Army fuses airborne sensor lab with ground networks

Airborne Multi-Intelligence Laboratory tested at C4ISR event

At the Army’s C4ISR On-the-Move Event 2009 in September, Lockheed Martin Corp. demonstrated its new Airborne Multi-Intelligence Laboratory. The AML aircraft, a repurposed Gulfstream III corporate jet, was converted to a test platform for evaluating the integration of multiple intelligence-gathering sensors onboard a single aircraft. The flight team includes analysts who correlate the intelligence data and make it available to ground units over a network connection.

“A little over 10 or 11 months ago, Lockheed Martin made investment decisions in particular that looked at where the customer set was going — some of their higher priority needs,” said Jim Quinn, vice president of Lockheed Martin’s Information Systems and Global Services-Defense. “This was driven both internationally as well as domestically, and the importance of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in supporting operations around the globe.”

Lockheed Martin initially intended that AML would provide its civilian and defense customers a way to evaluate how well technologies worked together, and provide a testbed for connecting sensors to enterprise service-oriented architectures such as the Distributed Common Ground System, Quinn said during a press briefing at the Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting in early October. Now, the company is considering whether to partner with contract aviation companies to lease the capability to the DOD and other government agencies on a contingency basis, he said.

For the C4ISR On-the-Move event, the AML was brought in under the auspices of a cooperative research and development agreement with the Intelligence and Information Warfare Directorate (I2WD) of the Army’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) as part of I2WD’s Persistent Surveillance testbed operating out of Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst, N.J.

Within a very short amount of time for testing, Lockheed Martin and I2WD were able to integrate the AML’s systems into a Distributed Common Ground System-Army intelligence-sharing network. “They used their COMINT [communications intelligence] system to geolocate and map communications emitters that were involved in the exercise,” said Charlie Maraldo, the I2WD project manager for the Persistence Surveillance Testbed. “They had an [electro-optical and infrared] imagery asset on their aircraft. And they connected with our ground station via a Common Data Link system provided by L-3 Communication Systems West in Salt Lake City. Their ground station component, we integrated into our testbed [ground station] shelter, and we federated their DIB — their DCGS Integration Backbone.”

The C4ISR On-the-Move event came only a few weeks after Lockheed Martin had taken delivery of the aircraft from a company that was refurbishing it, said John Beck, a business development manager for Lockheed, was on site at Lakehurst for the event. “So as a first event right out of the door, we were very happy with it. Because of the exercise and the threat environment they were portraying on the ground, we worked a lot of communications intelligence, cuing our electro-optical on-board sensors to get a real targetable location very rapidly from an initial (communications intelligence) fix, or a direction-finding location.”

“We also had a lot of success interacting with the Army ground processing architecture, their Distributed Common Ground System-Army (DCGS-A),” he said. “So we had a DIB operational on the aircraft, we had a ground station for AML with a DIB operating, and the Army inside of the ground area there at Lakehurst had another DIB working. And we were able to federate all those.”

Maraldo says that although there are no immediate plans by the Army to do further work at CERDEC with the AML, “We definitely plan on continuing this relationship with them. Lockheed has stated an interest in that, as they had literally just finished the aircraft so. We only used a portion of its potential sensor capability. We’ve expressed interest in continuing this type of relationship, and also you know, exploring the possibility of putting third-party sensors onto their platform for research and development.”

About the Author

Sean Gallagher is senior contributing editor for Defense Systems.

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