Appliqués Speed New Technologies To the Front

March 2009
By Robert K. Ackerman
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Scientists in the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate’s (NVESD’s) state-of-the-art microfactory conduct research into new technologies. The center is teaming with other organizations to speed innovations to the warfighter.
Teaming allows U.S. Army scientists to introduce advances as upgrades.

U.S. Army researchers are speeding innovations to the battlefield by attaching them to system upgrades or adding them to large programs on the verge of fielding. The prevalence of software-driven systems allows for non-hardware improvements, and the modular nature of an increasing number of systems allows for new developments to be incorporated into them without adversely affecting their timeline or performance.

This approach is being applied to a host of command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems. Near-term gains already are being realized in radio communications, situational awareness and intelligence. Long-term projects aim to change the nature of networking and information to the warfighter.

The U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, or CERDEC, is active in many of these efforts. The center resides under the Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, and it currently is based at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, pending a Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) move to Aberdeen, Maryland.

Much of CERDEC’s work involves partnerships with the Army Research Laboratory, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, other service laboratories, industry and academia, relates CERDEC’s director, Gary Blohm. It also has strong relationships with the Joint Improvised Explosive Device (IED) Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) along with many program executive offices, or PEOs. These relationships are key to bringing system-of-systems solutions to the warfighter, Blohm says.

CERDEC is striving to move technology advances rapidly into the field. With some breakthroughs, this can be accomplished by inserting them into existing programs such as Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) or the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS). With so many systems now driven by software advances, engineers also can implement some new capabilities through application programs.

As with many military research and development organizations, CERDEC generates near-, mid- and long-term solutions. Blohm characterizes the center as being “heavily and deeply into current operations support to forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.” High on that list is work on counter-IED systems (SIGNAL Magazine, July 2008). CERDEC has contributed to systems that already have saved lives in the field, he says. Some CERDEC engineers have deployed with these counter-IED systems to help personnel train and maintain them.

Another near-term target area is power and energy. CERDEC has been working on batteries and fuel cells for some time. Its efforts largely have aimed at reducing the considerable logistics footprint that battlefield batteries bring with them, extending battery life, repackaging batteries and developing new rechargeable storage systems. The center already has deployed solar recharging systems.

Some Army units are using two new CERDEC-developed batteries in devices ranging from field radios to ruggedized laptops. The BA-5390 disposable and BB-2590 rechargeable batteries are lighter and have more capacity than the batteries currently powering 71 pieces of C4ISR systems. However, CERDEC officials bemoan the fact that many Army units persist in reordering traditional batteries while these new models have a smaller logistics footprint and actually cost less over the long term.

For example, the BA-5390 has 60 percent more capacity than the BA-5590 it replaces. Instead of carrying seven older batteries into the field to power a Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS) Advanced System Improvement Program (ASIP) radio for one week, a soldier could accomplish the same mission carrying only three BA-5390s. This reduces the soldier’s load by 6.7 pounds, and the cost of the three newer batteries is 60 percent less than that of the seven older models.

Similarly, the BB-2590 rechargeable battery weighs 0.7 pounds less and offers 70 percent more capacity than its BB-390 predecessor. Being able to carry three BB-2590s instead of five BB-390s over a weeklong mission reduces the soldier’s load by 6.1 pounds.

Much C4ISR work involves networks, and CERDEC engages in a great deal of work integrating technologies. Blohm relates how the counter-IED environment is characterized by many systems emitting radio frequency energy. CERDEC is partnering with the Army Tank-Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) and the Tank-Automotive Command (TACOM) Life Cycle Management Command (LCMC) to integrate all emitting systems—counter-IED, communication and antenna—for platform use. A large portion of this effort entails modeling and simulation, which cuts development costs and time. It can be challenging to integrate systems that come from different PEOs onto a single platform, Blohm allows.

Providing information to the warfighter is becoming more complex, and CERDEC is focusing on addressing the cognitive capacity of the warfighter. Soldiers increasingly have access to so much information that the Army is looking at packaging information correctly so that they exploit it effectively. This includes determining how a human processes all of this information so that the Army can provide easy-to-use, understandable and actionable information for that battlefield soldier.

