Network-centric warfare takes flight

UAVs become a critical link on the battlefield<@VM>Hollywood meets the UAV fighter<@VM>Q&A<@VM>Net-centric opportunities

A Global Hawk UAV flies over Edwards Air Force Base in California. These aircraft performed about 5 percent of the surveillance missions in Operation Iraqi Freedom, but collected 55 percent of the data on sensitive targets.

Defense Department

As the sun sets over Baghdad, automatic-weapon fire erupts from a concrete building's third-story window.

Flying gentle circles above the new hot spot, an unmanned aerial vehicle shoots detailed video of the situation. Through the growing darkness, coalition forces on the ground view video of the sniper and another group of insurgents. In seconds, it's determined that a Bradley fighting vehicle, with support from a Black Hawk helicopter, is needed to handle the situation. As the forces converge on the scene, they are aided by live video from the unmanned plane. So are commanders, miles away.

The scenario described by contractors is just one of countless instances where technology is being used on the frontlines.

Information gathering and sharing are the essence of network-centric warfare: getting data to the warfighters who need it, when they need it. And a key method for gathering that data is with unmanned aerial vehicles.

Global Hawk UAVs from Northrop Grumman Corp. performed about 5 percent of the surveillance missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom, but the vehicles were responsible for collecting about 55 percent of the information on time-sensitive targets, according to an Air Force report.

"That's how it's going to be from now on," said Shai Shammai consulting manager for aerospace and defense at market research firm Frost & Sullivan of New York. "In Iraq and Afghanistan, UAVs already have proven themselves to deliver real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance at a level of capability unheard of or unseen before."

The development of technology to manage that data and ensure connectivity is sure to be a major growth area of IT spending over the next decade, Shammai said.

UAV spending worldwide likely will double over the next decade to $4.5 billion annually, totaling more than $30 billion, according to a study released in June by aerospace and defense consultancy Teal Group Corp., Fairfax, Va. The U.S. military likely will lead that spending, Teal Group officials said.

"U.S. UAV efforts are closely tied to the broader trend in information warfare and net-centric systems," a Teal Group report said. "UAVs are a key element in the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance portion of this revolution, and are expanding into other missions as well, with the advent of hunter-killer UAVs and other types of combat UAVs."

Systems integrator DataPath Inc., Duluth, Ga., is one company focused on network-centric warfare and the role UAVs play in that, said Andy Mullins, the company's chief executive officer.

DataPath supplies rugged satellite/Earth terminal solutions that support military network-centric communications. The company, which ranks 95 on Washington Technology's 2005 Top 100, recently signed a $17.5 million to provide the Army Communications-Electronics Command with 14 joint network, node-satellite communications trailers and 38 satellite communications battalion command-post node trailers.

DataPath also supplied Earth terminals for a Marine Corps Systems Command communications project in Iraq.

"Everybody in the world is talking about net-centric operations, and it's a great buzzword. But what this project really was about was for the Marines to apply directly all that net-centric infrastructure to solve real-time problems for soldiers on the front line," Mullins said.

The solution incorporates the Boeing Scan Eagle UAVs that have 12-hour flight durations, as well as the Marine Corps' Pioneer UAVs. The effort is called the Video Storage Wide Area Network project.

"It's about pushing the edge of that net-centric network, not only to the frontline soldier but also to the sensors deployed beyond that soldier, so he or she can understand with some specificity what obstacles are in front of them," Mullins said.

The solution also offers recording, editing and storage capabilities that let warfighters use the data any time. Analysts can use the video for post-action reviews to see what was done correctly or incorrectly.

Capt. David Joseforsky, a Marine Corps Systems Command project officer in Iraq, said the network is operating in Iraq with five systems deployed throughout the areas of operation.

"What we're doing is using them to stream live video and also to push large imagery files over a satellite communications network that basically parallels our tactical network, so we don't have to bog down our communications," Joseforsky said.

