Getting actionable data from numerous military sensors, and then delivering it to war fighters so they can immediately use it, is the key focus of current C4ISR efforts. Bandwidth, cloud computing, smartphone and cell technologies, UAVs, UGVs and power-generating ground combat vehicles are all part of a rapidly developing sector. In this Defense Systems Pathfinder, we discuss the issues with Joe Taylor, Vice President, Mission Command Systems at Northrop Grumman Corporation.

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Q1 The success of UAVs and the advantages they provide are well documented but, with so many already flying and even more expected to launch in the future, what problems do they present and how are they being tackled? View Answer

Joe Taylor
Vice President,
Mission Command Systems,
Northrop Grumman Corporation

We in industry and the military are tackling challenges on several fronts in the C2 management of, and communications with, unmanned platforms. These issues are, in some key ways, magnified with regard to unmanned ground vehicles (UGV), which operate in more complex 3D environments. Compartmented terrain, obstacle complexity and connectivity challenges exist, which are not found in flight. Yet, it’s important to include UGVs, because I suspect we’re sitting on the cusp of exploding UGV deployment.

Whether in the air or on the ground, the complexity of missions, burgeoning demands on available bandwidth, and capabilities that outstrip planned communications and C2 management systems place ever greater demands on commanders, staffs and communications infrastructure. We already can see emerging ground armed reconnaissance and armed wingman missions, which will necessitate both autonomy and assured near zero-lag communications.

Great strides have been made in achieving both airspace and spectrum deconfliction for unmanned air assets. Some of these lessons and solutions are applicable to the ground mission. As in all new missions, a process is ongoing to decide upon the requirement set, how to exploit existing technologies, and setting the stage for new development.

Q2 Connectivity has long been a major concern for tactical network/C4ISR needs. Things are only going to get more complicated in that area, so what’s the outlook? View Answer

Joe Taylor
Vice President,
Mission Command Systems,
Northrop Grumman Corporation

Technology has allowed us to be increasingly discreet in creating, using and managing networks, but it also has created a proliferation of networks that strain limited bandwidth and are increasingly complex to manage. There’s tension there, but it’s to some extent a positive tension that drives innovation.

For example, Northrop Grumman recently has been championing an innovative network for dismounted soldiers that exploits cell technology. It’s very difficult to set up a cellular network in a tactical environment. Fixed infrastructures are virtually impossible to create or maintain in a dynamic ground environment, and ground commanders are hesitant to trust networks formed by assets not under near immediate control.

While our approach uses smart-phone type devices, it is the soldier and device itself that form the basis for the networking infrastructure. The network interfaces with legacy networks and extends itself wherever device-to-device connectivity exists. A commercial technology developed for a totally different industry, this networking solution offers tremendous advantages in the ground environment.

The Army provides a way to demonstrate and exploit these technologies through the Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) process. This process offers the potential to break the tyranny of traditional decades-long development cycles.

Q3 The acquisition of tactical data has accelerated tremendously over the past few years, but that has outgrown the progress in converting that to actionable data for the warfighter. Is that gap being tackled successfully? View Answer

Joe Taylor
Vice President,
Mission Command Systems,
Northrop Grumman Corporation

Yes and no. We are still creating more data than we synthesize and use, but I’m confident that’s changing. The Army, for example, is looking at ozone widget frameworks, virtual machine environments and other developments to produce the computing power that makes those integrated analytical tools meaningful. That means commanders can operate with actionable information that is new and fresh enough to matter in the decision process.

The continuing challenge remains moving information to the tactical edge, where it absolutely has to be relevant to the commander right now. A natural tension develops between available communications, associated bandwidth and prioritization of use. Whatever industry can do to free up bandwidth, offer networking assurance or exploit available computing platforms can only reduce the negative impacts of that tension.

The Army is moving away from highly complex, IP-driven, proprietary legacy systems with narrow abilities to interact with other stovepiped systems toward a true common operating environment. For instance, the IBCS air-defense program, which was based on a virtual machine environment, adapts itself to other demands and needs, employs other products and fully exploits the computing spectrum in a given area of operations. It offers, I believe, a glimpse into the future of truly integrated C3 environments.