“We are doing a lot of work on cognitive understanding of our applications,” Blohm says. The goal is “multiplatform cross-community applications of software services that support the integration and synchronization of intelligence and operational functions.” The products coming out of this effort are collaboration services, software that allows for planning support services, priority information requirements management tools and network-centric data strategies.

The improvised explosive device (IED) Interrogation Arm is a key CERDEC NVESD technology that helps assess potential explosives from a standoff distance. CERDEC is working with the Joint IED Defeat Organization on a range of counter-IED technologies.
One program at the heart of this effort is the Army Technology Objective (ATO) Collaborative Battlespace Reasoning and Awareness program, or COBRA. It operates under the CERDEC Intelligence and Information Warfare Directorate (I2WD), along with the Command and Control Directorate (C2D) and the Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) Topographic Engineering Center. COBRA seeks to address the question of when more information is helpful or detrimental, and how that information should be presented.

Blohm offers that no single answer may suit all aspects of that question. CERDEC is trying to standardize its approach to data ontology, he explains. This will allow the user to customize how he or she receives information, and it will ensure that information searches are in the right data neighborhood.

With warfighters using computers to a greater degree, the center is supporting them in computing disciplines. Last year CERDEC’s Software Engineering Directorate, supporting the CECOM LCMC Software Engineering Center, maintained more than 100 million lines of code in Army tactical systems concurrent with processing more than 200 software version releases. “It’s not very flashy and exciting, but it’s extremely important,” Blohm says.

Information security efforts are not limited to large server farms. CERDEC is working to ensure that tactical networks are secure, Blohm reports. “We are working very hard to make sure—especially in a tactical environment—that our network is robust and secure and has the confidence of the user,” he states. That effort includes protecting the network from enemies that endeavor to take it down.

During the Cold War, systems could be geared to the specific scenarios in which they might be used. But the post-Cold-War era, which includes the Global War on Terrorism, is rife with countless possible operational environments. For the longer term, the center is developing adaptable systems that would provide warfighters with the agile systems they would need as they engage in different environments.

At the top of this list is adaptive radio technology. Blohm relates that CERDEC is trying to “add smarts” to the radio so that it can understand its operational environment. This includes detecting available spectrum and adapting to spectrum in individual situations—particularly urban environments. A radio would sense the environment and maximize its performance through measures such as adjusting power output. Spectrum is a major concern to warfighters trying to pass information across networks, and it will remain so for some time.

A related program is the Coalition Joint Spectrum Management and Planning Tool, or CJSMPT. Run in conjunction with the Joint Staff, CJSMPT is a Joint Capability Technology Demonstration program. Currently undergoing evaluation, it will be provided in theater—possibly this year—for warfighters to understand and manage the changing spectrum environment.

Blohm explains that CERDEC has a testbed at Fort Dix, New Jersey, to evaluate new technologies before they are deployed. Known as the Program Manager (PM) C4ISR OTM, for on the move, the testbed allows CERDEC to integrate laboratory, industry and     even current fielded technologies. Researchers can determine technologies’ shortfalls in an integrated environment. Among the PMs engaged in this effort are those with Future Combat Systems, WIN-T and DCGS-A. Blohm states that this testbed has allowed CERDEC to mature Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) waveforms as well as the Handheld Manpack Small (HMS) form factor. Soldiers come to the testbed from other locations to work on these systems for up to two months to generate user feedback.

Several CERDEC ATO programs approach warfighter solutions from different directions. One of these is the Tactical Information Technologies for Assured Network Operations, known as TITAN. This effort, which focuses on information assurance, includes both transport and application elements of security. The center is working with the CECOM PEO for Command, Control and Communications Tactical (C3T) and PM Standard Depot System (SDS) to move these security technologies into the system rapidly, Blohm reports.

Another program is known as RADICAL, for radio frequency (RF) adaptive technologies integrated with communications and location. Another joint effort, RADICAL teams CERDEC’s Space and Terrestrial Communications Directorate and the C2D. This program, which is part of the smart radio effort, seeks to enable both a radio and its application to adapt available bandwidth to provide a warfighter with optimum data flow.