The system takes the video feeds from UAVs and digitizes and compresses the images. It then sends them to LANs established on the ground and from which multiple users can access the video and data.

Even using the compression algorithms, bandwidth becomes a major issue for UAVs and network-centric warfare, Joseforsky said. The independent satellite communication system the Marines use addresses the issue, but bandwidth will need new technology in the future.

"A lot of our communications and data links are from 128K up to about 4MB, which isn't a whole lot when you're servicing 20,000-plus people," Joseforsky said. "In the streaming video, we're pushing around a 400-Kbps stream, so once we start pushing multiple streams, it starts adding up pretty quickly and eats away at our connectivity."

Bandwidth technology is a prime opportunity for technology companies, Shammai said.

"UAVs are consumers of bandwidth," he said. "You need to manage different frequencies, and there are ways to deal with it. Technology that will allow the bandwidth that was once used to control a single UAV to control 10 UAVs is what's needed."

There's also a need for technology that ensures networks stay operational, Mullins said. As military forces depend on data from UAVs, the network becomes as important as weapons.

Solutions that are flexible and easy to use in battlefield situations are also important. In the case of the Marine network project, the systems were up and running quickly.

"We've really taken the best of the commercial technology and use it on the battlefield," Joseforsky said. "It's a huge leap for us at Marine Corps Systems Command to procure the equipment, have DataPath integrate it and get it ready for us in 60 days."

Air traffic management is another area that IT companies will need to watch. Shammai recalled an incident in Afghanistan in which a passenger aircraft almost collided with a German UAV. That near miss highlighted the need for air traffic management.

Another need is for a master control that can manage various UAVs as well as unmanned boats and land vehicles. Raytheon Co. is developing a tactical control system for the Navy that simultaneously will manage multiple UAVs. It works with Northrop Grumman's RQ-8 Fire Scout helicopter UAV.

"One of the major focuses we started out with was to build an architecture to fly more than one UAV," said Gerald Bazemore, Raytheon's director of unmanned ground systems. "So we have a [version] now that will support dissimilar air vehicles."

Typically, UAV builders would develop controls specific to just one vehicle. That led to stovepiped, ground-control systems that can't interoperate. That issue needs to be addressed to achieve the battlefield-view snapshot that network-centric warfare promises.

"The only way you're really going to accomplish that is by linking all those systems together in some manner," Bazemore said.

Look for unmanned combat aerial vehicles to be another of the biggest growth areas over the next 10 years to 20 years.

Northrop Grumman's X-47 Pegasus is the kind of combat vehicle likely to attract spending. The X-47 focuses on three missions: surveillance and reconnaissance, suppressing enemy air defenses, and strikes. The vehicle also has stealth features.

"The new combat vehicles will start mainly as bombers, but they will gradually replace fighter aircraft," Shammai said. "I see UAVs climbing the procurement list and gradually taking more of the budget from manned aircraft."

Civilian uses for UAVs, such as boarder patrol, fire fighting and communications, also are expected to grow quickly.

AeroVironment Inc., Monrovia, Calif., is developing the Global Observer, a plane that can fly for more than a week at an elevation of more than 65,000 feet. It can be used for communications in civilian applications, as well as for a range of military applications.

"One of the highest payoff missions for that type of plane would be as a communication relay in a battle area [over] a couple hundred mile radius," said Bob Curtin, an AeroVironment vice president. "We would use this, in essence, as a geostationary satellite flying at low altitude."

The evolution of UAVs will depend on developing smaller and lighter systems, said Mike Andrews, L-3 Communications Inc.'s chief technology officer. L-3 provides communications and sensor systems for UAVs. In June, company officials announced an agreement to acquire Titan Corp., an information and communications systems solutions provider. And in January, L-3 acquired BAI Aerosystems Inc., which designs, manufactures and integrates UAVs.

Weight diminishes the endurance and flight time of the vehicles, so the push to make UAV components lighter will continue.