Q4 Budget constraints will continue for the foreseeable future and may even worsen. How are both the military and industry dealing with this when it comes to C4ISR? View Answer

Joe Taylor
Vice President,
Mission Command Systems,
Northrop Grumman Corporation

A decade ago, when I joined Northrop Grumman, we spent a lot of time competing for the large, traditional multi-year development programs. I don’t believe many of those are sustainable in the new budget environment. The military services have desired a more agile development environment that enables more incremental modernization. That’s now the imperative.

Companies that respond innovatively with new ways to exploit existing technologies, that offer capability upgrades instead of new system or software development solutions, and who demonstrate alternative capabilities that are ready now, cost less and do more those companies will be successful. The ones that stay mired in traditional business cases will struggle.

Q5 What are some of the most important emerging technologies for C4ISR, and what impact will they have? View Answer

Joe Taylor
Vice President,
Mission Command Systems,
Northrop Grumman Corporation

We’re finally devising and deploying networking technologies that allow us, in a tactical battlefield environment, to export the power of commercial products. They have to be secured and be capable of being banged around by soldiers, so they’ve got to be hardened. Nevertheless, if you talk about something like 4G communications technology and being able to exploit that in the tactical environment, we’re very close to crossing that threshold. We’ve talked about it for a generation, but what you are seeing at the NIE now is the first look into how this will really operate in a brigade in the next several years.

One of the best examples that brings together a number of important mature and emerging technologies and delivers significant capability improvements is the Ground Combat Vehicle. This revolutionary platform powered by hybrid electric drive has incredible computer power on board and enormous power to utilize a networked environment. It is intricately linked into a growing and more capable network, exploiting new communications mechanisms that will rise out of the JTRS program and new radio and communications technologies. Onboard that platform is the infantry squad, with each soldier carrying one of the new commercial devices that will be fully integrated with that vehicle and, through that, the tactical and operational network.

These are things we can do in a limited budget environment because they will be delivered quicker and cheaper than would be possible in the traditional development and acquisition environments. Albeit a challenging time in industry, it’s also an exciting place to be.

Q6 With the development of such things as the Joint Information Environment (JIE) it’s clear that cloud computing will have a major part to play in future military communications. How will it affect C4ISR? View Answer

Joe Taylor
Vice President,
Mission Command Systems,
Northrop Grumman Corporation

C4ISR is a customer for the kinds of capabilities cloud computing can deliver, particularly as the thirst for information and requirements to manage that information increase in tandem. Some of the newer systems like the Ground Combat Vehicle will bring enormous computing power to the warfighter, with its intricately integrated, extremely capable network and new communications systems. For C4ISR within and among combat vehicles, we’re seeing as great an emphasis in organic platform design on providing systems which integrate to the broader network as seamlessly as they do the integration of the on-board mission equipment packages.

Northrop Grumman is applying that same understanding of the cloud environment and our ability to integrate across multiple command domains to systems for dismounted soldiers. From a company perspective, we believe this capability is not only a competitive discriminator but also a very real combat multiplier capability for our customers, especially as the nation fields fewer but more capable systems on the battlefields of the future.

Q7 What role do mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets have in C4ISR? Will Bring- Your-Own Device (BYOD) have an impact? View Answer

Joe Taylor
Vice President,
Mission Command Systems,
Northrop Grumman Corporation

There are a lot of bright people in the civil and defense industries working on a number of tremendous products that tap the wealth of commercial innovations and products. That said, any device used in the tactical military domain has to function in a secure environment and be able to withstand battlefield stresses. To date, industry has had limited success transitioning that technology to the demanding world of tactical combat.

However, I think we are finally really close to getting mobile technology to the point where soldiers can use it in such operations. And, fortunately, the NIE provides an environment where we can demonstrate those devices, have an extended dialog with the customer about performance, and immediately implement suggestions for making systems more effective.

As far as bringing big concepts to the table that employ mobile C3, one capability that is here now is a SAP-based logistics program —Ground Combat Support System-Army —which anticipates, allocates and synchronizes the management and flow of logistics across the deployed Army. A key input capability is remote mobile devices. Again, a major challenge and opportunity afforded by tailoring commercial systems for tactical operations.

I think BYOD will and should play a larger role here. Common gateways, bandwidth management, and industry-recognized security solutions coupled with tactical ruggedness, should enable both the customer and industry to largely free themselves from the ground-up multi-year development cycle we’ve been in for the past 50 years.

