Connectivity. There’s an amazing amount of data available to the combat commander and, particularly, the Brigade Combat Team, but it’s of little value if we can’t get information into the hands of the soldier who’s in contact with the enemy. One of our challenges going forward is providing sufficient bandwidth so that soldier or small unit commander can take immediate advantage of the intelligence, sensor and situational awareness to more efficiently and effectively carry out the mission
What’s important is the last tactical mile. The brigade commander is tasked with not only closing with and destroying the enemy but also preventing an enemy force doing that to him. His battlespace, his area of immediate interest, is out to just beyond his line of sight.
Mission success or failure may rest on that additional piece of situational awareness, so providing it quickly in an intuitively usable form, is at the top of everyone’s list of concerns. First and foremost, we must assure connectivity and the flow of meaningful information to the commander.
In the past, the Army has focused its energy on pushing information out to the combat edge — developing plans, establishing the mechanisms, and creating ever larger pipelines of bandwidth to accomplish that. Our challenges now are not only to effectively exploit the information that’s already available but also to establish mechanisms that allow soldiers to exercise more and more demand as they select and tailor information.
In the near future, I see small unit commanders having numerous UAV and UGV assets available and the ability to task and view those sensings on handheld devices as we do on iPhones today. The flexibility to selectively reach out to tap, manipulate, and exploit information is where the future is.
We also must make accessing intelligence information more immediate and more certain and devise methodologies to collect, process and exploit that intelligence more quickly. Whether it emanates from assets at the tactical level — sensors, radars, UGVs, UAVs — or national assets that support operations, we need to get that information to the people who are on the tactical edge quickly.
One of the biggest challenges on the battlefield is power. We’ve seen an explosion of demands placed on combat vehicles, as vehicles are essentially transformed into nodes on the battlefield. Over the past decade, we’ve brought true situational awareness and battle command down to individual platforms, but those C4ISR systems — the sensors, radars, communication packages, and command and control systems — as well as the mechanical systems of the vehicle itself demand enormous power.
The infantry brigade wants light systems that are extremely miserly in their use of power, highly flexibility in portraying the information being provided, and inexpensive. For dismounted infantry, that means something the size of a smartphone not a smartbook.
With an eye always on cost, we must be innovative in the way we generate power, and we must be innovative in the way we design computers and communications to reduce their power needs.
The services are doing impressive work designing new platforms that demand less power. Industry, in response to those requirements, is becoming more innovative. In our own case, we’re teamed with BAE Systems on the Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle program, offering a vehicle with a hybrid electric drive propulsion system. The hybrid design generates enormous on-board power, but also produces enormous power available to export to other uses. Our hybrid CaMEL (Carry-all Mechanized Equipment Landrover) robotic system will do the same for the light infantryman.
As these kinds of power-generating platforms find their way to the brigade combat teams, some of the concern over power availability will start to diminish. All of us in industry are looking at innovative ways and technologies to reach out and touch power in new ways. But if we can’t make it small enough or cheap enough, and if we can’t find a way to power it, then it’s of no great utility to the dismounted force.
One way we can meet the power challenge is by creating devices that use less power and another is by creating power generating platforms. We’re also tackling it a third way: Finding power technology that is less weighty, robust and rechargeable during combat. That’s key because a typical infantry platoon can use 412 to 436 pounds of batteries for a 72-hour mission.
Current technologies demand a lot of power and operate for a relatively limited amount of time on one charge. You can see that with your own BlackBerry. We can increase the size of the battery a bit in the combat handheld, for example, and we can certainly make it rechargeable. But we can do more by taking full advantage of the development ongoing in the civilian market. We must determine ways to blend some of that development with the fairly strict requirements of the military with regard to durability and battlefield-environment spectrum capability and ensure it’s integratable with the investments the Army has made in C4ISR over the past 20 years.
At Fort Bliss —through the Network Integration Evaluation exercises —the Army is trying to take advantage of lessons learned from the past decade or two of development by using a near-combat environment to field-test new technologies at a much faster pace and turn them over more often to warfighters.
What the Army doesn’t want to do in the future is miss opportunities, and this new exercise program at Fort Bliss is going to be an important way to ensure it doesn’t. By blending programs of record with commercial off-the-shelf solutions, the Army can cut costs, keep pace with rapid technological change and allow industry to participate more actively in overall system development. We’re incentivized to engineer efficiencies and exploit corporate investments that are adaptable to Army requirements.
The NIE approach makes the Army institutionally more adaptable, and it makes industry more agile. As this effort gains momentum, I am confident both industry and the Army will benefit from many future opportunities.
The decisive element of the Army’s formation is the squad or platoon, and Northrop Grumman is focused on providing those soldiers with the tools and capabilities that give them the tactical advantage. As a leading provider of C4ISR systems, a top priority for my organization is getting that small unit leader the right quantity and quality of usable data in time to make a difference.
We also need to get that data to the platoon or squad leader on his own device so he can tailor and prioritize the information and adapt his battle planning almost instantly as the tactical situation changes. For instance, he may be receiving a UAV feed for areas around his immediate objective, but he’s programmed his device to recognize a higher priority feed because a threat has materialized on his flank or he’s directed to another mission objective.
