Switch on the digitised battlespace.
Since its inception in Europe during the Battle of Britain (see Armada C4ISR Compendium 2010), C4ISR has pursued a steady integration trend, moving away from a spread collection of command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets towards computerised command, control, communications and intelligence systems.
The fast pace of digitisation and microminiaturisation at the end of the 1980s, triggering a global information revolution, has boosted this trend, impacting the way defence and security organisations collect, process, exploit and disseminate information.
Thus, the classical John Boyd's paradigm describing a sequential loop of observation, orientation, decision and action (Ooda), has turned into a more parallel, integrated cycle adapted to modern C4ISR, better described at the turn of the century as Suds: Sense (over the entire electromagnetic spectrum) mainly through intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sensor and sensor exploitation systems; Understand (one's own situation and one's opponent's in its physical and human context), thanks to command and control information systems building recognised environmental and tactical pictures); Disseminate (commander's intent) between echelons and mission over networked communication systems; and Synchronise (manoeuvre and effects) between digitised platforms and weapon systems.
The old one-dimensional battlefield is no longer adapted to contain the Suds process. This is why it must be described as a multi-dimensional battlespace, merging the four physical dimensions (sea, land, air, space) with a fifth, logical one: information.
The current warfighter in Afghanistan, Iraq, off Somalia or over Libya is indeed leveraging space-based assets (observation, navigation and communication satellites) to build situational awareness over imagery and digital maps. Fed with this information, digitised platforms can project power through maritime, land and air domains, which are then permanently located and recognised through their C4ISR systems.
This transformation, contemplated as a concept a decade ago with the rise of Network-Centric Warfare, has developed in the new century into widespread automation and integration of information management between networked sensors, commanders and shooters. Today, C4ISR visions are turning into fielded capabilities in the current operational context, with mission-oriented communities of interest enjoying information superiority to plan, decide and act in a dynamic, collaborative pattern of centralised planning and decentralised execution.
At the highest operational level, Nato Network-Enabled Capabilities (NNEC) bear witness of this integration of C4ISR over the digitised battlespace. Their simultaneous impact on people, networks and systems has demonstrated that networking goes far beyond hardware. They transform organisations hierarchically and socially, for better decision-making and better co-operation. In turn, this deep change is spreading to hitherto less structured organisations, such as security or disaster relief, demultiplying our abilities to share a common understanding in order to manage multiple crises.
But beyond the preliminary finding that integrated C4ISR is becoming a reality, a closer look at its main components reveals that maturity levels remain widespread. Aerospace communities, although long accustomed to manage real-time electronic (radio and radar) information from friend and foe in the spectrum-friendly atmosphere, are struggling to process voice, data and imagery of complex air-to-ground activities between networked users, some sitting in command centres, others in airborne platforms, others in ground shelters or vehicles.
Land formations at the lowest tactical echelon are currently struggling with transporting C4ISR assets into the most demanding terrains, with carrying capabilities (in vehicles, but especially on foot) barely able to accommodate sensors, communications and command and control C4ISR assets once assigned to an Army-level corps, and now available at company level.
The situation is not more comfortable at a higher level, where army force structures must accommodate joint, allied and civil-military co-operation, with staff workload and numbers hardly able to leverage the benefits of C4TSR automation and integration. Even naval operational users, hitherto dealing with detection and engagement over uninhabited air and maritime spaces, are now confronted with the density of littoral waters, teeming with individual, commercial, security and military maritime activities.
This diversity of contexts, maturity levels and requirements, bears a heavy burden on multi-dimensional C4ISR integration, e.g. between air and land or maritime and land communities. Besides, as militaries organise themselves in order to face new threats, the very nature of these threats is impacting the one-sided transformation of C4ISR.
Assymetry Piles On
Previously organised to face massed, symmetric threats, militaries must now address atomised, asymmetric ones, such as insurgency or terrorism, where structured forces must neutralise unstructured opponents (sometimes individuals), blended into complex environments such as mountainous or urban terrain.
Again, C4ISR has evolved to grasp this reality, with hierarchical networking of entire force structures turning to ad hoc networking of task forces. Their communication assets emphasise mobility, connectivity and interoperability between organic and non-organic units in a variety of spectrum propagation conditions (space, tropospheric, line-of-sight, or obstructed).
No longer restricted to monitoring a permanent adverse posture over time, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) evolve into weak-signal gathering and instant exploitation, or multi-source fusion between structured (e.g. radar tracks or C2 messages) and unstructured data (natural language, semantics or video).
This new ISR philosophy is breaking away from the traditional need-to-know culture in favour of a duty-to-share stance to be observed by intelligence experts on the one hand and their growing number of stakeholders (from government authorities to tactical commanders) on the other. Indeed, ISR now also needs to cater to both sudden surges of violence over relatively quiet backgrounds (as caused by improvised explosive devices) and situations involving a very heterogeneous community of military, security and commercial stakeholders (as in the fight against piracy).
