by Ms. Jill Smith
Efficiency and cost savings are essential in the Army’s current fiscally constrained environment. As the Army completes the drawdown of troops from Afghanistan, an opportunity exists for the science and technology community to focus on future, leap-ahead technologies for next-generation systems by enhancing the current CommonOperating Environment (COE) vision.
The current premise of the COE vision is that the Army research and development community can shorten the development timeline, lower development costs and reduce the time required to integrate and certify systems by modernizing equipment and weapon systems around a common set of information technology (IT) standards and architecture. Until recently, the research, development and acquisition process called for meeting Soldiers’ requirements by creating a system that inevitably workedas a stand-alone entity, leading to hardware and software duplications. The Army aims to alleviate these duplications by implementing COE concepts.
The COE implementation plan introduced in 2011 promotes open systems, integrated architectures and common standards to maximize interoperability among applications, support the goals of the Army Enterprise Network Architecture developed by the Army’s chief information officer/G-6 and facilitate new functionality. The plan places Army programs into six computing environment (CE) categories—command post; data center/cloud/geospatial foundation; sensor; mounted/handheld; real-time/safety-critical/embedded; and mounted—based on mission limitations of size, weight, power and bandwidth. The result is a common software foundation that facilitates interoperability and reuse of common components. The Army aims to
A NEW APPROACH
implement these current COE concepts over the next five years.
Identifying CE categories and adhering to common Army standards are significant steps toward improving interoperability and reducing integration time. But could the Army go further?
Even with the COE, the Army faces significant challenges in the areas of size, weight, power and cost (SWAP-C). The Army continues to add electronic equipment to vehicles to satisfy the everincreasing demand for bandwidth, aswell as to counter constantly evolving threats. Through processes such as the Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) and other rapid fielding initiatives, the Army has quickly introduced new command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and electronic warfare (C4ISR/EW) systems.
However, these systems put a significant demand on the limited SWAP-C budgets of most military platforms, from tactical vehicles and aircraft to Soldiers themselves. Environmental constraints such as the theater of operations, types of threats, terrainand operational conditions limit the allowable SWAP-C for C4ISR/EW systems, even if Army platforms were able to evolve at the same rate as C4ISR/EW systems.
What I am proposing is a new approach to designing C4ISR/EW systems on military platforms.
Each platform requires mission equipment such as antennas, radio frequency (RF) amplifiers, transmitters and receivers, real-time processing resources, RF and data distribution networks, miscellaneous sensors and user interfaces. In this approach, we have
begun working with the platform owners and equipment developers to establish a suitable architecture that could leverage common software components and standard interfaces in a variety of ways through software to create C4ISR/EW applications. (See Figure 1.)
This approach envisions that military platforms of the future will have similar characteristics to today’s smartphones, in that they will provide a wide variety of functions and capabilities on a single platform, using common components and interoperable software and hardware. This new approach is a natural but significant evolution of the Army’s current COE implementation plan. It allows for common interfaces, hardware subcomponents and software components for developers that are traditionally within the C4ISR/EW systems domain.
Three key elements are required in order to realize this new approach:
A modular, open-hardware architecture and associated standards that can support all required C4ISR/EW capabilities with significant room for growth.
A modular, open-software architecture and associated software tools and libraries sufficient to implement all required C4ISR/EW capabilities.
Resource management tools and algorithms that enable multiple capabilities to share common hardware and software
At first glance, C4ISR/EW systems, such as counter radio-controlled improvised explosive device electronic warfare (CREW), tactical communication, and position, navigation and timing capabilities, may appear to have nothing in common. In reality, these systems
exploit the electromagnetic spectrum and have similar architectures, which may include transmitters, receivers, processing units and user interfaces.
In many cases, C4ISR/EW systems overlap in their use of the electromagnetic spectrum and have similar processing requirements. These similarities suggest the potential for sharing components among C4ISR/EW systems on a military platform, which could reduce total lifecycle costs for all such systems. In addition, sharing components among C4ISR/EW systems on a single platform, such as a ground or air vehicle or the Soldier, could greatly improve interoperability and compatibility of the individual systems.
Leveraging common components to deliver capabilities is critical to realizeall of the benefits of open hardware and software architectures for implementing C4ISR and EW capabilities. However, reducing the amount of hardware on the platform to realize significant reductions in SWAP-C requires sharing components among C4ISR/EW capabilities as much as possible, which introduces new challenges. This extreme challenge exists because the developer controls all processing requirements. For example, EW capabilities must be more responsive to ever-changing threats. In order to rapidly upgrade for new threats, this proposed architecture requires that resource management tools and frameworks be developed to aid in creating new C4ISR/EW capabilities, while still meeting the stringent timing requirements of EW capabilities.
One can choose from numerous available standards for open hardware, but the real challenges exist in selecting a standard that can evolve with growing demands, and selecting from the many options to ensure that multiple vendors can build to the standard. For example, the processing demands and data flows required for many C4ISR/EW systems call for an appropriate data bus that supports the data transfer among processing modules.
