Technologists Plan Tactical Future
Technologists Plan Tactical
Future : Advanced Electronics Are at the Heart of the Future Force
“Unattended sensors in a future theater
of operation detect enemy movements, identify and locate targets, and feed that
information via unmanned aerial vehicle communications network nodes to the
command center. Commanders collate their data with other information from space
and U.S.-based sources, then signal unattended battlefield and airborne weapons
to launch against enemy assets. These networked weapons keep track of battle
damage and trade-off targets as they are destroyed. Throughout these operations,
U.S. forces execute complex maneuvers on the basis of high-speed data flowing to
vehicles and even individuals. Despite their rapid mobility, the forces do not
lose any contact with their full-time, self-organized network.” This paper was
first published by Robert K. Ackerman in Signal Magazine 2001.
Source : AFCEA (Armed Forces Communications and
Electronics Association) Journal for Communications, Electronics, Intelligence,
and Information Systems Professionals. Washington D.C., November 12, 2001.
With command, control, communications, computers,
intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) becoming the most
important element of military operations, its systems must work properly to
ensure that the future U.S. Army can function in its new lighter, more mobile
form. "In our minds, the network is starting to become the single most important
combat multiplier," declares Charles Strimpler of the U.S. Army
Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM), Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. "And, it
had better be there, and it had better work when you turn it on." "Significant
dependence on information technology" will be necessary to make it work, he adds.
Strimpler, associate director for technology programs at the
Space and Terrestrial Communications Directorate in the CECOM Research,
Development and Engineering Center (RDEC), observes that forces will depend on a
battlespace network far more than ever. Ensuring that this network functions
will require moving away from stovepipe systems such as dedicated networks. The
future combat infosphere will take the form of a network of networks that is a "ubiquitous,
fully connected network that covers everything from the ground right on up
through space," he outlines.
Integrating all the disparate pieces of information
technology into a cohesive system of systems also is a challenge, he continues.
This involves pulling different types of sensor information into this infosphere,
processing this information in different places, transporting it and presenting
it in a manner that permits a commander to make an intelligent decision based on
As the Army proceeds with its transformation, its forces will
find themselves spread over an extended battlespace. Having fewer assets
dispersed over a larger geographic area will challenge the ability of operators
to keep the network up and running, Strimpler states. And, this network must be
available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"When you get out into a mobile wireless environment where
you don't necessarily control the physical area around you and you're in a
variety of different terrain in a variety of weather conditions--and people are
shooting at you at the same time--it becomes quite a challenge," he warrants.
Above all, these technology areas constitute a house of cards,
Strimpler declares. If any one of them does not fulfill its goals, the entire
battlespace network will not work.
Unattended sensors must be arrayed in their own network, and
they must be able to tie into the maneuver layer where vehicle assets such as
the future combat system are located. Networking these unattended sensors is a
new thrust for RDEC, Strimpler relates, as their links must pass through a
gateway or an airborne or orbital asset. This challenge led to a new program
that extends across all four of CECOM's directorates. Known as Network Sensors
for the Objective Force, this effort is in the advanced technology demonstration
(ATD) approval process. Strimpler explains that this thrust encompasses all
communications, command and control, and sensors both from intelligence and from
The maneuver layer, which involves mobile vehicles, is
comparable to today's tactical Internet, he continues. All mobile vehicles, both
manned and unmanned, will be networked while on the move. Functions will be
distributed to avoid single points of failure. Ensuring full-time network
coverage on the battlefield will require significant reliance on some type of
airborne communications asset, Strimpler maintains. This might take the form of
a communications payload on an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which he describes
as "an emerging area that is going to become more and more important."
The top layer, which involves space-based assets, will
include traditional satellites such as Milstar. However, these assets
increasingly will be dedicated to reach-back functions as more elements are held
back from the theater of operations. This increases the emphasis on an airborne
layer for constant network coverage, Strimpler notes.
Strimpler relates that RDEC has organized its thrust areas
around six major technology domains.
In most current exercises, it can take days to plan and
configure the networks before they are deployed. Bandwidth is another challenge,
and the key may lie in more efficient use. These increasingly complex networks
also will require ways to manage them dynamically without requiring the manager
to have a doctorate in network administration.
Solutions to these challenges may involve ad hoc protocols,
quality-of-service algorithms that allow a system to react automatically based
on the mission and message traffic, and adaptive applications that exchange
information with the network to accommodate logistical limitations such as tight
Most of these sensors will be small devices that are
dispersed throughout the battlefield. This raises issues such as size, weight,
power consumption, orientation when landing on the ground, signal propagation in
irregular terrain, and security for these unattended devices as they pass
information into a classified network.
This encompasses satellite and UAV-based communications to
link the theater of operations with information assets in the United States.
Strimpler relates that RDEC is exploring a number of issues with UAV
communications such as flying a wireless local area network over an urban
environment or mounting a commercial personal communications service base
station on a UAV. Many of these technological approaches raise peripheral
concerns as well.
For satellite communications, new algorithms might permit
communication on the move. These algorithms would take into account blockage
from trees and buildings, so that a mobile user temporarily cut off from
line-of-sight linkage for a few seconds would be able to recover the link and
resume the communications stream immediately.
Advances such as the joint tactical radio system and greater
bandwidth traffic threaten to overwhelm vehicles with numbers and types of
antennas. Citing this as a major issue, Strimpler calls for technologies that
permit only one or two antennas to provide needed connectivity on the move. He
reports that RDEC is working with the Army Research Laboratory and the other
services on several technologies.