Many objectives in the Global War on Terrorism involve soft targets such as individuals. The CERDEC I2WD is in charge of the Soft Target Exploitation and Fusion ATO, or STEF. It aims at targeting high-value individuals along with their social network relationships. This ATO is transitioning some of its technologies into other programs of record, including the already fielded DCGS-A, Blohm states.

STEF is generating automated tools that determine links and relationships between individuals within forensic and near-real-time, all-source data. These tools would track individuals and develop their organizational composition by using existing and emerging sensor feeds. STEF features contextual knowledge extraction and quantitative metrics for soft target problem assessment. Its goal is to provide actionable intelligence on soft targets while reducing analyst workload.

The CERDEC Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate (NVESD) has a range of efforts focusing on target location and designation. The challenge is to designate a target quickly and accurately without false alarms, Blohm says. “Our systems need to be pretty-near perfect, as there is no stomach for mistakes when you’re putting steel on target,” he declares.

One NVESD effort is to provide the urban sensor suite for the Improved Mobility and Operational Performance through Autonomous Technologies (IMOPAT), which is a TARDEC program. IMOPAT would enable indirect-vision-based systems that maintain 360/90-degree local situational awareness during day or night on manned or unmanned platforms. With CERDEC working on the project in its early stages, the program is less likely to run into conflicts during integration later, Blohm notes. CERDEC does not have to worry about delivering a sensor suite that might not fit on the finalized platform.

Small business innovative research (SBIR) programs are part of CERDEC’s menu, and one SBIR product already has been deployed in the field. The System for Triaging Key Evidence, or STRIKE, is providing soldiers with handheld devices that allow them to extract intelligence data from electronic media. For example, a soldier on a reconnaissance mission might enter a room full of computers, thumb drives and other data media, cell phones and personal digital devices. To access their data, that soldier formerly needed to send the hardware to a forensic laboratory for a time-consuming extraction process. With STRIKE, the soldier has the forensic data extraction capabilities on his or her handheld device. It provides rapid access to what might be valuable—and perishable—information. More than 300 units have been deployed to Iraq, Blohm relates.

The next 10 years may see significant improvements in the adaptability and responsiveness of the network, Blohm offers. The ability to tie systems together should improve considerably. Advances over the past few years have helped break down stovepipes and blur the lines between operational disciplines and technology, but much remains to be done to achieve a network that is seamless to the user. “I see a lot of system improvements as we try to tie all this stuff together to the bigger network—not just the movement of bits from A to B, but how we make all that [data flow] fit together,” Blohm says.

One long-term effort CERDEC is conducting with the Army Research Laboratory is known as network sciences. The concept is to attempt to understand the basic building blocks of communications networks—whether a small group of people or the entire Internet. This research attempts to grasp how networking is tied to biological and social behavior, Blohm says. This also entails how the brain processes data, including how swarms of animals act and react. “There are probably some leap-aheads from getting this basic understanding,” he suggests.

“When we talk about tactical ad-hoc networks today—whether the WIN-T program or the JTRS program—a significant amount of the bandwidth that is available to that radio is used in overhead,” Blohm continues. “That overhead lets everyone else know where you are … and that information needs to be continually updated. We have come up with very sophisticated solutions to that problem, but are there simpler solutions?”

Much of CERDEC’s networking effort comes down to providing the same level of network service in the field that soldiers receive at their bases back home. No deployment can duplicate that base infrastructure perfectly, but Blohm believes that some of these leap-ahead technologies   may provide a solution that meets warfighter expectations.

Many of these programs will come to realization after CERDEC has relocated to Aberdeen. The BRAC move will be disruptive, Blohm allows. Yet, he cites some advantages that will emerge from it. CERDEC will move into a state-of-the-art campus that consolidates all of Fort Monmouth’s elements. Some valuable personnel will not make the move, but they are working to mentor others and transfer their knowledge to the new location.

Others already have moved to Aberdeen. Blohm cites more than 100 people who have volunteered to join them in 2009, and new hires are focusing on the Aberdeen location. He expects to have a good head start in having the right work force in place when the full move actually occurs.

The PM C4ISR OTM testbed will remain at Fort Dix, and CERDEC expects to continue to use it. Fort Dix is only about a two-hour drive from Aberdeen, Blohm notes.

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