In such a complex environment, it is increasingly difficult to maintain the fast and clear-cut sensor-to-shooter loops envisioned by the network-centric warfare theory. Hard-to-find targets, blended signatures, broad coalition missions and tighter rules of engagement in a complex human environment of civil authorities, populations and media, have resulted in the safer, more pragmatic sensor-commander-shooter association. Here, the classical command & control process of vertical, compartmented command structures is evolving into an ability to cooperate and co-ordinate between combined arms, joint services, allied forces or civil and military agencies, some of them non-governmental (NGOs or private military companies).
Information digitisation and the software revolution have fuelled a rapid shift from hardware-based to software-driven information systems in the military. However, with a modernisation tempo dictated by mass consumer markets, commercial IT solutions hardly match defence practices of long definition and life cycles. This is why most defence organisations have been struggling with the issue of procuring stable information systems, often after relinquishing design and development to industry rather than pursue in-house solutions.
As most countries still struggle with governance and planned procurement of information systems (see 2010 C4ISR Compendium for difficulties faced by France, Germany and the UK with their defence information infrastructure), the new decade is showing signs of a more balanced relationship between government and industry regarding information systems.
A key progress identifier was the definition of rationalised information infrastructure. An application of theoretical models of C4ISR architecture frameworks (Modaf/Dodaf/Naf in the UK, US and Nato respectively) is the Nato Bi-Strategic Command Automated Information System (Bi-SC Ais), a leading framework for higher command & control information systems. Another step forward was the rethinking in terms of providing service capabilities, rather than relying on hardware and software systems. Here, Nato has led the way too, with apparently bold initiatives such as outsourcing of communication and information systems to industry for their Afghan Isaf network.
This innovative way of contracting crucial capabilities meets the volatility in IT human and technical resources. It nonetheless rests on careful governance for architecture, standards and functional services. It must also rely on stable national industrial partners, a luxury few countries can afford.
As Ministries of Defence define the line between specific and generic capabilities, on the one hand and what has to be owned and outsourced on the other, the frontier between defence system integrators and commercial IT vendors such as Microsoft, Oracle or Cisco is blurring. A recent example is the deployment of geospatial information core services in Nato, with Siemens integrating Esri GIS software products, a move similar to the earlier deployment of Commercial Joint Mapping Tool Kit (CJMTK) with Northrop Grumman integrating Esri's ArcGIS throughout the US military.
Inherited from private business management, new governance models for integrated C4ISR requirements allow governments to express capability requirements under a holistic, enterprise vision encompassing architecture and standards, allowing them to meet industry over strict risk-reduction and property transfer rules. This enterprise vision forms guidelines in defining services provided by industry, with technology and integration choices left to meet architecture and operational criteria.
In the US, such high-level governance is reflected in large C4I programmes such as the Department of Defense-wide Global Information Grid or Army Land-warnet systems of systems (see Call from the Front: Landwarnet and the GIG, Armada issue 2/2011), addressing all levels of C4I design, operation and evolution. Outside the Western world, governments try to create the large industrial groupings able to steer such large projects, mainly by creating government-controlled joint ventures between national champions and the big C4ISR integrators. After Korea or Singapore, Brazil, India, Malaysia or the UAE may follow suit.
Technologically, the globalisation of information access over the Internet is pushing forward the software dependency of C4ISR systems. Newer generation systems become more component-based for modularity, interoperability and adaptability to threats or for functional improvement. A component-based design also facilitates integration in service-oriented architectures, leveraging web services to broker on-demand information discovery services between interconnected applications and databases.
As virtualisation technologies develop at operating system and application levels, cloud computing is knocking at the door of defence establishments, advocating large manpower and money savings. In the US, Europe, Israel, Singapore and China, this emerging trend forces a shift in defining what is crucial to the survival of the state; this is why, in several countries, information challenges gold, oil and rare metals as the nation's strategic value.
Former nuclear hardened facilities from the cold war are re-opened to accommodate rows of servers, and network-monitoring centres defend the new high frontier of cyberspace. This growing dependency over information networks is giving rise to the concept of resilience, reflecting system survivability by its tolerance to traffic surges, attacks or disruption. Future C4ISR national systems will be designed so that information and communication infrastructures can absorb physical or logical attacks, and maintain critical services at all times.
At the operational level, governance translates in terms of connectivity and interoperability. The aim is for distributed communities of interest to share situational awareness, plan operations, disseminate orders and process reports. As networking and commercial technologies impact higher command headquarters, new challenges arise for information exchange and interoperability. Hitherto resting mostly on secure military messaging, command and control information systems now benefit from many aspects of the Google revolution.
They feature collaborative working and office automation tools and geospatial information systems, often similar to enterprise solutions, encapsulated by military-grade information security solutions and network management systems. In merging military and commercial solutions though, interoperability requirements for joint, combined or multi-agency co-operation can clash with security requirements. Multi-level security remains a challenge in the building of large communities of interest at national and theatre levels, with secure intranets not ready to open onto the Internet to leverage global information access and web services.
In many a theatre of operations, coalitions must interoperate with government agencies, local militaries or partner services. In managing operations other than war, quick solutions can be found around a web browser and a firewall; but in conducting high-intensity operations, acute integration and information assurance issues arise, although not necessarily blocking.
