Army improves airborne intelligence
Reconnaissance aircraft tied to common ground network for rapid dissemination
Army Col. Keith Hirschman is project manager of the Aerial Common Sensors program, which is part of the Program Executive Office for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors (IEW&S) at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. Hirschman took over as project manager in late June and has held a number of positions managing Army unmanned aerial vehicles.
Defense Systems Editor-in-Chief Barry Rosenberg interviewed Hirschman just before he left on a three-week, fact-finding mission to Afghanistan in October. They discussed the differences between Task Force ODIN (Observe, Detect, Identify and Neutralize) and the Enhanced Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System programs, the destination of EMARSS, and the road map for deploying it.
DS: What will you be doing in Afghanistan?
Hirschman: I’m actually going to spend a little time with Task Force ODIN. I want to understand firsthand how the product gets used and apply that to my support organization in the field to find out where we can get better.
DS: It seems that EMARSS and Task Force ODIN have a lot in common, such as the aerial platform, which is a Hawker Beech 350ER in both programs. What differentiates EMARSS from Task Force ODIN, which is based on the Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System (MARSS) aircraft?
Hirschman: Back in early 2009, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wrote an article in Foreign Affairs (A Balanced Strategy, Jan/Feb 2009) where he talked about being more responsive to the warfighter. He called out Task Force ODIN as being a model for how he wants to do procurement in the future.
And that would be to take something that is a little more mature, get it out to the field and allow some flexibility in the procurement process upfront.
DS: Would you put the Air Force’s Project Liberty — another manned, medium-altitude ISR program — in the same bucket?
Hirschman: Absolutely. I think the Air Force got coerced a little more than the Army into doing it this way. But they’ve actually done very well, and we’re working with Liberty a lot.
DS: What is the difference between MARSS and EMARSS?
Hirschman: The difference between MARSS and EMARSS is that EMARSS has a [Distributed Common Ground System-Army] capability that will put the products that EMARSS collect — the [signals intelligence, communications intelligence], the imagery intelligence — onto the network so that it is discoverable by everybody in the DCGS network. Task Force ODIN does not have that today. The difference between the two is how the intell products get onto the network.
DS: How do Task Force ODIN and Project Liberty get their sensor information to the network?
Hirschman: Right now, it is done through what’s called an ARST, Airborne Reconnaissance Support Team, which is very similar to the way the RC-12 Guardrail Common Sensor aircraft operates. The products get pulled to the ground; some processing of that intelligence takes place; and then it is disseminated through various networks internal to the Army and through our allies. Each of those other systems, MARSS and Guardrail, has a large footprint of processing and dissemination that EMARSS won’t have. The big step forward for EMARSS is that it is married to DCGS right from the start.
Another difference is that Task Force ODIN is actually more than just the MARSS aircraft. It also includes persistent-surveillance capabilities, such as the Constant Hawk unmanned aircraft.
DS: You‘ve told me that PM ACS has received a number of responses to your EMARSS request for proposals. What specifically does the RFP call for?
Hirschman: Two onboard DCGS-A enabled workstations, the [electro-optical/infrared] ball and two comint payloads, or a comint and sigint payload. The platform will be a Hawker Beech 350. Our experience with Task Force ODIN is that the Hawker Beech 350ER gave us the right range, versatility and ease to fly. The Air Force’s experience with the Hawker Beech 350 and 350ER also gave us confidence that this aircraft could do the job of direct-support ISR.
DS: What elements from the old ACS program continue on in EMARSS?
Hirschman: I think it’s the need for multi-intelligence capability where several products can be put into the network right away, such as full-motion video from the EO/IR camera, as well as comint and sigint. I think that’s the legacy of the ACS program.
I think ACS was really focused at being all things to all people, which really caused it some problems. It was very much a replacement for the core-level aircraft like Guardrail, where EMARSS is more aimed at the near-term fight and situational awareness. You might be hard pressed to find anybody who would say that ACS was replacing Guardrail, but it was definitely in the flavor of a long-stand-off-range asset for the combatant commander. EMARSS, from its inception, was intended to be used more for the close-in fight supporting troops.
Are you a baseball fan, Barry?
DS: Sure, I grew up in Philly.
Hirschman: The analogy I would use is that EMARSS is more like a utility infielder, where Guardrail and ACS are more like the dominant starting pitcher or clean-up hitter.
DS: Once source selection is complete, how will the Army use the EMARSS aircraft?
Hirschman: They will be going to four of the Army’s five aerial exploitation battalions: Hunter Army Airfield in Georgia, Fort Hood and Fort Bliss in Texas, and also in Germany and Korea. The Army is still sorting out if EMARSS is going to Fort Bliss or to Korea, depending on their mission.
DS: What is the road map going forward for EMARSS?
Hirschman: We’re staffing Milestone B documentation ahead of source selection, and the program was well received with all the primaries on the Army staff. Even with the aggressive 18-month engineering and manufacturing development phase that we’re proposing, everybody is asking us to go faster, to test as much of it in the field as fast as we can. To give you an example of how much support this had, there was no need to do a full up brief to the decision-maker in the Army, [Malcolm Ross O’Neill, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology]. It was decided we would go ahead and do a paper staffing of it because it did have so much support.
So we’re looking at contract award by end of 2010 with one EMARSS vendor for the EMD phase with an option for [low-rate initial production]. Milestone C is planned for 18 months after contract award, and prior to that, we will be looking for opportunities to do testing in theater and [the continental United States] simultaneously if we can. The Army Test and Evaluation Command is working with us, and we’ll be looking for opportunities to do a [forward operational assessment]. Right now, we are scheduled to do that at about the 13th or 15th month mark after contract award.