Most of these backplanes do not address RF signals, so digital backplane standards would have to include RF interface standards. Currently, all of these standards leave too much flexibility in the way modules use the data bus provided on the backplane, yet there cannot be optimal interoperability without clearly defining this mechanism. Additional
hardware components also need to be specified, such as digital interfaces for RF receivers, transmitters, sensors and amplifiers.
The Communications – Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command is working on sharing components among C4ISR/EW systems.
CERDEC is demonstrating several capabilities with common components across EW and communications systems, as well as working with Project Manager (PM) Electronic Warfare of Program Executive Office Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors (PEO IEW&S) on open architectures and networking architecture for EW. Concurrently, CERDEC supports PEO Command, Control and Communications – Tactical(PEO C3T) in communication systems architectures.
The current COE effort began with the Vehicle Integration for C4ISR/EW Interoperability (VICTORY) initiative, whereby specifications are part of the realtime, safety-critical CE; they define data bus architecture and services to enable the networking of C4ISR/EW equipment onboard a vehicle. CERDEC leads several efforts in VICTORY standards and is actively investigating and developing modifications that support sharing of RF components.
CERDEC is also leveraging two Army programs of record—PEO C3T’s Mid-Tier Networking Vehicular Radio and PEO IEW&S’ Multi-Function Electronic Warfare—to demonstrate a SWAP-C reduction for both systems by sharing amplifiers and antennas.
This architecture goes a long way in facilitating system interoperability. However, proper integration of advanced C4ISR/EW devices requires additional VICTORY specification. For example, the VICTORY standard must be modified to include an RF bus as well as a precision timing distribution capability. VICTORY is currently limited to intravehicle data exchange, and it needs to be extended to inter-vehicle networking so that it can support collaboration, coordination and distributed processing across multiple vehicles in support of C4ISR/EW capabilities. This will de-conflict missions and reduce the SWAP-C of each vehicle. VICTORY addresses tactical vehicles, but the COE addresses all tactical platforms; standards must be developed for networking on dismounts as well as airborne and fixed platforms.
Beyond C4ISR/EW interoperability for vehicles, CERDEC is researching common software architectures and development environments for communication and EW waveforms using a common set of hardware. (See Figure 2.)
Software architectures also offer many options. A top option for C4ISR/EW capabilities is the Software Communications Architecture (SCA), developed through the Joint Tactical Radio System program to provide an open framework that describes the hardware and software interfaces for software-defined radios.
Specifications support only communication requirements; however, today’s operational environment requires the simultaneous usage of EW, communication and other C4ISR systems. Many C4ISR/EW systems have been designed under a proprietary architecture; designing a nonproprietary, open architecture that supports simultaneous usage of these
systems poses a complex problem requiring further research and development. Few vendors have entered this arena because of these challenges. No vendor has met the end-state objective of a fully integrated solution. While not the ultimate answer, the SCA provides an excellent starting point for next-generation C4ISR/EW capabilities. Modifications will be required to support simultaneous C4ISR/EW operations, and EW and ISR.
The Army faces not only technical challenges when implementing this new approach in developing C4ISR/EW capabilities, but also acquisition and costchallenges. Individual systems can no longer be developed in isolation. PMs and PEOs will have to work together from the start of development through testing, fielding and maintaining in the field to ensure that all capabilities meet their requirements.
As an alternative, the PEO/PM structure could be modified to support the new architectural approach. In addition to being a structural shift, this new approach will entail an initial startup cost greater than that of a traditional program of record because of the requirement for common hardware and software architectures and new development tools.
The savings over time will more than outweigh the startup cost, however. Significant cost savings exist in the management of inventory for maintenance and repair, field support and potentially other areas. This is in addition to the efficiency of building compatibility and interoperability into C4ISR/EW capabilities from the start, which avoids having to fix problems in those areas after fielding. Finally, modular open hardware and software will enable rapid upgrades to existing capabilities, as well as the insertion of new capabilities that may not even have been considered.
The next generation of COE will reflect a paradigm shift in C4ISR/EW capability development. Implementing this new approach would pose significant challenges, but with the growing reliance of our Army on technology, can we really afford not to continue to push the status quo and advance COE?
For more information regarding the CERDEC perspective on COE, contact the CERDEC Corporate and Public Communication Office at 443-861-7566.
MS. JILL SMITH has been the director of CERDEC since October 2010. She plans, directs, manages and executes the Army’s applied science and technology investment in Army programs that span the C4ISR domain. A member of the Senior Executive Service since 2001, Smith holds a B.S. and an M.A. in mathematics, both from Shippensburg State College. She completed additional graduate work in statistics and electrical engineering at the University of Delaware. Smith is Level 3 certified in systems planning, research development and engineering (SPRDE) – systems engineering and Level 2 certified in SPRDE – program systems engineering.