21 March 2017

AUSA: Open architecture and multi-domain battle

By: Mark Pomerleau

One of the key challenges in getting after solutions surrounding so-called multi-domain battle, as outlined by Army Training and Doctrine Command chief Gen. David Perkins, is that in years past the force would solve problems in their respective domains, creating a federated series of solutions. Later on, these systems would have to be strung together and modified for broader use.

One way to bridge this gap, while the military looks to “bake in” multi-domain and multi-functional systems from the start, as Perkins said, is employing open systems architectures.

“The idea behind an open systems architecture is to create opportunities where you don’t have stovepiped, proprietary systems that don’t allow for things to plug in,” said Daniel Verwiel, vice president and general manager of Northrop Grumman Mission Systems. “It’s very important for us to create an interface where someone can take a system and design an interface around the edge device.”

The military has been imploring industry to take an open architecture approach to afford greater flexibility in applying systems that can essentially plug and play regardless of the configuration.

“What we’re now creating by design are multi-domain, multi-function capabilities that can be tied into other systems,” said Jeffrey Palombo, sector vice president of Northrop Grumman Mission Systems.

The open architecture model is “really a company mindset that has been put in place,” Palombo added, regardless if an open architecture system is providing the interface for other industry partners to contribute to the solution as a whole or an existing system can be repurposed through software applications to create a multi-functional capability.

Verwiel explained how systems such as Northrop’s Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System, or IBCS, takes a stovepiped solution like a Patriot missile battery and leverages all the sensors that are out there — from Patriot to Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, AN/TPY-2 X-Band radar or AN/MPQ-64 Sentinel radar — to process that information coming in and assign a specific missile to take out a particular threat.

This creates a capability with a broad interoperable environment leveraging all the assets the Army has, he said. “This is where we see multi-domain going.”

Where multi-domain battle really converges is by integrating solutions such as IBCS to the various domains of battle — air, land, sea, space and cyber. Verwiel noted a trend where all levels of the military are pushing toward an interoperable environment from each one of those domains. 

The military services often discuss dominating in their respective battle spaces. Part of this domination, as applied to the electromagnetic spectrum, deals with untangling friendly forces to prevent them from interfering with themselves.

Henry Muller, Director of the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, said that when discussing the electromagnetic spectrum, the force has to talk about operations in a congested and contested environment. Congestion is a self-inflicted wound, Muller said during a panel discussion at the AUSA Global Force Symposium on March 13 in Huntsville, Alabama.

If the spectrum is not managed properly, friendly systems can interfere with each other and backfire, jamming friendly communications. During the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, electromagnetic countermeasures were used to detect and defeat improvised explosive devices. However, despite the success of these countermeasures, they prevented friendly forces from communicating because they jammed everything as opposed to targeting a specific frequency within the spectrum.

“We do this to ourselves the way that we employ technology and design and build systems,” Muller said regarding EMS congestion. “We need to do better at designing our systems in a more integrated fashion to prevent fratricide.” 

He explained the need to look at new systems based upon what the enemy can do. These systems should be capable of finding the enemy, jamming the enemy, directing fires, and improving ability to maneuver in addition to detailing friendly signature in the EMS, especially as it concerns command posts. The ability to observe friendly EMS emission is critical in enjoying freedom of maneuver.

“We can get all camouflaged up, we can hide in holes, we can put camouflage nets on, wear ghillie suits, camo up our faces, color our teeth green and you can’t see us at all until I push the button on my radio to talk, to tell my boss, ‘Hey I’m here,’” Col. Jeffery Church, chief of strategy and policy at the Army’s cyber directorate said in October. “Bam. All that physical camouflage from the eyeball just went away because now you’re broadcasting in the spectrum. So we can show that to commanders and they can start getting an appreciation of how the spectrum is a capability for them and a vulnerability.”

The Army has begun to address these concerns from a planning aspect with its Electronic Warfare Planning and Management tool. This suite allows commanders to visualize the EMS and plan around a domain that cannot be seen with the human eye.

It does not, however, get at the challenge of redesigning individual systems such as radios or jammers.

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