Army to equip soldiers with 'electronic umbrella' system

The Army plans to provide U.S. forces poised for deployment to the Balkans with more than 40 sophisticated, computer-based systems that could provide troops in Kosovo with an "electronic umbrella" capable of neutralizing incoming artillery, rocket and mortar shells.

The House Armed Services Committee pumped an extra $44 million into the defense budget for this counter-artillery system, the Shortstop Electronic Protection System, while at the same time sharply criticizing top Army leaders for failing to fund it for the past four years.

Lt. Col. Alfred Coppola, product manager for Shortstop at the Communications-Electronics Command's Systems Management Center, said U.S. Army Europe (USAEUR) submitted an "urgent" request for the system in late October, and Cecom will deliver "as many of the systems as we can get."

Coppola said Cecom has acquired 44 of the Shortstop systems from the electronic systems division of Condor Electronic Industries Inc., Simi Valley, Calif. But he added that Cecom does not have a contract in place to deliver the 200 systems that USAEUR requested.

Cecom could come close to meeting the requirements of USAEUR if the extra funding provided by the House committee makes it through the budget process, Coppola said. The committee, in its report on the authorization bill, criticized the Army's support for Shortstop, saying the service "failed to fund this system for the fourth straight year," adding that it learned USAEUR had submitted a request for 200 Shortstop systems "to support Balkan operations."

Besides adding $40 million to the Pentagon budget to support USAEUR requirements, the committee also included an extra $4 million in funding for Marine Corps purchases.

Coppola said Shortstop, which was first fielded during Operation Desert Storm, has proven its utility in defeating one of the most deadly types of artillery shells, the air-burst, proximity-fused shell, which explodes in the air near a target, rather than when it hits the ground. He described this weapon as "four to eight more times lethal" than standard shells that explode upon contact with the ground, because much of the explosive force of those shells is absorbed by the earth.

Proximity-fused shells contain cheap radar altimeter fuses—"less than $50," Coppola said—to control their detonation a set distance from the ground. He said Shortstop, which comes in vehicle-mounted and manpack versions, defeats this shell by first detecting and then jamming the signals from the radar altimeter on an incoming round.

Shortstop, Coppola said, "essentially sits there passively waiting for a [radio signal]. It then uses sophisticated signal algorithms to determine...whether it is incoming or outgoing and then uses a repeater jammer to send a signal back to the shell, causing it to be detonated at a much higher elevation."

Brig. Gen. Jan Huly, director of the Marine Corps' plans, policies and operations division, had high praise for Shortstop in testimony before the Armed Services Committee earlier this year. Shortstop, he said, "has proven in operational live-fire testing to be fully capable [of] defeating indirect-fired munitions armed with proximity fuses that threaten the lives of our Marines. Incoming roundsare defeated by causing them to prematurely detonate while outside the radius of danger to personnel and equipment."

Tim Davis, president of Condor's electronic systems division, said the company developed Shortstop using commercial products, including an Intel Corp. 386 PC chip and commercial digital signal-processing modules, as well as "several hundred thousand lines" of signal-processing code written by the company.

The signal-processing algorithms, Davis said, enables Shortstop to characterize the signal heard and then output a detonation signal on the correct frequency. Asked if a 386 chip provided enough computing power, Davis said, "With a 386, I have all the horsepower I need."

Coppola agreed with that assessment. "I'm happy with a 386, as long as it works. There's no need to spend the money" to upgrade to a higher-powered chip, he said.

Despite its humble computer engine, the Marines have great faith in the protection Shortstop can provide to forces on the battlefield, Huly said. "Casualties for a battalion-sized force on the move can be reduced by up to 8 percent by deployment of this remarkable technology," Huly told Congress earlier this year.

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