With about 165 Nato and allied applications converging on unified communications, the Afghanistan Mission Network shows--through a first integration between the Nato-Secret Isaf network and most national networks (such as US Siprnet, UK Overcast or Canada's Land Command Support Systems) via secure network interconnection points - that governance models, system architecture and information assurance for future theatre-specific allied mission networks are at their furthest reach.
This wider reach of C4ISR, beyond national militaries, has transformed the very fabric of C2. From hierarchical command & control of own forces, this critical function has evolved into co-operation and co-ordination between various public and private stakeholders. Again, lessons learned by Nato in addressing crises from former Yugoslavia to Afghanistan have led to the formulation of the 'comprehensive approach', namely a new strategic vision encompassing civil-military coordination and co-operation.
Expressed in 2008 and adopted in 2010 during the Nato summit in Lisbon, this new concept gives way to coalition C4I, sometimes referred to as C5I. This transverse aspect of C4I emphasises loose interconnection between heterogeneous communities of interest, with Web 2.0 technologies emerging as a prime candidate to enable operations such as maritime domain awareness (in the Mediterranean basin or the horn of Africa), disaster relief and human response (in Haiti or Japan) or even counter-terrorism (in southwest Asia or sub-Saharan Africa).
Joint C4I integrated solutions meet this requirement by encapsulating Cots components (GIS, office automation, messaging) over a service-oriented architecture that leverages web services. Specialised information providers contribute to this approach by offering an input of information of military and security interest alongside the classical (and classified) military databases.
Leveraging the new Nato core services, Comm@nder Joint manages battlespace objects (tactical symbols pointing to units, equipment and missions) in XML forms and displays them in a Nato vector graphics format over OGC-standard geospatial layers. This convergence of commercial and military information standards displays on-demand information of military interest as thematic layers over digital terrain in a secure, militarised solution managing both classified and open databases through a mission-defined web portal.
With its Nato-compliant 'comprehensive approach', the Thales Comm@nder challenges older military off-the-shelf Israeli solutions such as ICCS joint C2 system from Ness TSG, inherited from Air Defence C2, or the equivalent Command View C2 software offered for export by US-based Thalesraytheonsys-tems. At the other end in Europe, the Danish Systematic Cots-based C2 software house offers a web-based portal of its Cots-based Sitaware suite for joint C2, targeting local integrators asked to build customised C4I systems.
Although higher-level C4ISR systems bear their own dilemmas of guaranteeing information assurance and multi-link network management, automation and decision support to prevent information overload, they often rely on comfortable bandwidth and room. Integration of multiple applications on a single information framework is also facilitated by software and hardware virtualisation techniques.
Conversely, lower-level C4ISR poses the hardest challenges. As C4ISR climb down the tactical echelons it meets constrained radio networks, obstructed lines-of-sight and scarce spectrum resources. The current operational environment gathering together forces, public services and populations sharing commercial communication and information resources places a particular burden on platform-based C4ISR systems.
Furthermore, integrating C4ISR-dedi-cated payloads in mobile platforms may challenge these vehicles' original mobility, firepower and protection roles. By bolting different pieces of equipment together rather than adequately slotting them in purpose-built information and communication platforms, the risk is to end up with a real Christmas tree.
Preventing such piecemeal installation calls for a system architecture approach, delivering an information and communication framework for C4ISR. The ever-present Swap (Size, Weight, Autonomy, Power) is the primary requirement for any vehicle-borne or manpack C4ISR system or element.
The proliferation of sensors (thermal imagers and night vision enhancers, video surveillance, laser designation or warning receivers) and information systems (navigation, blue force tracking, mission pay-load management) at the lower tactical echelons has produced increased requirements for C4ISR integration on ground, maritime and air vehicles, especially for connectivity, data processing, networking and information management.
In the air and naval domains, 60 years of experience have produced more maturity in terms of integrating communications, navigation and identification with sensors and weapon systems handled by combat management systems (CMS).
In the naval arena, Saab's 9LV CMS recently adopted by the Royal Thai Navy for its Chinese-built Type 25T Naresuan class frigates reflects such maturity in handling the ship's communications, sensor and weapon systems. It won over the equally impressive Thales Tacticos CMS, used by 15 navies worldwide, another early adopter of information-centric, network-enabled data distribution services over open architectures, able to accommodate legacy and third-party subsystems.
In the US, compactness and modularity went one step further with the delivery of Lockheed Martin C4ISR mission systems to Coast Guard cutters and medium-range surveillance aircraft. In the latter case, palletised roll-on/roll-off mission systems established connectivity with shore-base, sea-based and airborne assets during missions ranging from oil spill monitoring and Haiti aid co-ordination to counter-narcotics operations.
In the air domain, this integrated C4ISR maturity is even more patent, with most current (4th and 4.5th) generation multi-role fighter aircraft leveraging networked voice and data communications between command centres, support aircraft and more recently non-specialised ground forces equipped with air-to-ground communications.
