By Darren Corbiere, Research Analyst, Aerospace and Defense, Frost & Sullivan
The U.S. defense industry has produced some of the most advanced defense communications systems ever conceived. However, as sophisticated as they are, most are not interoperable. Stand-alone systems designed to carry out a function without consideration of their ability to share information has been the traditional norm. The military and other government agencies however are demanding interoperability.
As a not-for-profit organization, the Network Centric Operations Industry Consortium (NCOIC) leverages the resources and talents of its members to bring about innovative solutions to both the military and commercial marketplaces with the development of standards that support integration and networking as its goal.
The consortium met in Austin Texas from the 19th to September 23, 2005. The meeting brought together a large group of industry leaders to discuss the future of network centric warfare. Guest speakers from the defense industry and the military outlined some of the issues faced by soldier, sailors and airmen hoping to enlighten manufactures of their needs. Mr. Fred Stein, who is the Senior Principal Engineer and Director of Operations for Ft. Hood, MITRE Corporation, spoke dynamically of the issues he sees as central to the war fighter. Three systems took center stage during his presentation:
--The Enhanced Position Locating Reporting System (EPLRS), described as the backbone communication system of the maneuver brigade, provides secure, jam-resistant, near real-time data communications.
--Force XXI Battle Command, Brigade and Below (FBCB2) provides enhanced situational awareness to the lowest tactical level-the individual solider-and a seamless flow of command and control information across the battlefield
--Blue Force Tracker (BFT) is typically a small piece of equipment that allows us to view and track the position of US and Allied forces on the battlefield. Every person and piece of equipment outfitted with a blue force tracker is seen and becomes part of our war-fighting network.
These systems along with others form the foundation of what will lead to a totally integrated battlefield. Mr. Stein dismissed the idea of a homogeneous solution as not commercially viable but encouraged the participants to recognize that interoperable systems must and will be achieved.
Interestingly, Mr. Stein describe two types of soldier, one was what he called "digital natives" and the other "digital immigrants". He segmented them by age and while those descriptions accurately portray distinctions; the real divide may not be age but rather between service members who have grown up in a wired environment and those who have not. The fact that the military is a culturally diverse group makes it difficult to identify who will assimilate the systems and who will have difficulty. This fact is true; the military is adopting highly specialized and technical equipment on a wide scale. Consequently, training is definitely an area of a growing opportunity.
Some of the key takeaways from the plenary conference were the needs to integrate every person and every piece of equipment. Doing so will depend largely on the industry’s ability to reduce size, weight and power requirements of current technology. Soldiers and Marines are already over-burdened by the equipment they carry. Latency between systems is a critical area not immediately recognized. Latency of seconds rather than minutes is needed to prevent fratricide. Also noted was the need to increase the number and type of aircraft that are datalinked. Aircraft such as the A-10, the C130 and others are in need of significant updates to bring them into the fold.
With all the various areas of interest identified at the conference it is clear that the consortium has its work cut out for it. These issues are not easily resolved and bringing solutions together from 79 of the world’s most prestigious defense contractors would seem impossible. The consortium, though, is the right way to go about it.
Hopefully the consortium succeeds in their efforts because the result will bring about a win-win situation for everyone involved. The companies win in the form of lowered costs for development, the military wins through common resources and integration and most importantly, the soldiers on the ground will win through less exposure to hostile situations because of increased situational awareness.