Army Brig. Gen. Thomas Cole talks about electronic warfare progress

Brig. Gen. Thomas Cole is the Army’s program executive officer for intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors (IEW&S) at Fort Monmouth, N.J., which is part of the Army’s Team C4ISR . IEW&S supports a wide range of unmanned aircraft systems and their operations. Before his current duties, Cole served as deputy program executive officer for IEW&S, deputy program manager for Future Combat Systems Brigade Combat Team Platform Integration, and program manager for the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical program.

He spoke with Defense Systems contributing editor Barry Rosenberg about some of the challenges facing the seven program manager offices within IEW&S.

DS: The PEO IEW&S charter is to field new systems quickly. What would you say are your recent success stories?

Cole: There are actually quite a few things we’re proud of. One is certainly the Base Expeditionary Targeting and Surveillance Systems-Combined (BETSS-C) that we’re fielding right now to forces.… That has many components to it, including [Rapid Aerostat Initial Deployment] towers for situational awareness and force protection.

DS: BETSS-C is funded through supplemental war bills. Do you expect it to become a program of record, and what will its status be going forward?

Cole: I don’t know that BETSS-C itself will become a program of record. I think the concept of how we do force protection will evolve into a requirement that includes some of the technologies that we’ve developed for BETSS-C. Some of those components, like RAID, for example, have a good probability of becoming a program of record. The real trick will be integrating together those technologies. That’s what will define a future program.

DS: Are you still planning to recompete the contract for the RAID electro-optic/infrared sensor?

Cole: If the Army has additional requirements for the RAID-type capability, we will compete future efforts. The system is doing well and provides a great capability that can be used for force protection, situational awareness and targeting. I don’t have a time frame for when we’d conduct a competition other than to say additional requirements will be competed.

DS: What else are you focusing on?

Cole: The work we’ve been doing with Task Force ODIN (Observe, Detect, Identify and Neutralize), in particular, and our responsiveness to the [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] surge as outlined by the secretary of Defense this time last year. The impetus to provide more ISR capabilities to [Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom] challenged the Department of Defense to get capability out there quickly.

One such program is the Persistent Threat Detection System, which is very similar to RAID but is an aerostat that climbs to about a mile high. It accomplishes a similar mission to RAID and is another force protection situational awareness capability that’s being used both in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Along with that, as part of the surge, are the Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System (MARSS), which is based on a C-12 aircraft and provides a full-motion capability, as well as some signal intelligence directional finding capability.

Those two systems are among several others identified as the Army’s portion of the ISR surge, are in high demand, and will make a significant difference as we field them into Afghanistan.

DS: The recent emphasis on manned ISR systems, such as those being fielded by Task Force ODIN and MARSS, have led to a running argument of the value of manned ISR vs. unmanned ISR. How do you view that debate?

Cole: To me, it is not necessarily a choice of one or the other; it is how to best provide the capability. I think there’s a place for both types of assets. And certainly with the manned assets that are there in theater, the control of those assets by a tactical commander is a very important attribute to those types of systems. The regional commanders have greater control over them versus some of the higher flying UAV assets. So I think you need to balance the two different types of capabilities.

DS: Where are you on the restart of the Aerial Common Sensor program?

Cole: The requirement for the ACS was always a valid requirement that needed to be met. It was a matter of how we met that requirement. Earlier this year, we were prepared to release a request for proposals for an ACS capability that would be on a business jet. The department looked at how we were approaching that, with special attention to the synergies between the Army ACS program and the Navy EPX program [for a manned ISR and targeting aircraft to replace the EP-3 SIGINT platform]. We spent some time deliberating that, and during that period, the secretary of Defense announced his vision for providing capabilities to the warfighter that would focus more on irregular warfare.

With that position and information, we made another adjustment to the ACS program, and we took the capability off the business jet platform and looked to put it on a prop [plane platform]. It would fly lower and have less endurance but would be more responsive to an irregular type of fight.

We’re still working on the question of how you do that in terms of a combination of manned platforms, unmanned platforms, and even some of the high-altitude airship type concepts. We’re ready and anxious to get going with the request for proposals. As soon as we come to an agreement on requirements, we’ll move on that.

