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Empire Challenge Validates Technologies to Support Military Networking

30th October 2008 - 06:00 GMT | by The Shephard News Team


Northrop Grumman Corporation played a major role in a recent joint military demonstration testing increased interoperability between U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy and coalition reconnaissance aircraft. As a part of this event, manned reconnaissance aircraft in-flight tested the capability to dynamically task and receive data from unmanned aircraft sensors.

Northrop Grumman technologies that can enhance data exchange between intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) services were showcased at Empire Challenge 2008, an annual demonstration of how U.S. and coalition forces can work together to collect, analyze and share information. In addition to being focused primarily on collaborative ISR, the event also included battle management command and control (BMC2) in support of ISR operations.

The four-week demonstration, sponsored by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, included participation from U.S. Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM), other U.S. government agencies, and the UK, Canada, and Australia, concluded Aug. 1, 2008, at Naval Air Weapons Station in China Lake, Calif.

Northrop Grumman, as part of a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with USJFCOM also contributed its modeling, simulation and analysis expertise to the exercise by providing virtual unmanned aerial systems (UAS) aircraft and sensor capabilities as part of the experimentation architecture.

"The ability to share information among U.S. and coalition command-and-control aircraft can significantly enhance warfighters' situational awareness and increase their chance of success," said Tom Vice, Northrop Grumman Integrated System sector's' Eastern Region sector vice president. "In addition to providing networking enhancements, we successfully demonstrated how manned command-and-control aircraft can remotely task sensors on unmanned aircraft to include full motion video for target maintenance and identification. Lessons learned from Empire Challenge will be used to make recommendations to the warfighter on potential methods to improve situational awareness and to reduce 'sensor to shooter' timelines."

Northrop Grumman also provided advanced communications technology that significantly enhanced the quality of full-motion video information used in the exercise. Northrop Grumman offers this capability to its customers under a strategic alliance agreement with Digital Fountain Inc., whose patented DF Raptor(tm) forward error correction technology protects large files and streaming data from data loss.

Under auspices of the CRADA, USJFCOM and Northrop Grumman will use data from Empire Challenge to refine ISR concepts of operation and tactics, techniques, and procedures. Follow-on research and concept demonstration efforts are planned with connectivity to government laboratories and the Northrop Grumman's Cyber Warfare Integration Network (CWIN), which can generate operationally-based, virtual battlefield environments.

Airborne Elements

Northrop Grumman aircraft flying during the exercise included the U.S. Navy E-2C Hawkeye, U.S. Air Force E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) and U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial system.

The U.S. Navy's E-2C Hawkeye test bed aircraft, X-Hawk, successfully demonstrated joint Navy, Air Force and Army interoperability linking between airborne and ground ISR nodes via an Internet Protocol-based architecture. A key success for the X-Hawk was the sharing of tactical information with other ISR platforms using jointly developed web services. The X-Hawk completed multiple threads using digital, machine-to-machine communications at the tactical edge of the network to accomplish tasking to strike and ISR assets.

"We were able to provide an improved operational tactical picture by exchanging air and ground tracks and C2 information between the Northrop Grumman E-2C and E-8C aircraft, other ISR aircraft and the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC)," said Mike Mos, director, Advanced Concepts. "Additionally we automated routine services via 'machine-to-machine' communications, which reduced operator workload and achieved our objective to enhance warfighter collaboration via the use of open standards."

One of the primary objectives of Empire Challenge for the Joint STARS was to demonstrate interoperability with the United Kingdom's Airborne Stand-Off Radar (ASTOR) program. The Royal Air Force participated with a Sentinel R1 aircraft and a tactical ground station (TGS).

"In all cases the Joint STARS/ASTOR Interoperability Program (JAIP) successfully demonstrated connectivity and data exchange between the Joint STARS aircraft and the U.S. and UK ground stations via a variety of communications links," said Mos. "JAIP demonstrated that when a Joint STARS or ASTOR is airborne both U.S. and UK ground stations can task either aircraft and receive relevant ISR information."

Northrop Grumman also successfully demonstrated prototype BMC2 capabilities in both an airborne environment and the China Lake CAOC.

"Our Air Force Electronic Systems Center customer used Empire Challenge to demonstrate BMC2 to warfighters performing command-and-control functions in the Combined Air Operations Center, showing that Joint STARS is an airborne platform well suited for incremental upgrades because of its open systems architecture," said Mos. "This year during Empire Challenge, we used research and development funding to bring our customer's BMC2 weapon/target pairing, net-centric airborne web services, tracks and imagery to the airborne warfighter.

"More importantly, we were able to do dynamic sensor tasking with a variety of UAS aircraft. We were able to successfully request and integrate electro-optical/infrared imagery from an airborne RQ-4 Global Hawk and ground moving target indicator imagery from a virtual Block 40 Global Hawk equipped with a Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Program sensor. We also tapped full motion video from a virtual MQ-8 Fire Scout."

Virtual Elements

One of the key accomplishments of Empire Challenge included demonstrating mature technology for manned command and control aircraft, like the E-8 and E-2, to task unmanned ISR aircraft. The majority of Northrop Grumman unmanned aircraft participated virtually through the company's CWIN, including the RQ-4 Global Hawk, MQ-8B Fire Scout and MQ-5B Hunter.

"We have been developing technical solutions using standards compliant message formats to establish interoperability between manned and unmanned aircraft," said Chris Frangos, director of Advanced Concepts and Integrated Solutions and Northrop Grumman / USJFCOM CRADA program manager. "Being able to dynamically task ISR aircraft enhances the value of intelligence products for our warfighters.

"We've matured our virtual modeling and simulation enterprise to enable standards-compliant interaction with live aircraft. The result is that we successfully tested the manned/unmanned operational concepts enabling live manned aircraft to task virtual UASs."

The virtual models are supported by high fidelity terrain data bases and receive inputs from instrumented range vehicles that populate the simulation. ISR information received from live aircraft is synchronized, fused, and coordinated with ISR data developed by the virtual UASs. The Northrop Grumman CWIN was used to mature the concepts ultimately tested in the live Empire Challenge 2008 demonstration.

"A CWIN experiment held earlier this year let us rehearse the mission scenarios that were run during the live demonstration," said Frangos.

"The government has embraced the role virtual simulation offers to live experimentation," continued Frangos. "Virtual simulation provides a consistent and repeatable testing environment. The effectiveness of virtual simulation was demonstrated during Empire Challenge when our air and ground BMC2 elements interfaced with a live Scan Eagle UAS system using the same messages, concept of operations and tactics, techniques and procedures as employed with the virtual UAS systems."

Looking Forward

Frangos is already looking to Empire Challenge 2009. "We're planning to expand the constellation management and dynamic UAV control technologies that were successfully showcased this year," he said. "The validation experiment for EC09 is defining options to include additional live unmanned aircraft. The use of virtual modeling and simulation is expanding to support concept of operations definition, rehearsal, and training to reduce risk during live demonstrations. Virtual elements provide the analytical underpinnings to quantify the performance of the live experiment and associated operational concepts and technology solutions.

"Demonstrating interoperability across additional platforms validates the use of open standards in communication and data that enhance the effectiveness of current day intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations," concluded Frangos.

Northrop Grumman Corporation is a global defense and technology company whose 120,000 employees provide innovative systems, products, and solutions in information and services, electronics, aerospace and shipbuilding to government and commercial customers worldwide.


The Shephard News Team


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