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Video Above: Army 2-Star on Project Convergence and Sensor-to-Shooter Advancements

By Kris Osborn - President & Editor-In-Chief, Warrior Maven

What if an enemy mechanized column was approaching friendly forces through mountainous terrain, when a forward operating mini-drone detects the fast-approaching force from the air? 

What if that mini-drone instantly networked real-time video to airborne helicopters and medium altitude drones engineered with AI-enabled software to process incoming sensor data, organize information, and use RF data links to transmit time-sensitive data to ground vehicles moving to counter the enemy. Meanwhile, nearby F-35s receive the same target information, enabling a coordinated multi-domain attack upon the enemy positions. Even more, what if this tactical scenario unfolded along a coastal area and datalinks could network threat information to Navy surface ships in support the friendly ground force?

Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) 

These kinds of scenarios are fast becoming a reality as the Pentagon moves quickly to bring its Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) program to life. Yet, bringing this to tactical and operational fruition is not without technical challenges. 

What if the incoming video was sent through a unique or proprietary datalink, not compatible with incoming GPS signals, sensors, helicopter command and control or even ground-vehicle computer systems? Such a technological infrastructure, in which disaggregated pools or streams of incoming data, would impede or even fully preclude the requisite connectivity sufficient to make the aforementioned scenario possible.

Photo: JADC2 illustration by Northrop Grumman

Photo: JADC2 illustration by Northrop Grumman

Solving this problem is the essential conceptual premise of JADC2. Rapid progress is being made through industry innovations and Pentagon initiatives to create standard, interoperable protocols and interfaces to enable connectivity. This approach, referred to as Modular Open Systems Architecture, or MOSA, is made manifest through specific efforts to engineer a technical infrastructure built upon common standards. The objective is to enable both Line-of-Sight and Beyond-Line-of-Sight connectivity.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks has now signed a breakthrough Joint All Domain Command and Control Implementation Plan, a text which specifies a series of steps necessary to bring joint, multi-domain warfare attack and connectivity to paradigm-changing levels of high-speed functionality.

There are now several promising and already demonstrated “gateway” technologies in existence to essentially “translate” one protocol or technical configuration into a common language or transmission architecture to enable successful interoperability.

For example, the Army has already demonstrated one such technology called Gateway Mission Router 1000, designed, developed, and manufactured by The Vertex Company.

Gateway Mission Router 1000

“The GMR-1000 provides that connection point into the tactical edge Army network via an integrated technical network to provide the connectivity needed for both soldier-worn and soldier-carried devices into the battlespace. So, it provides secure WiFi on platforms,” Pat Renwick, Senior Director at The Vertex Company, told Warrior in an interview. “This provides a platform integration and distribution point as the Army's integrated tactical network to the individual soldiers and operators that are on that platform, whether it be a helicopter, ground vehicle, or any other type of platform.”

The Vertex system was demonstrated last year at the Army’s breakthrough Project Convergence 2021 learning exercise in which AI-enabled computers received incoming sensor data from a variety of multi-domain input sources and performed the necessary analytics to instantly pair “sensors to shooters.” This shortening of the kill web, as it's called, reduces targeting and attack timelines from 20-minutes to 20-seconds. GMR-1000 is built to facilitate and enable this process.

Using upgradeable Commercial-Off-The-Shelf systems, MOSA consisting of common IP standards, interfaces and protocols and a small eight-pound hardware device, Vertex has engineered a vehicle-transportable gateway system able to translate otherwise incompatible formats. Renwick explained that soldiers can “seamlessly log in.” In an abbreviated sense, GMR configures “1s” and “0s” in a manner that allows otherwise disconnected information systems to both secure transmission and enable paradigm-changing levels of technological interoperability.

“You can start and maintain the situational awareness that you had before in the battle space with your software defined radios. You can jump in a Stryker, Bradley or helicopter, and you've got the ability to maintain that connectivity to the battlespace and to your compatriots, basically being able to see an action on any feed that was available to you on that network,” he added.