DS: What time frame are you looking at?

Cole: I would expect we’d be able to do this in the August/September time frame.

DS: Where are you with Distributed Common Ground System-Army program and plans to integrate that across combat forces by 2010?

Cole: Every unit that has deployed since December 2007 has received DCGS Version 3.0, along with training and associated tools. Right now, we have about 70 percent of the Army units fielded with DCGS, and the remaining 30 percent we expect to get done no later than 2010. The latest version of DCGS gives us greater interoperability with [the Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below system] for providing data, for example. That is important not only from an intelligence-analysis perspective but also from the perspective of current ops. We want that functionality well integrated together.

DS: What can we expect in the next version of DCGS?

Cole: We call it DCGS Mobile Basic. Mobile Basic provides capability to brigade combat teams, and a Mobile Extended will follow and provide capability to higher echelons. DCGS-A accesses a significant amount of data and information from a multitude of various sources and processes it through analysis and exploitation to create knowledge for soldiers so they understand their environment and commanders can predict emerging events to support operational decisions. It facilitates the rapid planning, execution, and synchronization of all information and data from many sources and helps us better understand the battlefield.

DS: How does it improve on Version 3.0?

Cole: There are many programs of record that provide DCGS capabilities today, and it consolidates all of them into a single system. Mobile Basic consolidates and replaces the capabilities of nine current force ISR systems and is the ISR component of the Army Battle Command System. This consolidation will greatly reduce the footprint for providing the DCGS capability. In addition, it provides the ground stations for Aerial Common Sensor and Prophet, [IEW&S’s ground-based electronic intelligence gathering system].

DS: You have seven program manager offices within PEO IEW&S. Which of them will be the most important for the warfighter in the near term?

Cole: You’ll get me in trouble with that.

DS: Let me rephrase. What technology development programs will be most prominent?

Cole: Here’s what I think. One area that we’re really developing is electronic warfare. The Army is establishing a structure in electronic warfare with about 1,600 positions, and we are looking at what is involved in electronic warfare and how do we provide that capability.

In the past, we would say that electronic warfare was an intell function. Now we’re coming to the realization that electronic warfare has different parameters to it, such as an electronic-attack aspect. So across the Army, it’s not just the intell center that has an interest in electronic warfare but also the fire center at Fort Sill, the signals center at Fort Gordon and the maneuver center. All are interested in the capabilities that electronic warfare can provide.

The middle two letters of our PEO name is electronic warfare, and that has implications to me in terms of what systems we’ll be developing in the future and how we will help the Army by providing those capabilities.

DS: What’s driving this emphasis on electronic warfare?

Cole: It’s what we’re experiencing in the current fight. There’s certainly the [Counter Remote Controlled Improvised Explosive Device Electronic Warfare] aspect with which we’re heavily involved. It’s a realization of how we’re operating today and the level of sophistication we need to have in the future.

DS: Your PMs are cranking out a lot of hardware for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. What will ultimately happen to that hardware? Will it be left behind or transferred from Iraq to Afghanistan?

Cole: We’re working on that across the Army to determine how we draw down in Iraq and surge in Afghanistan. A lot of the systems I have within PEO IEW&S are going to move across. There will still be a demand for them as we draw down in Iraq because understanding your environment is a key capability. As long as you have forces that are deployed, you’re going to want to have that ISR capability. So I expect to see those capabilities moved around in theater. There is going to be a demand for the same kind of capabilities in Afghanistan, so there may be some relocating of those systems that are no longer needed in Iraq.

DS: I understand you’re also working to improve your capabilities against shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles. Can you elaborate on that?

Cole: We’re very close to getting the [Advance Threat Infrared Countermeasures] system deployed onto CH-47s. Along with that is the restructuring of the effort to get at a fleetwide solution that’s interoperable for the joint forces. We are also interested in developing technology for a Common Infrared Countermeasure system that uses a laser. We are working with industry to assess where we are now and where we need to go from an acquisition standpoint. Within the next three to four months, we’ll be initiating the competition to acquire a [Common Infrared Countermeasure] solution that is interoperable across the force.

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