Even without the advances that are on the horizon, for Joseforsky the realization of network-centric warfare has begun.

"This is the beginning of it. This system is all IP-based, it's very simple to set up," Joseforsky said. It eliminates the limitations of terrain and lets "us push it anywhere in the theater. We could realistically push back to [the continental United States.]. I really think it is the starting point of net-centric warfare."

Staff Writer Doug Beizer can be reached at dbeizer@postnewsweektech.com.
Is the world ready for an unmanned combat airplane? What happens if it gets struck by lightning or develops a mind of its own and launches an attack that could start World War III?

It could happen.

Well, not really ? other than in the new movie "Stealth," starring Jessica Biel and Oscar winner Jamie Foxx as Navy pilots. However, the concerns of using artificial intelligence in war fighting are real, says Jim Hendler, a University of Maryland computer science professor.

"There's still a cultural sensitivity" about unmanned combat vehicles, Hendler said. But the state of the art for UAVs is not advanced enough that they could be "making decisions without a human in the loop," he said.

"The movie scenario of the thing running amok and doing crazy stuff is actually pretty unlikely," Hendler said. For the foreseeable future, human interaction is very much required, he said. "Most people-- inside the military or outside ? are not ready yet to let the [unmanned vehicle] pull the trigger."

However, UAVs will play a bigger role in combat situations in the future. Hendler envisions a scenario in which several UAVs are controlled by a crew in a B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber flying above harm's way.

"The strictures of warfare are such that we can't do the mission without getting lower in altitude, which increases risk," he said. But for a taste of fantasy, "Stealth" opens July 29.

Daryl Davidson

Scanning the membership roll of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, it is quickly obvious that UAVs are as important to IT companies as they are to airframe builders -- maybe more so. The list is populated with an IT Who's Who that includes L-3 Communications Corp., SRA International Inc. and Science Applications International Corp., to name a few.

Daryl Davidson, executive director of the Arlington, Va., non-profit group, leads the effort to promote the unmanned systems community. Momentum is picking up for UAVs as they are tasked with increasingly more complex missions. Davidson spoke recently with Staff Writer Doug Beizer about the future of UAVs.

WT: How essential are UAVs to the military?

Davidson: They have become very essential, in fact, almost indispensable. The reports and anecdotal evidence we're hearing are that the more UAVs are put in operation, the greater the roles and missions they're being tasked to do. I think the military is clamoring for as many as they can get.

WT: How important are UAVs to the goals of network-centric warfare?

Davidson: Obviously, the starting point for a good network-centric warfare system is information gathering. You've got to have information before you process and before you act. And the classic mission for UAVs is collecting intelligence, so they are critical in network-centric warfare. They're only a piece of that, but they're becoming a very significant piece. They provide an affordable means for collecting a maximum of data.

WT:What areas of IT need to be developed to help UAVs evolve?

Davidson: One of the things driving the success of UAVs ? in addition to the more obvious things such as funding and cultural acceptance of using robotic technology ? is the miniaturization of computers and computing power, as well as the advancement of sensor technology such as cameras, infrared and chemical and biological detection systems. Now, as the platforms become stabilized, you're starting to see a lot of investment and movement toward the sensors, computing capabilities and what you do with the information.

WT: What challenges exist in ex-panding the tasks that UAVs perform?

Davidson: One of the biggest critical areas is bandwidth. You've got to have bandwidth to be communicating and pumping all this data back and forth. But once you find a way to capture and analyze, process and then distribute that data, you get a wide and exponentially growing data dissemination issue.

WT: What's the spending outlook for UAV technology?