The current operational context of coalition operations in Afghanistan and Iraq was recently enriched by operation Unified Protector to enforce UN resolution 1973 over Libya. This ongoing operation has thus far displayed an impressive array of legacy and new air capabilities, resulting from integration between C2 (air tasking and co-ordination orders from national and allied combined air operations centres) and ISR (airborne early warning, battlefield surveillance, imint, sigint), showing multi-sensor correlation or fusion over robust voice, video and data networking.
Technical interoperability was instrumental in supporting coalition operations, with a key role played by the Link 16 Mids terminals that have been adopted by most coalition members. Some, like Sweden's Gripen fighters, had to relinquish their locally developed Taras tactical datalink to adopt Link 16 and enjoy US/Nato interoperability. Others, like the Qatari and the Emirates Mirage 2000s, used a national but Nato-compatible tactical datalink, delivered byThales.
In any case, the glass cockpits of these multi-role fighters lit up with air tracks, digital maps, video and imagery, enabling their pilot (and to relieve him, the navigator or weapon systems officer in the back seat), to exploit shorter sensor-commander-shooter loops.
This capability can be retrofitted to older aircraft, as demonstrated by the recent modernisation of the 51 Indian Air Force Mirage 2000H (locally called Vajra). Co-operation between Dassault Aviation, Thales, MBDA and Hindustan Aeronautics will deliver aircraft retrofitted with a new multi-mode radar, navigation and attack system, countermeasures and datalink.
Beyond an extended 20-25 years of service life, the primary aim of this programme is to enable Indian Mirage 2000s (brought to 2000-5 Mk 2 standard) to conduct air superiority missions in network-centric operations. It will also enhance multi-role missions over high mountains, a feature already demonstrated by the Indian Vajra (out of local modifications) during the 1999 conflict around Kargil, with 55 tonnes of air-to-ground munitions delivered).
The fight between Gripen, Eurofight-er and Rafale was not only in the sky though, as their respective aircraft manufacturers are trying to position themselves in major fighter procurement deals in India (126 new-generation fighters for about twelve billion dollars, and up to 20 billion with 189 fighters if options are exercised), followed by new fighter requirements in Brazil or the UAE.
Proof by Example
Beyond platform performance, networking and in-flight exploitation of C4ISR, as well as information integration between sensors, C2 and weapon systems, have proven paramount. Extensively advertised, the Dassault Rafale's omni-role capability showed its mettle on 19 March, when a handful battled against active Libyan ground and air defences in broad daylight.
Without dedicated support aircraft, the Rafale was able to find, fix and finish various mobile targets, such as main battle tanks, howitzers and at least one active Russian-built SA-8 Telar (transporter-erector-launcher and acquisition radar). Extensive use of tactical datalinks, as well as programmable self-protection systems and precision ammunition, have proven their worth.
One Rafale-delivered Sagem AASM propelled guided bomb found its target after release from 54 km away. Likewise, areas once off limits to Nato aircraft such as downtown targets became 'legible' and, for example, as loyalist Libyan main battle tanks sheltered under a concrete roof in Misrata's vegetable market fell prey to volleys of anti-armour MBDA Brimstone missiles fired by RAF Tornados and Eurofighter Typhoons.
Another vital capability in the coalition air interdiction campaign over Libya has been the live video and data feed provided by new-generation airborne reconnaissance pod systems. An important part of Sweden's contribution was played by its SPK 39 modular reconnaissance pod system under Saab JAS 39C Gripen earcraft. Designed byTerma and integrated by Saab Avitronics, this sensor and datalink payload provides live imagery feed from a digital camera in a 360[degrees] rotating window.
A more comprehensive capability was provided by French Navy and Air Force Rafales carrying the Thales Areos pod. Delivered through the Reco-NG programme after a long qualification period, Areos met its initial operational capability in 2010. Its first combat mission took place in the afternoon of 19 March when it located an armoured convoy on the Benghazi-Ajdabiyah coastal road.
Real-time feed of infrared CCD imagery taken at several tens of kilometres away by high-rate datalinks (one to manage link quality of service, another to downlink imagery) allowed both national command and air interdiction pilots to validate and engage ground targets successfully.
The one-tonne Areos pod has a dual sensor payload for low-altitude overflight using an infrared band 3 line scanner or long-distance dual-band acquisition CCD camera through its rotating, stabilised window head. An on-board computer performs imagery exploitation and storage.
Although no air-to-air engagements took place, coalition air interdiction maintained extensive combat air patrols, with a collection of block 20, 40 and 60 versions of the classical Lockheed F-16, from the US Air Force to the UAE Air Force through a collection of European users (Norway, Denmark, Belgium and Netherlands: MLU versions) taking a big share of the burden.
In this one-sided campaign without an air opponent and against elusive ground forces, it is hard to identify a clear capability gap that would j ustify the role of the upcoming fifth-generation fighters (e.g. F-22 and F-35). Indeed the mature combination of airborne early warning and control systems, ground and air datalinks, and multi-role fighters, has helped establish Western air supremacy since the 1990s (with the campaigns for Kuwait and Kosovo showing clear-cut air victories against extensive integrated air defences).