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GMR-1000 uses standard WiFi, Ethernet, Serial, 1553, ICS and ARINC-429 hardware interface protocols. The vehicle-integrated GMR-1000 uses a Gigabit Ethernet Switch with a five-port router and what Vertex data calls “authentication servers.”

A TAROT drone conducts a practice run during the Project Convergence capstone event at Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz

A TAROT drone conducts a practice run during the Project Convergence capstone event at Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz

As part of ongoing development and extended software upgrades, Vertex developers are seeking to align with and enable the kind of AI-enabled connectivity central to Project Convergence; GMR-1000 is slated to participate in the Army’s upcoming Project Convergence 2022.

“We will marry this up in the future with AI and set up the structure to give the best decision aids for that operator. And for that warfighter, basically taking stuff off his plate and providing him actionable information that is stored and parsed appropriately for what he's doing at the time. They need anything that cuts down that fog and friction of war, and GMR is one of those products,” Renwick explained.

With a hardware form factor of roughly eight pounds, the GMR-1000 is designed to be what developers call low SWAP, for size, weight and power. This means the system can integrate into drones, helicopters and ground vehicles without adding weight or requiring a large hardware footprint.

“It's very small with low SWAP. It is able to be installed in a very small package size that is able to seamlessly fit within the tech spaces available in those types of platforms and vehicles. Right now, we’ve got an installed rack that was developed for adding capability into the UH-60M (Black Hawk),” Renwick explained.

As part of the effort to enable seamless connectivity, Vertex GMR-1000 technology can provide a point of connection for the US Army’s Integrated Visual Augmentation System, soldier worn goggles able to organize arriving navigational, intelligence and sensor data for soldiers in 3D in real time.

“We're talking about tablets, cell phones, and things of that nature, as well as the Integrated Visual Augmentation System. We've done a lot of user trials and a lot of exercises using the conductivity for IVAS on the tactical edge in vehicles,” Renwick said.

Aligning with IVAS is an extremely significant development for GMR-1000 given its fast-evolving role networking dismounted individual soldiers with larger air and ground platforms and command and control systems. The success of IVAS, and GMR-1000, hinges entirely on an ability to translate and transmit data in different formats traveling through different or otherwise disconnected transport layer technologies. The significance of IVAS was explained by the Army Vice Chief of Staff at an interesting think tank event last year.

“We take all soldiers who have IVAS and turn them into a sensor collecting data to share with a greater network. The screen can chart a path and tell you where a reported adversary is. You can see through heat and augment existing light,” Gen. Joseph Martin, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, told an audience during an event at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in 2021. “If you have been dismounted, you know it can be lonely. You want to have a link to your fellow soldiers. This is what IVAS is delivering to our formation.”

Dr. Bruce Jette, Assistant Secretary of the Army, Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, told Warrior in an interview earlier this year that engineers created IVAS with an ability to compensate for what might otherwise be some of the limitations of the human eye. Operation of IVAS calls upon a degree of what could be described as “Human-Machine Interface” because it integrates some of the neurological processes of human vision with software engineered to process, organize and display otherwise challenging factors such as “depth perception,” surrounding peripheral objects and other elements of human visual orientation.

While much of the development with GMR-1000 has thus far been demonstrated through Army technologies, the intent and goal of the gateway is to contribute to the “joint,” multi-service JADC2 effort.

“This isn't a single service, it's not just one program office, it's the entire DOD. So the -- the vastness of this. We also have DOD efforts underway, as -- as I'm sure most of you know -- Project Overmatch, Project Convergence, ABMS (Advanced Battle Management System),” Lieutenant General Dennis Crall, Director, Command, Control, Communications And Computers/Cyber; Chief Information Officer, Joint Staff, told reporters in a JADC2 briefing, according to a Pentagon transcript from earlier this year.

Kris Osborn is the President of Warrior Maven - Center for Military Modernization and 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 Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President - Center for Military Modernization