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C4ISR Journal Big 25: The Year’s Biggest Breakthroughs

Oct. 9, 2012 - 11:55AM   |  
By BEN IANNOTTA   |   Comments
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Each year, C4ISR Journal scans the world of networks, sensors and intelligence, looking for the new technologies and new efforts changing the way military forces and policymakers do their jobs.

We find these candidates in many ways. Some are nominated by their manufacturers, some by their users; still others are in the news. We scrutinize each one — Is it new? Is it available? Is it useful? Is it being used? — and slim down the pool to a list of the best.

Arrayed in five categories (sensors, innovations, organizations, network systems and platforms), this year’s winners run the gamut from “app stores” that can put crucial mission information on an infantryman’s smartphone to a reusable space plane that flies home from orbit.

Ultimately, we will pick a single winner from each category. Today, we recognize the broader set we call the C4ISR Journal Big 25.


What: An airborne wide-area surveillance camera system for daytime observations.

Who: BAE Systems, DARPA.

Why: The Autonomous Real-time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance-Imaging System could revolutionize the electro-optical performance of the Gorgon Stare wide-area surveillance pods on U.S. Air Force Reaper aircraft. The existing Gorgon Stare electro-optical camera system delivers 84 million pixels twice a second. ARGUS-IS promises 1.8 billion pixels 10 times a second. At an altitude of 20,000 feet, or six kilometers, ARGUS-IS can see a patch of ground 7.2 kilometers wide at a resolution of 6 inches, or 15.2 centimeters. ARGUS-IS was scheduled to be sent to Afghanistan aboard Army A160 unmanned helicopters, but a final operational evaluation was canceled when an A160 crashed in April. The Army stopped work on the aircraft, but BAE and DARPA still hope to deploy it in Increment 2 of Gorgon Stare.


What: A heat-detecting sensor installed on the SES-2 commercial communications satellite.

Who: U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, SES of Luxembourg, SAIC, Orbital Sciences Corp., Aerospace Corp.

Why: The Commercially Hosted Infrared Payload instrument, launched in September, has proved that commercial satellites can host military or intelligence sensor payloads without interference and that a government-industry team can overcome the engineering and contractual challenges of hosted payload missions. The CHIRP team calculates that the sensor, which could aid in missile defense warning, has met 80 percent of the Air Force’s test objectives at 15 percent of what it would have cost to build a stand-alone satellite.


What: A radar that observes in all directions without mechanical rotation or electronic steering.

Who: IAI-Elta Systems.

Why: The Persistent Ground and Coastal Surveillance Radar Family, or ELM-2112, is one of Israel’s key surveillance technologies and one that has been applied by the coalition in Afghanistan, as well. Israel uses these tripod-, pole- or tower-mounted radars to monitor its border with Egypt. When positioned along the coast, the ELM-2112 automatically adapts its processing to detect both vessels and ground targets. As IAI-Elta puts it, “No need for two different radars to perform this mission.” The ELM-2112 is notable for its ability to instantly and automatically detect, track and classify targets in an area of interest without electronically scanning. IAI-Elta considers it even more innovative than the award-winning, electronically steered ELM-2084 Multi-Mission Radar used in the Iron Dome anti-rocket system.


What: A multicamera video surveillance system.

Who: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory.

Why: ISIS can zoom in on people with enough resolution to identify them by their facial features up to 100 meters away in all directions. The system does this by seamlessly combining the views from 48 sensors to watch an area the size of seven football fields in 360 degrees. A prototype of ISIS has been tested at Terminal A of Boston’s Logan International Airport, where hijackers boarded two of the doomed flights of 9/11.


What: Wide-area surveillance cameras for aerostats.

Who: Logos Technologies.

Why: A lack of wide-area night vision has been the Achilles heel of aerostats in Afghanistan. When darkness falls, operators must switch to narrower field-of-view night cameras, raising concerns that insurgents could learn to evade them to attack forward operating bases or coalition airfields. The Kestrel camera systems address this problem by providing both day and night vision. In June and July, Logos Technologies delivered 10 of the Kestrel systems to forward operating bases in Afghanistan. When Kestrels detect a suspicious target, they cue the aerostat’s finer-resolution, full-motion video cameras.


