Video Above: Waging War on Enemy Drones
New enemy location specifics arrive in seconds from the other side of a mountain through a soldier-worn GPS receiver, fast-emerging targeting details arrive through thermal sights and soldier night-vision goggles and input from a commander arrives through an RF signal …. Yet they are all coming in different technical formats and configurations. How can they be synchronized and organized in relation to one another in real-time?
To address this challenge, the Army has been evolving several “gateway” computing systems and data protocols to ensure different streams of incoming data are organized, combined and integrated into a single picture on a handheld device for soldiers on the move in combat.
The is fast gaining experience through ongoing efforts to enable greater data sharing and interoperability.
Recently, the service achieved breakthrough levels of networking, targeting, and high-speed sensor to shooter pairing during its project convergence 21 program in Arizona.
This was accomplished in large measure through the use of common data standards messaging formats and certain gateway technology able to connect otherwise separated information streams.
The Army is now working with industry to improve this kind of technical capacity for its GPS-enabled, hand-held Nett Warrior device, a mini-tablet designed to give platoon commanders real-time, integrated data with force position icons on a moving map, intelligence information and other critical details.
Wearable Tactical Next-Generation Hub
One industry offering from the Fischer Connectors Group, called the “wearable tactical next-generation hub,” is engineered to meet Nett Warrior standards while also operating as a technical gateway or “translator” for otherwise disconnected pools of critical incoming sensor data.
Relying upon advanced computing, the device creates a common technical language or IP protocol to enable rapid, integrated data transmission and display.
“Army leaders at every level can now expect real-time, full-spectrum information from arrays of advanced sensors on satellites, piloted and non-piloted aircraft, ground vehicles and individual soldiers. Darkness, smoke, topography and distance are no longer barriers to situational awareness, and sensor-generated information can support decision-making with high-resolution video, audio or other digital information streams,” A Fischer Connectors Group paper, called “The Connectivity Challenge,” writes.
Interestingly, the Fischer Connector’s Group Hub does not contain a radio signal or email any kind of electromagnetic waves, something which makes it somewhat stealthy in that it does not give off any kind of detectable signal or signature potentially detectable by an enemy
“Soldiers will have less of a detectable signature if all their devices communicate over wires, rather than by radio. There is not any need for more signals coming off the soldiers body. The Wearable Tactical Next-Generation Hub does not emit a signal of any kind. The hub’s software can be upgraded to maintain compatibility with new and existing technologies,” a Fischer Connectors Group official said.
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An enemy drone or groups of maneuvering fighters approaching for attack from beyond the radar horizon might not be seen or detected through line-of-sight RF signals or radar fields of view, yet a surveillance plane, aerial drone node or fighter jet might detect the threat and be positioned to relay the information. The Wearable Tactical Next-Generation Hub is engineered to gather all of this incoming data and enable real-time exchanges, comparisons, transfer or AI-enabled analysis.
The Fischer paper describes this in terms of a “huge torrent of available information pouring over commanders in a continuous wave. How will all of this information reach commanders in time to be useful?” This is the fundamental objective of the hub.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
AI is fundamental to this entire process. As it can gather large volumes of information, perform analytics to bounce if off of a seemingly limitless database to solve problems, analyze data and recommend solutions.
“Huge volumes of data arriving from multiple sources, in diverse forms and contexts, could simply wash over commanders and staffs and never produce actionable insights. The tasks of synthesizing data, identifying decision points, and generating options are the domain of artificial intelligence (AI) applications…...,” the Fischer Connector Group paper states.
How might a fighter jets radio or RF data link connect or merge with incoming video feeds from drones also in position to detect the enemy aircraft?
What if RF datalink functions are on different frequencies? Resolving or smoothing through incompatible communications formats is the underlying technical ambition of the Fischer Connector Group’s “hub” as it seeks to organize, compare and display all of this kind of data on a single hand-held screen for the individual soldier.
In this and other respects, the Fischer Connector Group’s “hub” aligns with the tactical, strategic and technological aims of the Army’s Project Convergence.
This is done by architecting systems with common standards, using “gateways” devices such as Fishcer’s “hub” to receive and transmit in multiple frequencies and formats, enabling communication from otherwise incompatible communication technologies. Information can arrive through GPS or RF, be translated through Fischer’s connector “hub,” and then exit or transmit through a different communications modality or transport layer.
An aerial mini-drone helicopter, soldier thermal targeting sights, incoming EW signals, ground combat vehicles, surface ships and commanding control centers might all use different technical standards or IP protocol for data transmission. So the Army, and innovation from industry developers such as the Fischer Connectors Group, have taken measures to create and streamline more technical synergy enabling fast, secure information sharing. This communications and data-sharing alignment, made possible through AI and computing adjustments, enables the “convergence” to take place.
“The notion of convergence is taking sensors from multiple services and multiple units and tying them to some type of command and control capability using artificial intelligence to move data very quickly,” Gen. John Murray, Commanding General, Army Futures Command, said at an event following Project Convergence 21.
Video feeds, RF transmissions and IP packets of data sent through software programmable radio can arrive in different formats or technical configurations, so engineers need to create “gateways” or systems able to convert, translate, pool or combine different streams of incoming data.
Once the incoming data arrives and is pooled, it can be organized, analyzed and processed by AI-empowered computer algorithms performing millions of functions each second. As Murray mentioned, this speed is made possible in large measure through AI. Moments of relevance can instantly be found amid limitless volumes of information, bounced off a large database consisting of a compiled library including detail about previous scenarios and threat specifics, to perform near real-time analytics and identify potential solutions or courses of action for human decision makers. Fischer Connector Group’s “wearable tactical next-generation hub” seeks to accomplish this.
Common technical standards, aligning hardware, software and 1s and Os, are essential to enable successful networking to take place The process forms the very essence of interoperability, the concept which informs the heart of the Army’s vigorous push for fast, secure information sharing, organization and “gateway” enabled translators.
“Architecture standards are being built, message formats are being built, they are informed not from PowerPoint - they are informed from people actually across all the services in the dirt making things work,” Murray said.
Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.