Q8 What are the key cyber security issues on the battlefield? How will offensive cyber warfare needs affect those? View Answer

Joe Taylor
Vice President,
Mission Command Systems,
Northrop Grumman Corporation

Increasingly, cyber is considered another military domain, a form of battle space with threats and opportunities. It represents one of the domains we must consider when designing products for the more traditional air, sea and ground battlefields. As long as we apply agility when designing cyber products, I am confident we can stay ahead of the game in this new domain.

Ground forces and combatant commanders, however, are primarily focused on protecting themselves from offensive cyber attacks. One vital component to success in this area is cyber situational awareness. Cyber situational awareness involves more than thwarting intrusion attempts or malicious attacks from outside the network. It also has to encompass surveillance and detection of anomalous activities and behaviors within the networks by ostensibly authorized users, and it has to link cyber activity to the mission. Our team is working to advance the state of the art in cyber situational awareness to continue securing and defending those vital defense and intelligence networks.

The tactical exploitation of cyber will also be increasingly important. Developing those abilities will allow us to do more things, whether those are involved with kinetic or non-kinetic issues, more effectively and accurately than we have been able to do in the past.

Q9 How well do military acquisition policies agree with the needs for C4ISR developments? Particularly as budgets come under even more pressure, are any changes needed? View Answer

Joe Taylor
Vice President,
Mission Command Systems,
Northrop Grumman Corporation

The situation is evolving. Whether or not the NIE continues in its current form, for example, I feel confident the Army will still embrace some form of quick evaluation model. That said, there are pockets of very traditional acquisition organizations and program offices within the various customer groups. What we are seeing now is an interaction of sorts among those groups to determine what the future holds.

How will that play out? Let’s say you have a traditional radio development program, which is devouring hundreds of millions of dollars and taking years and years to work through the various milestones. In contrast, an alternative can be demonstrated at the NIE that, at significantly less cost, meets the legacy requirements and even adds new capabilities. And it can be available almost immediately. The JTRS replacement is an example where both the customer and industry are responding dynamically to an evolved requirement set utilizing the NIE as a test and demonstration laboratory.

I think you’ll see the services begin to acquire some of these alternative new technologies and relabel them as increments of the original procurement, which would allow them to have initial success. Once the services see that new technologies developed this way actually work and can be adapted much more quickly to changing user requirements, that realization will be a big driver for this new acquisition approach.

The Army, and to a lesser extent the Air Force, lost the better part of a decade of development because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The field army was being sustained by supplemental appropriations in the budget and making innovative decisions in the field. The Tactical Ground Reporting System (TIGR) is a good example of that. But most of its energy was directed to the immediate battle and maintaining and modifying the systems necessary to prosecute it. The operational force now has time to focus on the things it needs and fully understands it will no longer have the luxury of being supported by supplemental. It will become much more involved with the traditional acquisition effort.

The NIE, in many respects, has been driven by the operational commands and not by the acquisition community. As that voice, led by the G3, becomes louder and more demanding, you’ll see a faster evolution of requirements and an inevitable need to move toward something other than the traditional, ponderous acquisition process.

Q10 Size, weight and power are perennial problems in C4ISR. How are they being tackled? View Answer

Joe Taylor
Vice President,
Mission Command Systems,
Northrop Grumman Corporation

In many respects, the same way they always have. One difference is that radios have gotten smaller and more capable. One of the biggest enduring challenges is not SWaP associated with computers and the radios themselves but with power demand.

Not so long ago we’d sit down with a platform designer to review the requirements, and we’d talk about the communications, sensor arrays, weapon systems, vehicle protection and, oh yes, that we’d be running this a distance down the road. Increasingly, design complexity and power demands are growing exponentially as more systems compete for the top-line power available on the platform.

I believe we’re on the cusp of seeing hybrid technology in a mature form on the battlefield. Platforms such as the Ground Combat Vehicle offered by BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman would be turned into power generators instead of power consumers, which could have a revolutionary impact on the brigade combat team.

Today’s brigade needs a small armada of generators, the logistics to support them and the mechanics to maintain them, and everyone fights for available power. Think about a brigade where power is no longer an issue, and, in fact, there’s power to spare. For potential weapons systems—such as using energy-based sources to engage the enemy instead of kinetic sources—it opens up a whole new domain and opportunity set.

I would propose that the key for SWaP is to turn platforms into energy providers instead of users. Do that, and you’ve created a revolution in thinking about platforms that flips the entire debate on its head.