What: An optionally piloted aircraft based on a Diamond Aircraft DA42 MPP piloted surveillance plane.

Who: Aurora Flight Sciences.

Why: Centaur will give customers, starting with the Swiss Department of Defence, the ability to convert a reconnaissance plane from piloted to unpiloted mode in four hours. For U.S. customers, this could solve a drawback of unmanned aircraft, which is that the Federal Aviation Administration tightly controls where and when they can be flown. The shift to unmanned mode is made by installing a package of wiring and computers in the right side of the cockpit. Centaur can fly for 12 hours in its manned mode and 24 hours unmanned. It can carry 200 pounds of payload, with options including an EO/IR video camera, synthetic aperture radar, signals intelligence antenna, communications relay, marine search radar, lidar or hyperspectral imager.


What: Software in development to continually change a user’s IP address and computer configurations to make it harder for hackers or foreign intelligence agents to crack.

Who: Raytheon, U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research Development and Engineering Center.

Why: Sensitive government and industry computer network operators would like to make it harder for hackers and foreign intelligence operators to penetrate or attack their networks. CERDEC and Raytheon are addressing this problem by developing technology that would give fixed network operators the equivalent of frequency hopping. Under this $3.1 million contract, announced in July, Raytheon is showing how a network can be made to falsely advertise whether an individual user is running Windows 7 or Linux, for example. The software will also shift the user’s IP address to confuse would-be attackers. At the same time, it must ensure that everyone on the network can still communicate.


What: New day-night camera for the U.S. Army’s Raven hand-launched planes.

Who: U.S. Army Small Unmanned Air System Product Office, AeroVironment.

Why: When night comes, troops in a sticky situation shouldn’t have to stop to switch out the nose cones of their Raven planes so they can see. AeroVironment and the Army figured out how to design a payload that could deliver both day and night video in the same space on the Ravens as separate sensors.


What: Software that connects a soldier’s handheld device to a host of biometric data and intelligence products on the Distributed Common Ground System-Army.

Who: U.S. Army G-2 intelligence staff, National Reconnaissance Office, the Intelligence and Information Warfare Directorate of the Communications-Electronics Research Development and Engineering Center, Thermopylae Science and Technology.

Why: Small units, in particular, should be able to access intelligence on hand-held devices the way civilians access interactive maps, weather radar and other tools on their smartphones. Among the first to see this need was Pedro “Pete” Rustan, who was director of NRO’s Mission Support Directorate. Rustan, who died in July of prostate cancer, was the chief architect of the Windshear initiative. He handed the project to his staff with these words: “You are all change agents in the intelligence community. It’s your responsibility to force change on a system that won’t want it. Your first approach should be the front door, but if your polite knocks go unanswered, go to the back door. If you can’t get in the back door, try the side door. If that doesn’t work, try to climb through the bathroom window. If you can’t get in the bathroom window, kick a hole through the wall. Whatever you do, don’t give up until you have pulled the community forward.” Windshear officials are talking with managers of DARPA’s TransApps mobility project about how to integrate their efforts.


What: An unmanned combat and reconnaissance demonstrator.

Who: Northrop Grumman, U.S. Navy.

Why: In the next war, the U.S. could need to penetrate hostile airspace to gather reconnaissance or attack targets. An operational plane developed from the X-47B would be able to do that without risking the lives of human pilots and with the greater endurance of unmanned planes. That would be an important capability given the Obama administration’s strategic pivot toward greater reconnaissance presence and readiness in the vast Pacific region. Over the last year, X-47B engineers have made slow but steady progress toward a carrier landing in 2013. In January, the team tested the craft’s autonomous aerial refueling technology. Over the summer, the team tested software aboard the carrier Truman. In May, the Navy concluded airworthiness flights at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. In June, the X-47B was transported by flatbed truck to Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md., where it made its first East Coast flight July 29.