Yet there is still room for progress in the high-demand/low-density assets of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. A much-needed capability and more challenging C4ISR integration is to be found in the new-generation integrated surveillance aircraft commissioned at the turn of the century. Shrouded in secrecy, yet depicted as silver bullets since the legendary U-2 of Lockheed's Skunk Works, the latest ISR aircraft show a different nature.
Sharper Eyes in the Sky
Leaner platforms, departing from customised airliners, are designed from commercial business jets. Streamlined, integrated multi-sensor payloads and on-board exploitation workstations, fitted with real-time communications (line-of-sight high-capacity datalinks and sat-coms); and they are also meaner.
The Israeli G-550 Eitam, derived from a commercial Gulfstream business jet, is a must in terms of integrating C2, ISR and a full communication suite (UHF radios, IFF, jam-resistant Satcom, datalinks). Adopted by Israel and Singapore air forces, the new-generation Con-formal Airborne Early Warning (CAEW) from Elta Systems integrates a dual-band radar, fitted in side, front and rear housings, and delivers 360[degrees] coverage with steerable beams for multi-mode operations. Such a design preserves more aerodynamic capability than the classical rotodome, allowing the Eitam to accompany strike packages. This stand-in capability was demonstrated shortly after its initial operational capability with a spectacular raid over Syria in 2008.
Up-to six compact, role-defined, Windows-based operator workstations collect, fuse and exploit information from radar and sigint sensors on-board. Singapore opted for four aircraft in 2009 to replace E-2C Hawkeyes, and the G-550 is extensively marketed by IAI Elta from Latin America to Southeast Asia.
Similar designs, closer to the airborne early warning mission, have been successfully developed for export, such as the Saab Erieye fitted on Embraer or Saab business jet airframes. Adopted by Australia, the UAE, Sweden, Thailand and Pakistan, the older Erieye has 300[degrees] coverage with no tracking ability in the front and aft sectors.
Another example of new-generation surveillance aircraft integrating C4ISR on a commercial jet is the British Sentinel Rl from Raytheon. It achieved initial operational capability over Afghanistan in 2009, only to fall prey to the extensive programme cutbacks decided by the British government (it was earmarked for early retirement in March, and may stay until 2015). The Sentinel may be saved by its active role, as it is still participating in the air campaign over Libya, flying from RAF Akrotiri in Crete, home of most of the secretive ISR planes from the US and UK.
Operated by a joint Army-Air Force crew of three, the Sentinel Rl ISR suite can detect, track and image moving targets from 200 nm away. Its planned interoperability with networked Istar assets, from the Watchkeeper unmanned aircraft system delivered by Thales to the AgustaWestland Wah-64D Apache attack helicopters, make the Sentinel part of a powerful, networked airborne C4Istar capability.
The Istar aircraft assets testify of the enduring need to conduct manned missions over crisis areas, especially to find elusive targets in dense environments, not to mention their ability to fit in congested airspace. But these assets are increasingly being reinforced by drones, which are more-survivable and persistent assets that can also be armed.
In the United States, for example, the debate is raging whether to replace the legendary U-2 with far more expensive Global Hawk male drones. Managing an ever-growing fleet of these high demand/low density assets is challenging in coalition areas of operation, but their invaluable feed of imagery or activity detection (signals intercept of movement tracking) makes them a key part of coalition C4Istar capabilities.
Their limited payload capacity makes them prime candidates for networked exploitation of distributed payloads over multiple aircraft, and for multi-sensor ground segments to exploit their sensor feed alongside other sources, and to distribute intelligence products on constrained tactical communications networks. The IAI Elta imint & radar division's EL/S-8994RT ISR centre provides such a capability.
Based on a modular architecture for radar, ESM, imagery and video exploitation, it delivers fused intelligence products from a variety of assets (observation satellites, reconnaissance aircraft, UAVs ...). Integrated with secure communications for sensor downlink and intelligence dissemination, it is in service in Israel, with variants procured by Spain and Turkey. Its main competitor is Israeli, with Rafael proposing a similar capability out of its Imilite multi-source, multi-sensor exploitation system.
The next move is to integrate ISR resources to fuel a co-ordinated collection, exploitation and dissemination process delivering timely intelligence to networked users. In the US, various ISR ground segments are federated in the Distributed Common Ground System and contribute to building a recognised red picture on the Army Battle Command System (ABCS). This suite of command and intelligence applications is being renovated into common information services over a distributed architecture.
At its core sits the T-Rex (Tactical Remote EXploitation terminal) from AAI and Overwatch (both from Textron Systems), providing a unified interface and analysis tool for multiple remote sensing systems. The main beneficiaries of T-Rex are army tactical operation centres, equipped with the General Dynamics C4 Systems Command Post of the Future delivering command & control, intelligence and airspace management functionalities.
In the UK, the Dabinett Istar programme remains a high priority, although re-formulated to first deliver an overarching architecture to support an end-to-end information and intelligence process. The contract was awarded to BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin UK.