Phased array antennas, for example, could provide excellent
wideband communications on the move. Strimpler reports that research into
ferroelectric materials to build phase shifters shows promise for reducing costs.
Work on very high frequency (VHF) and ultrahigh frequency (UHF) antennas focuses
on a multiband device that would cover both parts of the spectrum. A dismounted
infantryman could employ a body-borne antenna incorporated into his uniform
equipment (see page 29).
Strimpler explains that this encompasses the full range of
communications issues. The center hopes to leverage technologies from the
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA's) small unit operations
The RDEC researchers also are examining how they can leverage
commercial cellular telephone technology for several military applications. This
might require adapting a commercial base station to fit in the more compact
configuration needed for a military deployment, for example.
The center's work in this arena began with an advanced
technology demonstration program in 1998, and Strimpler notes that the effort
has been complicated by the growing use of commercial technologies that are not
built around these two concepts. Many commercial off-the-shelf solutions do not
work in the current tactical Internet environment for a variety of reasons,
including bandwidth restrictions, reporting times and overhead requirements.
"Addressing network protection is a big concern of ours,"
Strimpler emphasizes, adding that RDEC is taking a layered approach to network
protection. Network access control is the primary element, with security
management overlaid atop the layers. One problem in incorporating commercial
security products is that managers require extensive training to configure and
operate them. Strimpler reports that the center is working to develop simple
graphical user interfaces that would allow a manager to configure these security
systems remotely without having a doctorate in network administration. RDEC also
aims to move into areas such as mobile code detection, public key infrastructure
technology, wireless protection techniques, and early warning technology.
If a seventh technology area emerges, it will involve what
Strimpler calls "network fires." He notes that the future combat system and the
Objective Force feature a concept for employing unattended missiles or munitions
at unmanned remote locations. These unattended weapons would take the form of
loitering missiles or direct kill munitions. Unattended sensors would detect
targets and report their data to a command and control node, which then might
involve other sensors to fill in the tactical picture. The command center then
would give the order to fire the unattended weapons.
Large numbers of the loitering unattended missiles would be
circulating over the battlefield, and they would be networked to each other and
to the ground network. Strimpler relates that RDEC is working with the Army's
Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey; the Army Aviation and Missile Command in
Huntsville, Alabama; and DARPA's network fires experts to develop a networked
solution. Issues include speed of services, especially for missiles that fly low
Another technology area that the center is examining is
network operations. This involves combining network management, security
management and information dissemination management into a single function. It
would allow a system to help filter out and profile information to a specific
commander based on parameters arising from his mission or needs.
Some of these many technology elements may be demonstrated in
the next two years, Strimpler suggests. The Mosaic ATD, for example, is
examining mobile wireless networking and ad hoc protocols. Its initial
demonstration may take place in 2002, and a fully integrated 15-node
demonstration is slated for 2004.
One major challenge is to deliver all these technologies in
the needed timeframes. Meeting the schedules for the Objective Force and the
future combat system "is a tough nut to bite off," Strimpler allows, but
Several demonstrations of multiband antennas already have
taken place at the brassboard level, and Strimpler offers that some of these
could be transitioned to program manager tracks over the next year. Phased array
antenna technology may not reach an acceptable demonstration of affordable
technology until the 2004 to 2006 timeframe.
Implementing a digital networking radio for the dismounted
warrior effort raises challenges of features, size, weight, power and
affordability. Demonstrations will continue, but implementation may be at least
six years in the future, Strimpler cautions.
The ability to network unattended sensors will be
demonstrated over the next two years. The current proposed ATD will end in 2005,
at which time the effort should transition into program manager status and into
the future combat system environment.
Information assurance is an ongoing endeavor. "While the bar
keeps getting raised, we are doing a pretty good job of attacking that
[challenge]," Strimpler declares.
All told, scalability is the long pole in the tent for most
of these solutions, Strimpler states. For example, setting up an ad hoc network
may work well until a yet-to-be-determined number of nodes overload the network.
If these technologies and capabilities are implemented as
scheduled, the U.S. soldier over the next few years can expect a reliable
networked system permitting access to any information needed by an authorized
user. These systems and their capabilities will be much more reliable, and the
infantryman will not have to take nearly as much equipment to use and maintain
these networks. Also, the user will worry less about how to fix the networks
because they will be flexible enough to ensure continuity.
The high quality of commercial technology is not necessarily
a panacea for the development of these tactical systems, Strimpler warns.
Leveraging these technologies is at the core of the Army's strategy, but not all
that the commercial sector has to offer is a solution. The key, he emphasizes,
lies in differentiating between commercial technologies and commercial products.
Leveraging commercial technologies can help reduce development costs
significantly, but out-of-the-box commercial products typically do not work in
the military environment. As a result, the military must adapt these products to
suit its needs.
"You can pick up your cell phone, drive down the highway and
call anybody you want," he continues. "People don't realize that behind that is
a huge base station that is part of a fixed infrastructure. In our world, not
only does the subscriber move, the whole infrastructure moves. That brings up a
major challenge that we must deal with." There also are known deficiencies in
cellular signaling that can be used by an adversary to its advantage. Military
experts must be able to establish a self-organizing network in a strange area
under adverse conditions with little or no planning, he states.
Additional information on RDEC is available on the World Wide