Who: Brigade Modernization Command, System of Systems Integration Directorate, Army Test and Evaluation Command.

Why: Troops need new equipment fast, but it also needs to be reliable and functional. Working as a triad, these agencies have devised a system to rapidly try out new equipment in twice-a-year evaluations at the Fort Bliss-White Sands Missile Range. The equipment is put into the hands of a brigade combat team, which tries it out in realistic environments. The first equipment evaluated under the NIE process, which started in July 2011, is about to be fielded in Afghanistan.


Why: Members of this agency and its contractor staff are laying cables and setting up computers for Afghan forces to help shift the security mission to local military and police. These tech experts are increasingly required to work entirely under Afghan force protection, which they are doing despite the threat of green-on-blue attacks.


Why: Over the last year, this federally funded university has become the center of academic life for members of the intelligence community. The 50-year-old school was known as the Defense Intelligence School and later the National Defense Intelligence College, but the university has renamed itself to reflect a broader mission. The university encourages students to improve their intelligence skills while exploring the role of intelligence in national security and American society. This year saw the first students graduate from the university’s master of science and technology intelligence degree program, which equips intelligence professionals to cope with technically sophisticated adversaries. NIU contributed to the literature of intelligence with publication of “Who Watches the Watchmen: The Conflict between National Security and Freedom of the Press.” NIU’s International Intelligence Fellows Program brought together senior leaders from 86 nations to focus on the role of intelligence collaboration in combating terrorism.


Why: The Army’s Communications-Electronics Research Development and Engineering Center is pushing the technical edge on the most critical issues facing the Army. CERDEC’s staff is leading research into better battery and power systems and exploring questions over the roles of radios versus smart devices in the Army of the future. CERDEC is also a key contributor to the service’s twice-a-year Network Integration Evaluations. Technologies evaluated at the NIEs must pass through CERDEC’s labs first.


Why: The intelligence community needs to keep pace with mobile communications breakthroughs in the commercial world. NSA’s Project Fish Bowl is doing that by letting intelligence IT workers test off-the-shelf cellphones programmed with special security features and extra encryption. Participants in the Fish Bowl pilot are allowed to engage in top-secret conversations tunneled through a commercial cellular network. For now, NSA is focusing on voice-over-Internet, but eventually, it would like to give users access to data, too. For security, the data would not be stored on the device; users would view in the intelligence community’s private cloud.


What: A commercially operated online applications store.

Who: Raytheon.

Why: Apps are the way of the future, but the intelligence community does not yet have a unified, easily accessible place for workers to find them and provide feedback. Raytheon is attempting to solve this problem with a storefront that will be accessible in pilot form for members of the intelligence community and Defense Department. Appsmart includes a feature that lets intelligence workers tell developers the kind of new apps they would like.


What: An intelligence community computer application that lets analysts upload, search and perform analysis on data extracted from cellphones and GPS devices.

Who: Distributed Common Ground System-Army, 42Six Solutions.

Why: This app increases the knowledge of analysts and tactical operators at checkpoints or forward operating bases or on intelligence collection missions. A user in the field acquires data extracted from an adversary’s digital communications, cellphone calls or GPS signals and uploads the information into the Coral Reef network for analysis. The technology helps operators identify suspicious individuals so they can access other intelligence associated with them.


What: Voice communication links between Air Force analysts and Predator/Reaper crews.

Who: Air Force ISR Agency, Lockheed Martin.

Why: Miscommunication can be deadly in the heat of combat when heavily armed drones are overhead. This technology reduces the odds of miscommunication by allowing analysts to chime in from the Distributed Ground System fusion sites if they believe Predator or Reaper crews are in danger of misinterpreting their full-motion video feeds or computer chat messages. “We do indeed have some vignettes of [DMCC] saving lives,” Maj. Gen. Robert Otto said by email. The Air Force is rolling out the technology in response to an urgent operational need request from Afghanistan.