Nato is following a similar track, with the latest of its functional services, Intel-FS, contracted by NC3A to Thales Defence & Security C4I for integration within the Bi-SC AIS framework and with a subscription to Nato core services. Another such ambitious programme, the French Soria (Systeme d'Observation et de Renseignement InterArmees), has been kept at definition phase for half a decade after shifting from an army to a joint requirement.
While legacy systems are coping with requirements for a unified flow of information between sensors, commanders and shooters to fill the gap before future programmes become a reality, innovative actions have been taken to integrate C4ISR in the current tactics, techniques and procedures.
A first example is the once-secretive Task Force Odin, which was set up in 2006 by the US Army and deployed in 2007 in Iraq to defeat mounting threats from improvised explosive devices and other forms of ambush (Odin stands for Observe, Detect, Identify and Neutralize). This ad hoc grouping of legacy and modified Istar assets networks various user populations: US Army Reserve and National Guard, Regular Army, special forces and industry contractors, all employed to fly, co-ordinate and exploit a variety of manned and unmanned platforms.
Since 2009, TF Odin has left the shroud of classification to reveal valuable lessons learned in what is now referred to as non-traditional ISR. These lessons are currently applied to the Afghan theatre, and involve both horizontal and vertical integration of C4ISR to match the short loops of asymmetrical enemies engaging coalition armies.
The battalion-size task force employs a mixture of airborne sensors, provides persistent surveillance from Optronics, radar imaging and moving target indicators and communications intelligence. However, instead of following the classical intelligence cycle, Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition (RSTA) products are served primarily to army units of action (battalion and below, initially around the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade) with a tactical operation centre at the highest echelon of command.
This short loop, resting on modified communications and software fixes to provide both interoperability and ad hoc networking (e.g. between pilots, analysts and response combat units, a rather unorthodox combination), ensures a better find-fix-target-engage-assess process, resulting in a high number of suspected IED planters neutralised over the task force deployment period.
Beyond hardware, analysts employ Cots and other specific software to enhance RSTA payioad exploitation. Change detection or pattern analysis functionalities on an analyst workstation make for better exploitation of sensor data, which is also historised and posted for other stakeholders to use it, e.g. for route planning or explosive ordnance disposal.
Named Constant Hawk, this capability integrated by Jorge Scientific as part of the US Army's Aerial Common Sensor, has given rise to another innovation, namely the deployment to Afghanistan of a fully contractor-operated airborne surveillance system on board four King Air 350 aircraft integrated and flown by L-3 Communications.
TF Odin experience can be used to close the loop between sensor, commanders and shooters, by leveraging its combat aviation assets, with technology insertion impacting TT&Ps. A manned/unmanned teaming integration effort was scheduled in September 2011 (at time of writing) to perform interaction between UAVs and helicopters. The Manned/Unmanned System Integration Capability (Music) exercise, due to take place in Dugway Proving Ground (Utah) by the time these lines are printed, should push the C4ISR boundaries further, by demonstrating interaction between General Atomics Grey Eagle, AAI Shadow, Aerovironment Puma and Raven drones on the one hand and Boeing AH-64D attack and Bell Kiowa Warrior Scout helicopters on the other.
AAI and L-3 Communications are involved in the development of the communication and information architecture used in the Music event.
This advanced capability, based on extensive feedback from current theatres of operation, is still unmatched by other nations, although Israeli defence forces are closely following suit, leveraging experience from the unexpectedly tough summer 2006 conflict in Lebanon, and supported by Elbit Systems' experience in the Digitised Army programme and airborne C4I.
However, similar air-to-ground C4ISR integration efforts are in progress with advanced C4ISR users. In Australia, several programmes are underway to provide C4ISR integration at the tactical level to support a fully digitised battle-group in network-centric operations by 2012. Following the 2009 Defence White Paper identification of priorities and C4ISR roadmap, three overlapping programmes are underway: Army Battle Management System (Land 75 and Land 125, providing tactical C4I capabilities); Joint Programme 2072 (Land) to provide networked battlespace communications to sea, air and land units, supporting voice and data exchanges at battlegroup and below levels; and JP 2089, a tactical information exchange domain initiative, aiming at providing integration between Variable Message Format (VMF) of army C4I and Link-16 used by airborne platforms.
Phase 2 of JP 2089 is in progress, with Phase 3 scheduled to provide multi-link integration for real-time tactical information exchanges between Australian Defence Force main combat platforms.
In France, a similar move has been launched within the extensive framework of the Boa (Bulle Operationnelle Aeroterrestre) advanced study. Supporting French Army transformation towards network-enabled capabilities on the digitised battlespace, Boa provides a consistent framework from system-of-systems engineering and integration, with battle-lab and field experimentation (the Tactic demonstrator, or the Artist French-German interoperability demonstration at company level in 2009) scheduled between 2006 and 2012.
The Boa studies paved the way for the most ambitious programme of the French Army, the Scorpion system of systems for battlegroup and below. Last June, the annual Phoenix demonstration, an industry-proposed field experiment for Scorpion Concept Development & Experimentation endorsed by French procurement administration (DGA) and the French Army, showed successful air-to-ground integration between datalinks, army C2 and an innovative use of IFF to provide local interrogation of friendly units in contact during close air support missions.
