Navy delivers ground-to-air target imagery

Working behind the camera and not in front of it the real SEALs outdid "G.I. Jane" last week in a Navy experiment that for the first time transmitted photographs of enemy targets in a remote location to a Navy ship and then into the cockpit of an F/A-18 fighter.

The SEALs the Navy's elite Special Operations Forces unit operating in the remote reaches of the China Lake Air Weapons Center in California used what the Navy described as a "battle" local-area network to send images from a digital camera to the USS Coronado which was sailing off the coast of California. Targeting teams aboard the USS Coronado enhanced the image and then transmitted it to the F/A-18 as part of the Fleet Battle Experiment-Bravo (FBE-B) exercise which the experiment's coordinator Cmdr. Dave Summer described as a test of "concepts which will affect how we fight the battles of the 21st century."

The FBE-B is the Navy's version of the Hunter Warrior exercise which the Marines conducted in March to begin testing how information technology can be applied to battlefield situations [FCW March 17].

The successful transmission of the enhanced digital photo from the USS Coronado to the F/A-18 marked the first time a Navy ship at sea "transmitted a digital image to an [aircraft] cockpit " Summer said.

Rick Kirchner a systems engineer at China Lake who works on the Rapid Targeting System (RTS) installed aboard the USS Coronado said the experiment also marked "the first time we have used the Special Forces as the `cueing' source in this way."

In the past the SEALs would have to remain in the battle area to aim a laser at a target. A pilot then would fire a weapon that would seek out the laser as its target. But with the digital image transmitted to the cockpit of the fighter "the SEALs don't have to stay and las[er] the target [for the aircraft] " Kirchner said.

"They can just take the pictures and boogie out of the way without ever letting the enemy know they were there " he said.

The 3rd Fleet pulled off these firsts not with an exotic one-of-a-kind system but with commercial technology Kirchner explained. The SEALs photographed the target - a bridge at China Lake - with a standard commercial digital camera and then transmitted the photo via standard military satellite gear to a World Wide Web page maintained by the Special Operations Command on a secret intranet the Defense Departmentwide Secret Internet Protocol Router Network.

Kirchner said the USS Coronado then pulled the image of the bridge into the RTS which runs on a Sun Microsystems Inc. workstation. Kirchner said RTS stores more than 60G of high-resolution imagery from the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and map databases.

Operators on the USS Coronado then melded the photo with NRO and other map imagery. Operators produced a number of enhanced images from a 10-mile-by-10-mile box of the target down to a half-mile-by-half-mile target scene which the pilot could use to guide his aircraft to the target.

RTS transmitted the targeting information to the F/A-18 in an FM video format which closely resembles commercial TV signals over a wideband line-of-sight microwave radio system. The pictures popped up on the pilot's multifunction screen display which he could then match up with real-world views he obtained from on-board sensor systems.

Lt. Ross Mitchell who designed the FBE-B targeting experiment called "Ring of Fire " said the digital cueing is just one part of an overall test of networked weapons and their supporting systems that make up FBE-B. "We're looking at how to control the next generation of smart weapons " including the advanced Tomahawk missile system and other munitions that rely on the Global Positioning System (GPS) for guidance.

John Dunn a systems engineer for the Navy Pacific Fleet headquartered in Hawaii said FBE-B dovetails well with the Information Technology for the 21st Century project spearheaded by the Fleet's commander Adm. Archie Clemins. "This is a test of networked warfare " which is the focus of IT-21 and Joint Vision 2010 articulated by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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