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Battlespace Awareness and Unmanned Vehicles: Common Control Services

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As the White House struggles to define the roles and authorities related to unmanned vehicles (see Predator Drones and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) NY Times 25 November), DoD struggles to clean up years of haphazard acquisition of these systems for the warfighter. The appetite for the game-changing capabilities of a system that can penetrate deep into the battle space and accumulate limitless reams of data will only continue to grow. The budgets will be rationalized to account for the transition of forces out of Iraq and Afghanistan, but the warfighter will not easily give up these valuable tools.

Money will have to be saved without reducing capabilities. The most obvious place to start is in unmanned vehicle control services. Every system cannot be delivered with platform specific requirements to command and control the vehicle. The sheer expense of procuring, maintaining and updating these disparate systems will preclude their survival. Without a streamlined and cohesive approach from the top, these expensive systems deliver large quantities data via non-interoperable stovepipes. The warfighter must be able to prioritize data based on the operational scenario or the commander’s intent. As the rules of engagement change depending on the scenario, the commander needs a reliable control system that is configurable and adaptable. And don’t forget: this must be accomplished at the tactical edge in a Denied-Disconnected Intermittent Limited (D-DIL) environment.

Earlier this week, VADM Kendall Card, OPNAV N2/N6 and VADM Michael Rogers, TENTH Fleet, signed the Navy Strategy for Achieving Information Dominance 2013-2017 (located here).  One of their key goals is to achieve persistent, predictive battle space awareness:

“Manage sensor employment against prioritized intelligence requirements
. The duration, dwell, range, and access of unmanned vehicles demands greater management of sensors to ensure collection is tailored to operational need. The exponential increase in data generated by these assets will require that sufficient processing capability (both manpower and systems) exists to convert the collected information into intelligence. Similarly, advances in space sensor systems will likewise generate greater amounts of data that must be actively managed, processed and synthesized into the larger common operational picture.”

Today, the data critical to military success resides in mission specific networks, sensors and communication architectures that are rigid and resist interoperability. The future information-based warfare will require C4ISR weapons systems that can operate in a cloud-computing environment that can process the “big-data” exchange requirements of these future warfare missions.

The Office of Naval Research is working to develop a common control services integrated architecture using a tactical cloud for battle space awareness that will work with all UxV’s for Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Army and OSD. This includes a common data model and safety of flight weapons control using a federation framework. A Prototype Limited Technology Experiment (LTE) has been funded for FY13/14 to address both technical and nontechnical issues that must be addressed to start a full acquisition process. These include addressing the unique problems related to cloud technology in a naval anti- access area denial (A2AD) environment. Data models and analytics are needed that will make sense in D-DIL conditions expected at the tactical edge.

ONR hopes to provide a standardized set of tactical cloud node packaging options that are common across the Army, Navy and Marine Corps. Additionally, they plan to develop tactical extensions to the Intelligence Community for the Navy and Marine Corps.

We must achieve a dynamic command and control environment where information processing, understanding, analysis, and decision-making are fully integrated into war fighting systems. Sensors must be autonomously controlled sources of data. Communications links need to evolve so they can provide the rapid data sharing required to process sensor data in the context of the tactical edge; and platforms must provide the means by which sensors are distributed and reallocated in the battle space for the purpose of collecting data for understanding the battle space. Streaming big-data solutions (such as Terracotta) and modern databases and analytical tools (such as MarkLogic and Thetus) will be essential tools to make this plan a reality.

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More Stories By Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley, former CTO of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), is Founder and CTO of Crucial Point LLC, a technology research and advisory firm providing fact based technology reviews in support of venture capital, private equity and emerging technology firms. He has extensive industry experience in intelligence and security and was awarded an intelligence community meritorious achievement award by AFCEA in 2008, and has also been recognized as an Infoworld Top 25 CTO and as one of the most fascinating communicators in Government IT by GovFresh.