Army puts ground sensor program on fast track

Networks will enable simultaneous viewing of surveillance data

Acting on Defense Department authority, the Army decided in December 2009 to enter low-rate initial production on Increment 1 of the Early Infantry Brigade Combat Team acquisition program. This program includes elements that were formally called spinouts under the canceled Future Combat Systems program. The service is now in a position to bring networked sensors to the battlefield for the first time.

Soldiers and Marines will have unattended ground sensors at their disposal, which they can hide beside roads to alert them when vehicles or people pass by. The sensors also can send still images back for review. Warfighters can affix smaller UGS systems to buildings and hallways.

Such sensors have been available for a number of years, but what’s different about the Increment 1 sensors is that they will be linked together so dozens or even hundreds of people can simultaneously view the data they generate.

“Most of the sensors we use today are networked,” said Paul Mehney, a spokesman at the Army’s Program Executive Office for Integration. “It’s a point-to-point sensing capability.”

PEO Integration was created out of the ashes of the Future Combat Systems program to manage the Increment 1 capabilities package, which also includes the Class 1 unmanned micro air vehicle, small unmanned ground vehicle, Non-Line-of-Sight Launch System and an early version of the network that ties them all together.

After point-to-point sensors collect information, they transmit it to a battalion or brigade tactical operations center or possibly to systems at the company level. But regardless of where the data is transmitted, it goes to only one location. UGS changes all that by networking the sensors across the brigade structure.

As an example, Mehney described a hypothetical situation in which a tactical UGS is placed next to a road. A truck drives by, and the sensor registers that information and sends an alert to a Humvee stationed nearby.

The Humvee driver now knows that the UGS has detected motion, but he doesn’t know what created it. However, the platoon leader can download a picture from the UGS sensor and see that a truck drove by.

“The platoon leader knows he has a situation in that particular sector because the icon is on his screen, Mehney said. “At the same time, the icon shows up on everybody else’s screen in the platoon because they’re all networked. Everybody in his platoon knows that the UGS sensor just picked up something."

In such situations, a platoon leader can send the image to the company or battalion level to inform higher echelons of the situation and receive guidance if necessary, Mehney said. The platoon leader could then deploy a Class 1 unmanned aerial vehicle to get a better idea of the situation and what the people in the truck are doing and transmit that information.

“The key to the story is that these systems are now all networks,” Mehney said.

Tailored to the Mission

There are two major groups of sensors in Increment 1. The first is the AN/GSR-9 (V) 1 Tactical-UGS (T-UGS), which is the type of roadside sensor that Mehney described. It is designed for perimeter defense, surveillance, situational awareness and target acquisition. It includes intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities with an electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensor, and it can sniff for chemical, radiological and nuclear molecules.

The second is the AN/GSR-10 (V) 1 Urban-UGS (U-UGS), which is also known as the Urban Military Operations in Urban Terrain Advanced Sensor System.

Both T-UGS and U-UGS have the ability to transmit images in a secure and encrypted format. UGS managers say their transmissions won’t be vulnerable to interception by adversaries, as happened recently with UAV transmissions. Each is a program of record, with Boeing as the prime contractor and Textron as the supplier of the sensors.

Along with other Increment 1 technologies, T-UGS and U-UGS are in the third year of a four-year development cycle. The largest demonstration of Increment 1 was a battalion-level limited test that took place in September 2009 with several hundred soldiers at Fort Bliss, Texas.

One of the goals of the test was to demonstrate a major redesign of T-UGS that transformed it from a fairly visible 116-pound system to a more easily hidden system that is the size of a shirt box.

The original T-UGS sensors looked like large cylinders that were meant to be fired by artillery or dropped from aircraft, Mehney said. Consequently, they were fairly easy to spot. After gathering feedback from the Army Evaluation Task Force, Army officials asked Boeing and Textron to make the sensors more robust for field use, improve their sensing capabilities and reduce their size so enemies could not easily spot them.

In about six months, which is rapid for the acquisition world, Textron came back with a complete redesign of T-UGS. As a result, the Army now has a low-profile system that is about eight inches by eight inches by two and a half inches thick, Mehney said.

“You can bury these things now, which is the way the soldiers are deploying them, so that you only have the antenna sticking up,” he said.

For the EO/IR and camera modes, the Army is developing a tripod mount that can be camouflaged and a tactical pack for carrying the device on the battlefield.

U-UGS is a reporting system for force protection and situational awareness. It includes a small sensor the size of a garage-door opener that warfighters can affix to walls or inside caves or tunnels. It contains an intrusion node that picks up motion and an imaging node that takes a picture. A separate 19-pound gateway box transmits the data.

“U-UGS is particularly valuable for clearing operations,” Mehney said. “What we do now is we leave a couple soldiers behind to monitor what we just cleared as we move on to the next target. Instead of leaving soldiers in your squad behind, you leave these nodes behind to monitor what is going on in that building, cave or tunnel.”

Testing Schedule

The Army has three more major demonstrations of Increment 1 technology planned through 2011. The tests will further study bandwidth issues for image transmission; battery life; and concerns related to reliability, availability and maintainability. The next demonstration will take place in May at Fort Bliss.

Some reliability, availability and maintainability issues remain, Mehney said. “We addressed some of those with the redesign of T-UGS, but we’ll continue to look at that, as well as U-UGS, as we continue our 2010 test cycles.”

Next year will bring Increment 1’s Initial Operational Test and Evaluation, which will be conducted with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss. It will be the first brigade combat team to field Increment 1. An additional eight teams will receive Increment 1 technologies from 2011 to 2013.

About the Author

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

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