Handhelds with that kind of flexibility and agility will make a difference; building ever bigger pipes to stuff with every available digit of data will not. Providing these soldiers with the software applications that allow them to tailor relevant information increases their agility; defaulting to the hierarchical top-down ‘information-push’ approach, prevents us from taking full advantage of commercial technology.
With new platforms, new combat vehicles such as the GCV and the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, and the devices we will be giving the dismounted formations, the brigade combat team will have enormous computing power. Correspondingly, there is enormous potential to more effectively apply and amplify this power and the collective connectivity inherent in this brigade in the future. If we’re right about our ability to tailor relevant information more efficiently with relatively sparse demand on bandwidth and power, I suspect there is computing power that can be exploited in a cloud construct.
I strongly believe in exploiting COTS to fill capability gaps, but only with a full understanding of the limitations. The military can take advantage of the mass and economies of scale of the commercial markets if we can smartly identify those developments with military value and make them work in a military environment. This is one of the major goals of NIE.
For example, any system that requires towers for network operations has questionable utility for the maneuver force. It’s a rare enemy that allows an Army to set up a tower network prior to engaging in an attack. That kind of system would probably be more useful in peace enforcement. Nonetheless, we are exploring other COTS technologies that seem to offer a great deal of military utility, such as self-forming networks.
That’s something the Army is going to have to answer for itself at some point. I do believe the traditional security approval mechanisms are of ever less utility for tactical battlefield development, every year because the normal, protracted approval process tends to run much slower than the evolution of the technology.
Commercial systems employ some effective encryption methods the military could use, particularly at the tactical level of combat. Soldiers engaged in battle don’t need the same level of classification on devices or the same levels of clearance required of the same or similar devices employed at higher headquarter levels. The Army and other services have to come up with security regimes to account for that. As the technology evolves, it may not be necessary for the Army and others to use systems with dedicated hardware channels for that separation. We’re able to control a lot of that through software now.
That’s one for a dissertation. When you use the term “ints” you’re talking about the intelligence process not just sensors. I think the military has a highly refined, inherent ability to use sensors but still needs to better process, select and distribute the intelligence information itself.
Raw information collected at the point of contact is an area of mature capability. All the way up through the platoon, company and brigade combat team levels people see and sense things and make use of that information. Turning these sensings into a product and then flipping that product around in a way that a tactical unit in contact with the enemy can use it almost instantly is challenging.
That’s because the intelligence gathered requires some level of analysis. That analysis starts introducing a lot of friction into the system. The military has to do a much better job of prioritizing the information for its tactical, operational and strategic applicability. We need a structure that allows us to prioritize using software on the devices to ensure appropriate metering of information and getting it to echelons that need it, when it’s needed.
Creating such a structure and efficiently empowering users is difficult to do. And the more information that’s out there, the more difficult it becomes to do that exploitation in real time.
As we in some cases enable and in others burden small unit commanders with information, industry could develop more decision support tools that offer solutions.
Here’s an example: In moving his company from Kandahar to a forward operating base some 100 miles away a captain must do a route recon, which includes exploiting the intelligence available with regard to IEDs and other immediate threats along that route. He’s also got to coordinate with supporting organizations that can provide air and fire support during that movement.
Consider if that captain could say “I’m going from Kandahar to FOB XRAY on this date, give me a route,” and we had a decision-support tool that gathered and analyzed HUMINT, SIGINT, road network status and data on recent IED attacks and also coordinated support and communications. Such a tool would provide that commander with a valuable product rather than a mass of data he has to sift through himself, relieving him of the burden for planning that route.
An important way to approach this information problem would be to develop and improve these kinds of decision-assist tools, which would be invaluable in a tactical environment.
I can’t stress enough the importance of connectivity. Once the network exists, we need to get it in the hands of the dismounted soldier and put applications on the network they can tailor and exploit for specific tactical needs.
Technology-wise, we are very close to making that connectivity work. The Army has demonstrated an absolute willingness to consider alternative networks, while industry — particularly those of us who are C4ISR integrators and C4ISR software designers — clearly understands the communications and computer systems we build and the information we provide need to be extremely agnostic. The soldier must be able to acquire, tailor and prioritize information regardless of the communications structures immediately available to him.
The services have made good progress and achieved a number of successes. One of the most notable is a Northrop Grumman program, FBCB2 (Force XXI Battle Command, Brigade-and-Below). About five years ago, the Army and Marine Corps decided that FBCB2, which started out as an Army program, would be adapted for both services. At the time, the Marines had their own proprietary situational awareness battle command software solution. It took a lot of courage and dedication for both services to evolve their requirements so the Joint Capabilities Release could be fielded this year.
To the extent it offers a roadmap of how to do things in the future, JCR is an excellent example. Industry doesn’t want to make investments that aren’t applicable elsewhere. We’re diligent about ensuring the solution sets we design according to a specific set of requirements are as open as possible across a wide range of similar vehicles, command posts and command structures.
As we have done with JCR and are doing in our C4ISR hardware integrations such as GCV, we are investing in broadly applicable “plug and play” software and hardware solutions which are backwardly compatible and evolvable as new requirements are created. We would expect that many of our partners in industry are following suit, and the Army is clearly ready to exploit such innovation through its new acquisition model.
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