Army looks to sensors for faster fire support

Networked approach would reduce target engagement time

The Defense Department continues to push for more network-enabled capabilities that can help warfighters more quickly and safely execute operations in the field, but network limitations could slow the release of technologies that are ready for action.

By net-enabling a tactics/techniques/procedure commonly used for calling in close air support, the Defense Department is about to introduce a digitally aided close air support (CAS) capability that does away with verbal communications between ground personnel and a pilot in favor of directly linking CAS data to the cockpit. Similarly, the Army and Raytheon have developed a net-enabling capability that networks sensors used to facilitate a call for precision fire on the ground without verbal communication.

The capability was demonstrated at the recently concluded Army Training and Doctrine Command's Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment (AEWE) at Fort Benning, Ga. The tactical network included a third-generation electro-optical Mast-Mounted System, Long Range Advanced Scout Surveillance System, Improved Target Acquisition System and the Javelin Command Launch Unit. By networking those systems, Raytheon officials say they can significantly reduce target acquisition and engagement timelines through target handoffs and automated target reports.

“There’s a lot of voice on the network when you’re calling for fire,” said J.C. Hudson, business development manager at Raytheon Network Centric Systems Combat Systems. “Now we can do a network call for fire with no voice at all. People were worried that you would jam up the network because there would be too much data flowing on the network. Actually it’s less because we would tie up the network with voice for a significantly longer time. Now we can do the same with this in seconds with the network.”

Although the capability now exists and Raytheon has demonstrated network-enabled precision fires for the past three AEWE demonstrations, the nature of Army networks has inhibited expanding the ability to the field. The specific systems are the Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2) and Blue Force Tracking system derived from FBCB2.

“Currently, the network that the Army uses for [FBCB2] does not allow anything else on the network,” said Leon Hachat, manager of emerging technologies, modeling and simulation at Raytheon Network Centric Systems Combat Systems. “What we’re doing right now is working with PM FBCB2 and [Program Manager for Forward Looking Infrared] to allow us on the network. We’re scheduled for the next release of FBCB2.”

For AEWE, Raytheon created its own network outside FBCB2 to demonstrate and prove the capability. Raytheon also was the lead integrator for AEWE, the first time the Army contracted this role to an industry partner.

For AEWE, Raytheon used its Mobile Ad-Hoc Interoperable Network Gateway ad hoc communications system as a network backbone for the experiment. Maingate served as the backbone network, providing radio interoperability via the network, not the radio. The result was communications, data and video sharing among mounted and dismounted forces using different radios or networks.

The network was comprised of fixed ground locations, tactical vehicles, airborne relays and individually networked soldiers. It also connected communication devices, command and control applications, and sensor platforms, in addition to unattended ground systems, unmanned ground vehicles and unmanned aircraft systems.

Maingate was designed in partnership with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. It has the tactical network capacity to provide four simultaneous video streams, image transfers, voice bridging, and situational awareness and command and control down to the squad level.

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