Technology Sharpens Battlefield Awareness

By James Kitfield

August 15, 1996

An early preview of a future in which the U.S. military hopes to dominate the realm of "battlefield awareness" is on display in Bosnia. By applying a host of information age advances in command and control, communications, advanced sensors and computers, the military has constructed a picture of the former Yugoslavia clear enough to save lives and influence events.

A young Army major on the ground in Bosnia today can receive imagery directly from satellites or unmanned aerial vehicles. Should he spot a surface-to-air missile battery of the type that shot down U.S. Air Force Capt. Scott O'Grady last year, he can relay the coordinates over his tactical satellite communications system to an Army Multiple Launch Rocket System, which, in turn, can put precision-guided weapons on target from hundreds of miles away in only a few minutes.

The military's ability to dominate battlefield awareness with such advanced electronics and communication systems, say experts, constitutes nothing less than a "revolution in military affairs."

According to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman, the United States already leads in the four established dimensions of modern warfare-land, sea, air and space. "But I think it's appropriate to call information operations the fifth dimension of warfare. And dominating this information spectrum is going to be critical to military success in the future," said Fogleman, at an Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association conference.

The Pentagon's commitment to advanced electronics and communications systems as a "force multiplier" means that systems in this category represent some of the few bright spots on a generally bleak horizon for military procurement. A 10-year forecast by the Electronic Industries Association (EIA) predicts Pentagon spending on electronics should at least remain stable at about $37 billion annually, reflecting the importance of smart systems and munitions.

Use of remote sensing-the process of observing, measuring and recording objects and events from distant aircraft, space or ground platforms-is expected to grow as national security technology is declassified and made available to commercial industries. EIA predicts the market will increase from $12.5 billion to $17.6 billion over the next 10 years.

The federal government's communication, navigation and surveillance category, or CNS, which includes both commercial and military avionics programs, is expected to expand significantly over the next few decades. On the military side, the CNS avionics field should account for about $3 billion annually, or one-third of the $9 billion for aircraft avionics projected yearly for each of the next 10 years.

With so few major weapons programs in the Pentagon's future plans, the military will also be forced to rely heavily on electronic upgrades to existing weapons platforms. "Despite the clouds of a declining Defense budget, a market in excess of $20 billion in platform modifications, retrofits and maintenance represent a silver lining for defense electronics firms over the next 10 years," concludes the EIA's 10-year forecast. Examples include recent efforts to modernize the Army's Bradley Fighting Vehicle and the Navy's P-3C surveillance aircraft.

DoD's new acquisition reforms promoting the use of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components may also be a boon to the electronics industry.

Enhanced Battlefield Awareness

The Defense Department is pushing ahead with a number of cutting-edge battlefield awareness systems based on advanced electronics and communications. For airborne command-and-control and surveillance, the Pentagon has requested $300 million in fiscal 1997 for its unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) program, with another $1.2 billion to be requested by 2001. The Predator UAV, now being put through its paces in Bosnia, is capable of flying 500 kilometers and loitering in mid-air for 24 hours. As a result, The Predator fills an important gap between satellites and shorter-range UAVs.

Also on display in Bosnia is the JSTARS (Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System) aircraft built by first-ranked electronics and communications contractor Northrop Grumman. JSTARS' advantages were first demonstrated during the Persian Gulf war, when the system tracked vehicles on the ground from 100 miles away using powerful, phased-array radar integrated with Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) technology and digital maps. In fiscal 1997, DoD has requested $700 million for two additional JSTAR systems. Another $1.9 billion is earmarked for adding eight more of these aircraft by 2001.

The Pentagon has budgeted $727 million in fiscal 1997 for the MILSTAR follow-on satellite system, a joint service program aimed at developing a worldwide, secure communications satellite system. Prime contractor for the MILSTAR program is Lockheed Missiles and Space Co., a subsidiary of second-ranked Lockheed Martin.

For command-and-control and communications, the Pentagon has requested about $200 million in fiscal 1997 and an additional $300 million by 2001 for the Global Broadcast System (GBS), a communications network designed to provide secure, worldwide communications and data transfers between the various branches of the U.S. armed forces. GBS offers tactical commanders a kind of cable service with separate channels for intelligence, weather, unit readiness, personnel and logistics. DoD has requested $300 million in fiscal 1997 for cooperative engagement capability (CEC), which involves linking disparate weapons platforms and sensors for an integrated picture and reaction capability over an entire theater of battle. Under current plans, CEC spending will grow by another $700 million by 2001.

Service Programs

Each of the services is pursuing its own communications and electronics programs for fiscal 1997. The Air Force has requested $125.7 million to improve its base information infrastructure; $48 million for a Theater Battle Management command-and-control system; $52 million for its MILSATCOM satellite communications system; $26 million for a Space-Based Infrared Sensor Program; and $22 million for improvements in its Theater Air Control Systems.

Much of the Army's focus on electronics and communications has been devoted to upgrading its M-1 tank and Bradley Fighting Vehicle fleet with digitized communication capabilities. The Army has requested $400 million in fiscal 1997 for its digitization efforts, and is planning to spend another $1.3 billion by 2001.

Other major Army electronics and communications programs in the fiscal 1997 request include the Defense Satellite Communications Program, funded at $96 million; the continued purchase of SINCGARS radar funded at $297 million; upgraded automated data processing for $136 million; and a new Forward Air Defense Sensor which will cost the Army $51 million in 1997.

No service has embraced satellite communications systems with more enthusiasm than the Navy. Navy leaders will never forget that during the Persian Gulf war, they were stymied in their ability to electronically receive the Air Force's air tasking orders-the blueprints for air strikes that typically ran hundreds of pages each. The Navy was forced to use helicopters to ferry out the tasking orders. But no longer. As part of its Challenge Athena program, the Navy has begun placing aboard ships large satellite receivers that work much like the new Direct TV satellite systems. Instead of 500 channels of entertainment, however, the ship is capable of receiving massive voice, video, data and imagery transmissions.

For fiscal 1997, the Navy has requested $113 million for its Fleet Satellite Communications System, and an additional $116 million for SATCOM (satellite communication) Ship Terminals; $33 million for a Naval Tactical Command Support System; $43 million for Navy Shore Communications; and $39 million for a Battle Group Passive Horizon Extension. According to Navy leaders, the new satellite communications capability has transformed shipboard life-from the crew's ability to call home for less to the practice of "telemedicine" in place of costly medical evacuations.

"We use to have to essentially run a Pony Express of information out to our ships, but all that changed when we started looking at commercial satellites differently," says Adm. Alexander J. Krekich, the first commander to deploy with the Challenge Athena system.


By James Kitfield

August 15, 1996

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