Davidson: From fiscal 2005 to fiscal 2011, the military is going to spend more than $15 billion in the research, development, testing and evaluation of UAVs. Realistically -- especially with the [Iraq] conflict ongoing ?you'll find a lot of unexpected things happening. There's a cry-on-demand from the end users for more of everything. That results in additional funds being expended and production being increased, which wasn't planned ? things like that.
Office of Naval Research

Value: Not available

Expected RFP date: August

Expected award date: March 2006

Dragon Eye employs an analog data link for sending and receiving commands as well as telemetry and video. This link has shortcomings, including using a frequency band with poor worldwide availability, short range and easy interception by opposing forces.

The Office of Naval Research wants a digital data link to replace the analog one. The contractor will build two prototype systems to confirm functionality. The prototypes should resemble a production-ready item, including the interfaces required for integration into the Dragon Eye system. However, actual integration of the data link into Dragon Eye is not within the scope of this effort, nor is qualification testing to verify environmental requirements.

Air and Space Operations Weapon System

Air Force Materiel Command

Value: $604 million

Expected RFP date: July

Expected award date: October

A lead systems integrator will modernize and maintain the Air and Space Operations Center Weapon System across multiple levels of security from unclassified to top secret, sensitive compartmented information including coalition networks. The prime contractor will integrate applications, services and infrastructure systems into a common service-oriented architecture to improve command and control capabilities.

The Air Force Materiel Command wants to transition the air operations center to a network-centric environment allowing information sharing from various sources at different security levels. The contract also will be used to integrate independently developed applications through a standardized infrastructure, policies and procedures. Processes should be flexible, adaptable and amenable to changes in situations, guidance or resources without adverse impact on cost or schedule

Project: Air Force Way II

Air Force

Value: Not available

Expected RFP date: August

Expected award date: November

This contract will support the Headquarters Operations and Sustainment Systems Group, which provide secure combat information systems and networks for the Air Force and other defense components.

The group's contracting office wants to build an e-procurement system to buy online commercial IT hardware, software and services. The solution, to be called AFWay II, will need to fit in to the overall defense enterprise architecture as well as the Defense Department's Standard Procurement System.

The solution also will have to integrate with the Air Force's asset management solutions, such as the Equipment Management System. AFWay II also will be the e-purchasing module of all Air Force enterprise resource planning systems.

Persistent Unmanned Maritime Airborne Surveillance Capability

Navy

Value: $16 million

RFP date: May

Expected award date: September

This Broad Agency Announcement from the Navy Program Executive Office for Weapons and Unmanned Air Vehicles is an unclassified solicitation for research support in developing innovative solutions for the maritime and littoral intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) mission requirements.

Concepts developed under this announcement may be considered in the development of future unmanned ISR systems and improvements.

The Navy wants to develop ISR mission system enhancements for implementation in 2013, concurrent with other planned ISR improvements. The Navy is re-capitalizing its land-based maritime ISR capabilities, which are provided by aging P-3 and EP-3 aircraft.

Integrating manned and unmanned systems enables the creation of an overarching maritime architecture that can enhance effectively ISR mission performance and improve cost and mission effectiveness, according to the Navy.

Network Centric Curriculum Content Development and Advanced Distributed Learning Support Projects

Air Force

Value: Not available

RFP date: June

Expected award date: September

Air Force Integrated Learning Center is an enterprisewide learning environment that offers on-demand education, training, experiential opportunities and performance support to meet mission requirements and enhance readiness.

With this contract, the center wants to improve its use of knowledge and learning management systems.

The center also wants to create better training modules that enhance procedural knowledge, task mastery and analytical troubleshooting skills.

Developing more on-the-job learning opportunities also is a goal, as is conferring paper-based training to more online or blended learning formats.

Network and Information Sciences International Technology Alliance

Army

Value: Not available

Expected RFP date: July

Expected award date: March 2006

Together, the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence, the U.S. Army assistant secretary for acquisition, logistics and technology, and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory have been exploring improved research collaboration focused on the technology challenges for network-centric warfare for coalition operations. The International Technology Alliance Program is a new bilateral cooperative technology concept planned by the U.K. and U.S. governments to reach this goal.

Source: Input Inc.

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