What: A portable computer and displays linking sailors to video services and subsets of the data available on the Navy’s intelligence network, the Distributed Common Ground/Surface System-Navy.

Who: BAE Systems, SPAWAR.

Why: The crews of destroyers and cruisers need real-time video and intelligence if they are going to capture pilots and keep their vessels safe from attacks like the one that damaged the destroyer Cole in 2000. ICOP provides this awareness in the form of a portable intel station for ships not designed to accommodate fixed intel stations. The cruiser Vicksburg carried ICOP on a deployment this year to the Middle East, and in June, three of the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group’s ships — the cruiser Hue City and destroyers Winston Churchill and Jason Dunham — left from Virginia and Florida with ICOP prototypes aboard.


What: Transformative Applications are commercial-style applications for Android smartphones carried outside the wire by U.S. forces in Afghanistan.


Why: TransApps are a favorite new tool carried by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, where there are about 2,000 of the devices. During a mission, the troops use the TransApps devices and apps to track and display each other’s movements and to chat digitally with their tactical operations centers. The devices are approved by NSA to store classified information. “We get any number of good ideas and projects that come to us on a regular basis. This is one that individual soldiers have seemed to grab onto the best that I’ve seen,” said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Conniff, the chief of communication in Regional Command South. Two brigades have received the devices since the Army and DARPA began rolling them out about a year ago. Connectivity is provided by deployable towers and antennas on vehicles.


What: Satellites for survivable, highly protected strategic communications.

Who: Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman.

Why: The U.S. has been facing low-tech adversaries for the past decade, but more technically advanced adversaries could try to sever the links between the military and civilian authorities. The AEHF satellites assure readiness by hopping frequencies and transmitting in the EHF, a frequency capable of piercing the electromagnetic aftermath of a nuclear war. After delay and cost overruns, the Advanced EHF program has a good year. The second satellite was launched in May, sent to its operational orbit and its payload turned on.


What: The U.S. Army’s version of the Air Force’s Predators and Reapers.

Who: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, U.S. Army Product Management Office for Medium Altitude Endurance Unmanned Air Systems.

Why: Twenty Gray Eagles are providing valuable eyes in the sky for troops and commanders. The Army has not backed away from its decision to keep fielding the aircraft despite software problems, saying commanders in the field want the aircraft even with their glitches. The Army has in place a process to fix those problems as new software is added.


What: Boeing 707-300 aircraft equipped with battle management computers and radars.

Who: U.S. Air Force, Northrop Grumman.

Why: Over the past year, the Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System planes have been flying at the highest operations tempo in the fleet’s 21-year history. They have accounted for 65 percent of moving target indicator taskings over that time, providing data that led to the seizure of nine “high-value individuals” and the spotting of 74 improvised explosive devices. In Iraq, Joint STARS helped protect departing U.S. convoys by detecting nearby vehicles and people. Over Libya, Joint STARS contributed to airstrikes against 1,424 targets. Closer to home, their crews have started to work with the U.S. Coast Guard and law enforcement agencies on counter-trafficking and operations.


What: The U.S. Navy’s new submarine hunter and maritime patrol plane.

Who: Boeing, U.S. Navy.

Why: Boeing had to write complex computer code to make the Poseidon’s mission systems work properly. Fears that this work would hamper the P-8 development have not materialized. That is important because the Navy is counting on the P-8s to replace its aging P-3C Orion planes. The first two production planes have been delivered and are being used for training. Two Poseidons flew last month in the Rim of the Pacific military exercise, highlighting the role the Pentagon expects the P-8s to have in supporting the U.S. strategic pivot to the Pacific.


What: A reusable space plane.

Who: Boeing, U.S. Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office.

Why: The X-37B gives the Air Force the ability to test equipment in the space environment for months at a time and bring it home for inspection. The X-37B also raises the possibility that the U.S. could deploy sensors into orbits tailored to observe regional hot spots, although the government does not acknowledge this mission. The X-37B vehicle landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., in June to conclude a mysterious 15-month stay in orbit.

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