a soldier’s ensemble. This antenna would cover the entire 30-megahertz to 2.5-gigahertz JTRS spectrum.

Broadband antennas will require wideband power amplifiers. Another aspect of CERDEC’s JTRS work involves high-efficiency wideband amplifiers for Cluster 1’s wideband networking waveform requirements.

For the Army’s FCS program, CERDEC is researching networking aspects that will be vital to linking the diverse vehicles in these systems. Much of the protection for the lighter vehicles that define the program will come from a more robust network. Accordingly, CERDEC is focusing on tactical wireless network assurance and protection. In addition to encryption, this research includes elements of intrusion detection, firewalls and other conventional security approaches normally more suited to an office than a battlefield. Applying these to a mobile wireless combat network increases the challenges considerably, Martin points out.

Two other FCS areas include quality-of-service mechanisms and bandwidth brokering. Martin declares that the force will not have enough bandwidth to satisfy its customers’ appetites in the foreseeable future. So, the center is researching spectrum-utilization technologies such as multiple-input/multiple-output technologies and next-generation XG program spectrum-aware features. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is a partner in this effort, he relates.

In addition to bandwidth brokering, CERDEC is pursuing several different avenues to improve bandwidth use. One approach is to move data processing down the chain to the actual source. For example, if sensor data were to be processed within the sensor itself, then the sensor system would send fewer bits into the network pipes than if it were to relay raw data.

New network management features may hold the key to improved quality of service. If a network manager can predict where a network may become fragmented—such as in an urban environment or when blocked by a terrestrial feature—then some lower layer communications can be routed through a higher layer such as an airborne relay or a satellite. CERDEC is developing these predictive tools to provide the network manager with that capability.

Sensors will play a big role in FCS survivability as well as in other disciplines. CERDEC is researching a variety of different radar technologies for uses such as buried mine detection, either from the battlefield or from airborne platforms. Most ground-penetrating radars must look straight down and detect mines from a perspective of infinity. The goal is to develop ground-penetrating radar that is forward-looking so that ground forces can detect a mine before they are on top of it. A technology known as the Wichmann radar has reduced ground-penetrating radar false alarm rates significantly, Martin notes. This permits forces to move more quickly instead of having to stop for every alarm.

 
An unattended ground sensor sits ready to transmit data into a tactical network. Throwaway sensors that can be scattered about a battlefield will provide vital acoustic, thermal and seismic intelligence in the heat of battle.
For other radar applications, CERDEC is working on developing multimission radars that can provide different capabilities with simple reprogramming. Instead of logistically supporting a host of radars for different uses such as air traffic control, air defense and counterbattery activities, the Army would deploy a single radar that could be reprogrammed to shift from one function to another. It would reduce the logistics burden of training, spares and support. This concept of a common hardware solution set is similar to that of JTRS, Martin offers.

Several challenges must be overcome before the concept can be realized fully. Different radar roles require different functions. Counterbattery coverage focuses on tracking high-velocity projectiles in a 90-degree sweep of a specific area, whereas air traffic control requires 360-degree coverage. Making a multimission radar vehicle-transportable imposes size constraints. To address these challenges, CERDEC is focusing on antennas and power amplifiers, Martin reports. The center is aiming to demonstrate one type of multimission radar later this year.

CERDEC is working to develop many new sensors that represent significant advances in the technology’s state of the art. Efforts range from substantially improving capabilities to bringing costs down on what currently are prohibitively expensive and complex systems.

Among the family of sensors needed to enhance FCS survivability are low-cost devices that can be deployed in large numbers with little thought to their recovery—in effect, disposable sensors. Martin explains that the center is trying to develop sensors that either improve on current models or match them in performance, but at throwaway costs. They would need to operate for long periods of time on small amounts of power, and they would require radio technologies that would allow them to be integrated as fields rather than in point-to-point configurations.

These throwaways would include acoustic, thermal and seismic sensors. The goal is to bring the cost of these different sensors down under $100 each. Advanced imaging sensors would cost only a few hundred dollars each instead of the thousands of dollars they cost today. Uncooled infrared technologies could reduce the cost of imaging sensors, for example.

The throwaway sensors would be dispersed three ways. One way would be to package them in rounds that could be fired to emplace them or scatter them across a wide area. Another way would be to airdrop them over a battlefield. And, in some cases, soldiers would deploy them manually. This would be especially useful in an urban environment, where soldiers who had cleared a building would leave sensors behind to let them know if someone were to return. Again, these small, unobtrusive sensors would be throwaways that do not break the bank.

A significant portion of sensor cost can be found in the communications that relay the sensor data into the network. These throwaway sensors will require very small, disposable, inexpensive wireless radios, Martin relates, and the cellular marketplace is contributing technologies such as receivers and power amplifiers to this effort. The center’s Network Sensors for the Future Force program also aims to develop the software needed to plan and deploy these fields of sensors.

Using these and other sensors will involve sensor fusion, and CERDEC has opened several fronts to advance this discipline. Developing the algorithms and techniques for performing the necessary sensor fusion may be one of the tougher problems the center faces today, Martin offers. Another challenge is to integrate the sensors into command and control applications.

With virtually every item on the battlefield—human or machine—becoming a sensor of some type, the Army must ensure that the sensor data is available in a form that is understandable to the decision maker, Martin declares. Providing the correct data to the commander will require new software algorithms that help automate the integration of the varied data. It may not be possible to automate the integration of all of the sensors, but experts may be able to give the commander a couple of options—a “rough feel”—for ongoing battlefield activities.

Placing communication and sensor systems in unattended platforms and other venues will require improved power sources, and CERDEC is exploring a variety of new battery technologies. While some research seeks to improve battery power densities, other activities focus on developing zinc-air batteries and rechargeable technologies. Fuel cell technology also is an area of interest for small, manportable systems. CERDEC is looking at using heavy fuels such as diesel or JP-8, which can be found in Army inventories, in fuel cells. “Ideally, we’d like fuel cells that we can put on a soldier so that, instead of trailing batteries, you simply refuel them with fuel that is in the vehicle,” Martin explains.

Achieving these goals comes back to the CERDEC’s foremost challenge of making all of these systems work together. So, the center has increased its emphasis on modeling and simulation and experimentation. The network will comprise a family of communications devices on the transport layer, and these devices will behave in largely unique ways, Martin points out. For example, JTRS will be a wireless line-of-sight network. Satellite communications will come from the   WIN-T program operating over a variety of satellite systems.

Integrating these capabilities in a way that optimizes connectivity and bandwidth will be a challenge. Modeling and simulation plays a role in that, although experimentation ultimately may be the key to determining how the network actually will perform, Martin offers.

Web Resources
CERDEC: www.monmouth.army.mil/cecom/rdec/rdecDA.html
CERDEC Master List of Technology Needs: www.monmouth.army.mil/cecom/rdec/tech_needs.htm
U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command: www.rdecom.army.mil