About 250 French Army, Air Force, DGA and industry personnel were involved, orchestrating about 40 air and ground platforms, from Mirage 2000D fighter-bombers to armoured reconnaissance vehicles. An interesting feature in the Phoenix initiative is its extensive reliance on legacy, either fielded equipment or proven mots components.
Legacy vehicles, sometimes in service since the 1970s, were digitised by fitting them with a vehicular communications node (based on theThales Sotas communications server and IP node), connecting a combat net radio (Thales PR4G V2) to a battle management system (the Sagem Sitel or Systeme d'Informations Tac-tiques ELementaire).
New additions dealt with command & control capabilities, augmenting the bat-tlegroup commander's situational awareness with a software tool to visualise tactical radio propagation over ground and plan his manoeuvre according to maximum connectivity. Phoenix thus provided an experimentation framework to connect air and army aviation support with combat vehicle systems and dismounted soldier system (the newly-commissioned Felin delivered by Sagem).
In a mock close air support (Cas) mission using live platforms and C4I, a French Air Force Mirage 2000D cued by a forward air controller via Link 16 discriminated between friendlies and enemies in the last seconds of approach to deliver a simulated precision strike in conditions hitherto non-permitting for a Cas mission, due to strong imbrication between friendly forces and populations or opponents. The use of reverse IFF, an innovative and encrypted adaptation of civil mode S interrogation, allowed the display of local situational awareness (a tactical overlay from an army BMS) in the cockpit of the strike aircraft over a high-accuracy digital map.
Air-to-ground integration and interoperability required minimal interaction with legacy, adding gateways and software fixes compliant with Nato standards (Link 16 or Nato Friendly Forces Information for friendly force tracking). Although more modest than the US Army Music, the Phoenix experiment leverages experience gained in Afghanistan by French and coalition forces.
The lower end of C4ISR integration, at platform level, has always been the most challenging, mainly to accommodate acute Swap restrictions. In land operations, these challenges reach critical levels, for a variety of reasons: land vehicles are exposed to the toughest physical aggressions, both from terrain and enemy action; mobility, protection and firepower remain paramount versus C4ISR integration; and maturity in integrating and using C4ISR at the lowest army tactical echelons remain low, especially versus their Air Force and Navy counterparts.
Although C4ISR tends to free them from platforms, the combined requirements for mobility, protection and tactical superiority have placed new vehicles, individually and collectively, at the heart of army transformation. This is why the new protagonist of air-land operations, the multi-vehicle, multi-mission, combined-arms battlegroup, concentrates many a bottleneck to C4ISR integration (see Battlegroup C4I: Information Superiority at the Tip of the Digital Sword, Armada, 2/2010).
Mobility, spectrum management, survivability (maximising camouflage or defeating enemy aggression), combat and combat support and the ever-present Swap constraint, all hamper integration of sensors, command & control, communications and information systems. As these devices proliferate on the battlespace, and the warfighter on the ground becomes the supported element on contact with other services, the easy approach of bolting equipment on a hull has rapirily shown its limits.
Even new-generation platforms (such as the powerful Stryker), have experienced blackouts and power disruption in combat, reflecting poor integration. It is now widely admitted that adding equipment on a vehicle in a piecemeal fashion, commonly referred to as the 'Christmas tree' effect, can not only impair its integrity (e.g. armour plates), but also reach diminishing returns while imposing a dangerous burden on crew and power supply.
This is why vehicle manufacturers and integrators are looking at the architectural dimension of vehicle systems in a new way, supported by metrics which go beyond the classical mobility, firepower and protection. The Nato-defined criteria also emphasise command & control and support as critical to a modern vehicle system, for internal networking, multi-vehicle networking, as well as voice and data connectivity with higher echelon command post or dismounted elements (platoon commander and soldier system).
Although many a supplier retains a conservative approach to vehicle digitisation (installing a battle management system linked to voice and data radio and interfaced to some vehicle equipment, supported by extra 'system' batteries), a few advanced solutions are emerging around a communication and information architecture. The concept of core vehicle electronic architecture inspired from avionics supports vehicle electronics (vetronics) system integration, resulting in vehicle systronics. New-generation platforms, increasingly modular to support multiple payload and mission requirements in a battlegroup, are designed with a view to integrating C4ISR assets to share them over the network.
Like in the air and naval domains, the notion of mission systems, managing a particular payload around a tailored crew station, is emerging out of the hitherto specialised tank environment (where turret and weapon system form a specific environment). Combat vehicle manufacturers, such as General Dynamics Land Systems in America, Rheinmetall in Germany, Nexter in France and IMI in Israel have long prepared for this evolution. However, the snag comes with its generalisation to all categories of vehicles, particularly the smaller protected patrol types which open the gates to fierce competition, mostly from C4ISR integrators.
