The Pentagon’s efforts to digitally connect everything on the battlefield has a big challenge to overcome: getting disparate vehicles and weapons to share data.
“The interoperability of various, different systems, that’s really where we are struggling. We don’t have that machine to machine connection to begin with.”
Over the past several years, we’ve been working to build those connections, piece by piece and plane by plane. We started by asking, “How would we go fight in 2030, 2045?” and then working backwards.
There are efforts underway to link the stealthy F-22 and F-35 combat jets. The Air Force has announced that they are to test a similar link next month, but the Air Force is establishing more complete linkages, including new forms of secure radio linkages using software defined radio, and also including other assets such as drones.
Experiment by experiment, we tried to “systematically work” to build the components of a larger network of networks.
Ultimately, we want all this to add up to a “virtualized cloud-based architecture like the branches of a tree. A handful of ships and planes might form one network. That will, in turn, connect to a larger network that would, in turn, would be connected to the larger network
“You end up with virtual networks on the edge with a computing architecture you could have on an aircraft, on a ship, or any of the deployed nodes..
Bringing all these pieces together will enable a new sort of operating system for warfare, a new experimental battle management display to illustrate the concept.
The system presents the operator with a list of effects, from devastating explosions to a quiet disabling of some enemy system; a list of available assets, including planes or drones; a map of targets; and recommendations for the best way to deliver effects to targets.
As circumstances change — fuel gets low, ammunition is depleted, targets are destroyed, new enemy forces arrive, etc. — the system can send out alerts that a new plan is needed — or automatically update the plan with new instructions for pilots and drone operators. It all depends on how high the operator wants to set the autonomy.
That vision is very different from the way mission tasking works today. “Right now, our commanders are very limited in who they can assign to do certain” things. “More often than not, you have to assign someone because they happen to be in front of a specific place in front of a specific computer.
Of course, realtime data sharing across platforms isn’t a simple or clear-cut affair, even after successful experimentation. It’s hard to simply to share data between operators and just one platform. The challenges of sharing data between multiple platforms, in the middle of battle in a highly contested airspace, are far larger.
Navy is making integration of ships, planes, sensors and weapons a priority going forward and is in the requirements-writing stage of development an integrated combat system. Today’s ability to pass information from sensors to operators at sea to fleet commanders ashore is not happening “at the speed of warfare.”
“It’s every ship, it’s every radar, it’s every airplane, it’s every weapon. And if we don’t optimize every one of them, the margin of victory is so slim right now we risk defeat. That’s how we approached strike group command, and that’s how we are approaching the push to develop the requirements for an integrated combat system.”
“We have to have the ability for that operator, when he looks at that track, to have confidence – whether it’s coming from an unmanned vehicle 200 miles away – that it’s the same thing they’re seeing on a cruiser, the same thing they’re seeing on Control Channels, the same thing that’s displayed in the Maritime Ops Center.”
All those leaders, from the cruiser to the strike group to the fleet commander, should also have a level of awareness that extends to what sensor is doing the tracking and therefore what its limitations might be; and what weapon is most appropriate to go after the threat, so it’s effective but not wasting a costly high-end weapon to defeat a less-capable target.
While leaders at sea might have access to this information, those at the Maritime Operations Center ashore see a lag in getting those details. We want everyone at all levels to have access to the same information in real time “so we can make good, sensible decisions and employ our weapons wisely against the threat. Or not react at all, if that’s the most prudent case, depending on the mission.”
“We should be able to, with this level of technology, to take what we are seeing on the carrier should be available in the operations center in real time so that when a fleet commander is told, ‘these are my intentions and I’m engaging here,, they can look at it and go, absolutely, and I’m moving this or that or whatever the case may be to support you.
“We deserve better information to the decision-maker. The information is there, somewhere; we’re just not getting it in the right hands at the right speed.”
A run-through of “what we need to win” includes the amphibious force, the submarine force, mine warfare and mine countermeasures communities, combat logistics and more. While much effort has been put into creating and strengthening the Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air structure for the carrier strike group force, other communities in the Navy have been left out of previous efforts.
“We are going to do things differently, we are going to do things in a completely netted environment. … We have the weaponry to go a lot farther than we’re able to do because of the sensors.
Priorities include long-range targeting, which will require these netted sensors; a universal common operating picture and combat logistics.
Air Force is preparing an experiment it hopes will link the F-22 and F-35 fighter jets, the first in a series of experiments dubbed “connect-a-thons.”
The goal is to identify a fleet of aircraft with a communications issue, invite voices from inside and outside the Pentagon to offer solutions, and then test those offerings in a live experiment.
