Next step for tactical nets: Sensors that know how to share

The military’s vision of an integrated battlefield network includes sensors that are capable of working across domains, providing data to soldiers as needed. The Army is getting there with its innovative Integrated Sensor Architecture, which allows sensors to interact with each other and deliver information to troops without being physically integrated.

Sensors generally have operated in a point-to-point architecture that limits access to their data. ISA creates a modular, dynamic system in which sensors can find and communicate with each other, regardless of the computing platform, and provide a common interface to users, all of which helps move the Army closer to its goal of a common operating environment, according to announcement by the service’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, or CERDEC.

"You have this fundamental architecture enabling sensors to not only recognize the systems they want to interact with, but to also broker the information exchanges," said Joe Durek, deputy director for the Modeling and Simulation Division of CERDEC’s Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate.

With ISA, sensors use dynamic discovery to find other ISA systems and share information. The architecture would allow, for example, a soldier to find a sensor and glean information from it without having any previous knowledge of it. Their interoperability also would make it easier and less expensive to deploy sensors.

The sensors' dynamic discovery was demonstrated during the summer at a CERDEC integrated capabilities experiment that focused on using common standards to allow applications to work across different computing environments, as well as testing new technologies for automated, simplified and secure network operations, CERDEC said.

"Dynamic discovery will improve the mobile soldier´s situational awareness by enabling him to query different sensors as he moves through an area and access information that was previously ‘invisible’ to him, such as event messages or spot reports," said Christine Moulton, ISA project lead for the directorate.

ISA was developed under the Deployable Force Protection program, an effort to develop the capabilities needed by a forward operating base. Researchers focused on aspects such as ease of use, compatibility with existing sensor systems and the ability to function in the kind of degraded communications conditions likely to be found on the battlefield.

"The thing that makes the ISA stand apart from other interoperability architectures is that it is designed to work in the tactical environment,” Moulton said. “We assumed you’d have bad communications, small bandwidth and intermediate communications, so we designed it to handle those situations and recover."

ISA eventually will be transitioned to the field under an agreement the directorate has with the Program Executive Office for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors under its Sensor Computing Environment program, or Sensor CE.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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