As requirements firm up worldwide for new fleets of modular, multi-mission combat or combat support vehicles, C4I-ready vehicles prepare to tackle the challenge of C4ISR integration at battlegroup level. New Canadian or Australian requirements for multi-purpose light protected vehicles trigger efforts to adapt legacy or brand new designs to C4ISR integration.
The Australian Hawkei, developed by Thales as a private venture, and shortlisted for the upcoming Land 121 programme to replace army Land Rovers, features C4I-ready capabilities, with modular integration of sensors, communications, command and control, self protection subsystems with vehicular data (on top of critical mine and ambush protection requirements) and IP voice and data networking.
Another example is the upcoming competition for the Canadian Tactical Armored Patrol Vehicle (TAPV, part of the larger Land Combat Vehicle and Systems programme) to fulfil reconnaissance, cargo and armoured personnel carrier roles. Here, Force Protection, teaming with Lockheed Martin (C4ISR integration) and Elbit Systems (remote weapon station), competes against Oshkosh Defense with a vehicle derived from its proven MTVR and General Dynamics Land Systems Canada (C4ISR integration and system support) for a modular four-wheel-drive design.
A last and interesting reference is the recently awarded contract for Malaysian 8x8 armoured vehicles to Deftech, teamed with Denel (weapon systems) and Sapura Thales (vehicle system integration). A notable feature on the C4ISR side will be the development of dedicated mission systems to match each of the twelve variants (totalling 257 vehicles), all sharing a generic vehicle architecture, a first reference for the new Vsys-net sys-tronics solution launched by Thales at Eurosatory 2010.
In this open information and communication system, each vehicle becomes a digitised network node, both for internal subsystem distribution (over a vehicle supervision managing power distribution, voice, data and video exchanges and equipment status) hosting mission system and multi-vehicle networking over multi-link communication management and C2. This particular aspect of C4I is aiming at de-conflicting voice and data exchanges between highly mobile tactical subscribers, a bothering situation for most players in the current operational environment, as the British Army has been experiencing in Afghanistan with the newly-fielded Bowman.
In conclusion, C4ISR may be spreading at every echelon of current military operations, with connectivity and integration challenges made more acute in individual platforms than in command posts. But the trend of integrating C4ISR horizontally (supported by the Nato Comprehensive Approach), federating information services over secure, distributed networks of space, air and ground communications, has only begun a lengthy process.
Vertically too, the need to bring C4ISR services from joint and operational echelons down to mobile or dismounted units, beyond adding up equipment 'boxes', is in its early phase, with promising results resulting from standardisation and software-driven solutions.
The requirements put on communications remain most demanding, to bring voice, data and video in the very restricted bandwidth environment of individual, mobile users associating information terminals and human operators as IP subscribers. In this context, it seems the cancellation of the US Future Combat System or the British Future Rapid Effect System at the end of the last decade reflected the fear of risks and costs associated with far-reaching C4ISR system of systems in a context of urgent operational requirements for enhanced protection, mobility or intelligence based on new equipment and platforms.
Today, the challenge of integrating these legacy capabilities weighs against designing new system solutions, in a general context of public deficits; thus the French Scorpion programme remains alone in its category. In any case, mature standardisation efforts in the commercial world, decreasing requirements against formidable enemies and emerging synergies in the defence and security realms, will probably support a more pragmatic approach to C4ISR integration, merging legacy and new platforms on a consistent information and communications frame work to accommodate the promises of multi-sensor networking and collaborative fighting, for a brighter future of net work-centric operations.
RELATED ARTICLE: On the Cover
The Talon Lite tactical satellite terminal from Selex Elsag is a prime example of today's portable on-the-ground C4ISR systems. Connecting shooters with higher-level echelons is paramount to ensuring all elements of C4ISR are effective.
RELATED ARTICLE: C4ISR Down to the Bone
Invisio has developed a unique in-ear, bone-conducting headset called the X5 that attaches to the company's X50 Intelligent Control Unit which, together, provide certified hearing protection of SNR 32dB and NRR 29dB up to 38dB. The system, which was tested in a crowded marketplace by Armada's Editor, features an electronic hear-through (which can be switched on or off - off completely obstructs sound), thereby controlling any potentially harmful ambient noise. The earpiece of the X5 nestles snuggly into one's ear canal and is held in place by a soft rubber spring that fits in the contour of the outer ear. The bone-conduction osteophone (red arrow) contacts the jawbone via the ear cartilage and transfers vibrations very clearly through the system. The X50 unit seen at left is simple to operate, even with gloved hands, and quite intuitive. A multitude of accessories are available (including a direct connection for one's iPhone). In August, Invisio received an SEK 1.8 million order from the Australian Department of Defence for M3 headsets, and in June the Swiss Army ordered X50 units with accompanying headsets. (Armada/JK)
Index to Advertisers A.RA 15 IAI 9 Armada 15 L-3 Communications C4 International AV C3 Saab 11 (Aerovironment) Counter Terror 19 ThalesRaytheonSystems 7 Expo 2012 Datron World 13 Ultralife C2 Communications Eurosatory 2012 17 Vectronix 15 Harris 5
Wesley Fox, inputs from Johnny Keggler