The F-22 was built with an older data link that can’t match up with the Multifunction Advanced Data Link system used on the newer F-35; while the F-35 can receive data , it can’t share the data back — a key capability given the envisioned role of the F-35 as a major sensor for the future Air Force.
For the test, the service will use a “universal translator” for the two jets. The first test, will feature the equipment on a pole on a test range, with the jets pinging their information back and forth from that fixed location.
It’s not the first time a drone has been used as a link between the two fighters. Global Hawk unmanned system, equipped with a new radio has been designed to act as a translator between the aircraft.
A cloud-based common operational picture that tracks where friendly forces are and displays a map of their constantly updated positions.
Why is this so difficult? As stealth aircraft whose whole raison d’être is to evade detection, the F-22 and F-35 would rather not use conventional radios to communicate in combat because the transmissions are too easy for an enemy to pick up.
So both jets use so-called Low Probability of Detection/Low Probability of Interception communications – but they each use different ones that operate on different frequencies with incompatible software. F-22s use a unique Intra-Flight Data Link that works only with other F-22s, while the newer F-35s use the Multifunction Advanced Data Link , which can only talk to other F-35s.
The goal is to get something that works well enough to test in real-world conditions and get feedback from real pilots. Then you take that data and improve your solution and run the improved version through another test- then rinse and repeat until you get something good enough to field to actual combat forces.
We have product categories that we care a lot about. We want to be able to integrate sensors. We want to get data off of them. We want to secure the process. We want to be able to put applications on the system and connect capability and people together. And we want to output an effect, like jamming a radar, to hacking a network, to blowing everything up.
The system features new methods of data sharing between air and ground forces, a common operational view that can track updated positions, and most prominently, a data connection to allow F-22s and F-35s to share data without exposing their positions.
The F-35 was designed to take in large amounts of data regarding battlefield positions and situations. The F-22 has a more limited mission and capability -- and the F-22's Intra-Flight Data Link and the F-35's Multifunction Advanced Data Link are currently incompatible.
The fighter planes, and other platforms, have different communications protocols and radio frequencies, and were not designed with a digital gateway to integrate their communications capabilities.
"The main point is that we want both the F-22 and the F-35 to be able to share communication over a link that allows them to do so in a way that protects their survivability."
Imagine a network of manned and unmanned systems, with relatively expendable drones actively emitting signals while the rest of the force stays silent, stealthy, and survivable. Imagine a multi-domain command and control network that can pull together forces from air, land, sea, networks reorganizing as needed on the fly. The goal: create a dispersed, flexible force our adversaries’ centralized systems can’t keep up with.
How would that work? A commander inputs the task the force needs to do, identifies the units to be made available for tasking, enters some constraints like geographic bounds, timing, etc., and the system comes back with some proposed courses of action. To develop the courses of action, the system runs an auction across all the units available to determine which can best accomplish the tasking like match passenger’s desired pickup points and destinations with available drivers, in seconds, millions of times a day.
Of course, the artificial intelligence driving this kind of Joint All-Domain Command & Control system would be complex, distinguishing between ride type and it would need to know the capabilities of different types of drones, planes, ships, ground vehicles, satellites, and more.
Then it needs to calculate which was best able to do a mission based on both its inherent capabilities and its current location. Instead of just knowing where to drop off a passenger, it would need to figure out the best kind of bomb to drop, or jamming to conduct, or network toodto deploy, against a wide variety of targets.
Traditional military organization is like a jigsaw puzzle, where every piece can fit in one and only one place in the larger picture; the future organization needs to be like a mosaic, where a set of tiny building blocks can be combined in all sorts of ways to make an infinite variety of images.
This kind of networked force could survive enemy attack – physical destruction, hacking, or jamming – by reorganizing itself to pass data around the damaged nodes, making it difficult for adversaries to knock out by jamming a few key links or physically destroying major headquarters, bases, ships, and satellites.
“The tools available to field commanders are insufficient to enable them to develop and plan creative operations. As a result, commanders, particularly junior ones who lack large planning staffs, will tend to fall back on doctrine, habits, and traditions that the enemy can predict.” We heed to enable leaders up and down the chain of command to creatively plan, adapt, and recompose their forces and operations.”
These new tools would help commanders rapidly retask and reorganize a new kind of force. Instead of relying on large, powerful aircraft that can do all aspects of an electronic warfare mission alone by themselves – which simplifies both US planning and the enemy’s countermeasures – the future force would disaggregate capabilities across multiple manned and unmanned platforms.
Expendable drones might emit radar signals, while other drones and manned systems would passively receive the radar returns, then compare notes over hard-to-detect datalinks to figure out where the enemy forces were. Other expendable drones – possibly launched from a manned mothership — could transmit the powerful signals required for jamming, but every unit in the network would have the capacity to passively listen for enemy transmissions.
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