Military leaders accelerate C4ISR integration

Efforts to improve command, control, communications, and computer systems and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities is taking on new urgency

In the months since Defense Secretary Robert Gates said his No. 1 defense priority for 2010 was transformation of the nation’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, the military services have engaged in a strategy akin to hopscotch to identify the technologies and initiatives that could leap forward and better support warfighters in Iraq and Afghanistan. That goes for ISR and the command, control, communications and computers (C4) components that transmit that information to warfighters in the field.

“There’s a shift in technology focus and in our avenues of approach to technology development,” said Bob Zanzalari, associate director of the Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center at Fort Monmouth, N.J.

“From a historical perspective, my mission dollars were focused on technologies five to 10 years down the road," Zanzalari said. "There’s been a fundamental shift to refocus internal science and technology funding to accelerate capabilities that meet the needs of the warfighter."

The continued development of on-the-move communications and ad hoc self-healing networks are two examples of vitally needed tools that will greatly enhance the situational awareness of soldiers and Marines fighting at the lower echelons.

“From a communications perspective, in this past year, we were able to stitch together a network that included a number of different programs of record, including WIN-T, JTRS and soldier-level communications,” said Zanzalari, referring to the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical program, the Joint Tactical Radio System, and the software-defined Rifleman Radio, which is one of five programs within JTRS.

The urgency to speed development of C4 intelligence systems is reflected by the conclusions of a 2009 Forecast International report on the market for C4ISR equipment.

“Because of Afghanistan and Iraq, programs that had a 10-year production run now have to be done in two to four years,” said Richard Sterk, group leader and senior aerospace/defense analyst at Forecast International, who wrote the report.

As a consequence, the consulting firm predicted the market value of C4ISR systems will decline from $10.1 billion in 2009 to $4.1 billion in 2018, in part because of expectations that unproven and nascent programs will be delayed or canceled in favor of near-term technologies and spinouts.

Priority will be given to “networking the force initiatives, or the integration of information technology into operations,” such as network battle command systems, networked precision missiles, improved intelligence sensors, active and passive protection systems, and low-cost multispectral sensors, according to the report.

Another defining factor on C4ISR developments this year is the almost obsessive focus on cybersecurity and its role in warfare, including the Obama administration's decision to create the U.S. Cyber Command, an office to oversee all cyber efforts. Meanwhile, the Air Force, Army and Navy are in the early stages of establishing cyber commands.

“The biggest decision was deciding where cyber would reside,” said Maj. Gen. John Maluda, who retired Sept. 1 as director of cyberspace transformation and strategy at the Air Force’s Office of Warfighting Integration, referring to the Air Force's decision to place cyber operations within the Air Force Space Command and stand up a new numbered air force, the 24th.

“We now have a four-star general and a numbered air force whose sole focus is going to be cyberspace," Maluda said. "From my vantage point, the lash between space and cyber is a natural fit because one facilitates the other.”

For the coming year, Maluda said the primary challenge for cyber will be establishing a career path to create an officer corps devoted to the subject.

“We haven’t fully sorted out the various definitions of cyber and who cyber professionals should be,” said Maluda, who recently joined the board of directors at Telos. “To make cyber work, it will take a melding of skill sets, and we have not fully developed that yet.”

The evolution of C4ISR initiatives also was affected by a variety of other decisions this year — perhaps most notably by expectations that funding for projects will be limited, particularly in fiscal 2012.

At the same time, a number of C4ISR technology advances are expected to move forward in one form or another.

About the Author

Barry Rosenberg is editor-in-chief of Defense Systems. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryDefense.

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