Army recruits Navy to lighten the load

In its effort to create a fully digital command and control system aboard a helicopter the Army has contracted with the Navy to tap into the same technology used in a 1994 mission to digitally map the moon.

The Army has contracted with the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) which developed the lightweight Clementine spacecraft that created detailed maps of the moon surface to reduce the weight and size of the computer and communications equipment aboard its so-called Army Airborne Command and Control System (A2C2S).

The system which will be installed in the Army's Blackhawk helicopters connects soldiers who have laptops on board the helicopter to a powerful local-area network made up of numerous ground-based systems on ships tanks and command centers. Through multiple radio and satellite circuits the soldiers and commanders on the chop-pers can receive and send information including maps on friendly- and enemy-troop movements weather and other data. The collection of this digital information is known as "situational awareness " which the Defense Department is testing in a number of experimental exercises this year and next year.

"With the Navy space program we have developed a lot of capabilities to reduce the size and weight" of airborne systems "by using multichip modules the same kind used in Clementine " said Chris Herndon chief of the tactical technologies section at NRL.

A2C2S packs a lot of punch into a small space according to Vincent Tumminello an engineer with Software Technology Inc. which worked with NRL to integrate the airborne systems. "The file server is capable of doing what a mainframe could do 10 years ago."

Before the development of the system chopper commanders carried only four radios and one form of satellite communication. The choppers did not provide computer mapping systems. "Gone are the days when three guys drag maps out to an aircraft " said Walter Meriwether a Fort Hood-based Blackhawk pilot who has flown with A2C2S.

The Joint Combat Information Terminal (JCIT) developed by NRL serves as the focal point of A2C2S Herndon said packing the functions of multiple radios onto cards with silicon chips which "shrunk hundreds of pounds of weight from the system."

These radios-on-a-card include Army- standard Mobile Subscriber Equipment UHF and VHF systems for airborne and tactical communications satellite-communication receivers for intelligence broadcasts tactical satellite terminals and cards for tactical reconnaissance and data systems.

The JCIT sends and receives information through a powerful fiber-optic LAN based on Sun Microsystems Inc. Unix workstations and a file server. To save weight NRL installed discrete card-based versions of Sun SPARCstations in a central equipment rack for A2C2S. An Army spokesman said A2C2S will serve as a "critical link" in the Army's planned digitized force. The Army has already tested A2C2S in the Force XXI exercise at Fort Irwin Calif. this year as well as in ongoing maneuvers at Fort Hood Texas. The Army will test the system in a division-size Force XXI exercise this November.

The Army intends to issue a production contract for A2C2S in January 1998. and intends to acquire six A2C2S systems to support every division in the Army.

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