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This article was Originally Published on Nov 15, 2004 in Volume: 3  Issue: 3

Networked Sensors Aid Targeting

Network Centric Collaborative Targeting will enable sensors on different platforms to share information without human intervention.

By Major Barb Carson

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Humans use each of their five senses in concert to detect obstacles, respond to opportunity and avoid danger. The Air Force Command and Control Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C2ISR) Center is developing Network-Centric Collaborative Targeting (NCCT) to adapt that multi-sense ability to warfighting by allowing ISR sensors on different platforms to share information without human intervention.

Currently, Joint Stars can see enemy tank formations, their communications can be heard by Rivet Joint and a satellite flying overhead can provide real-time photos. NCCT will improve these individual capabilities by allowing machine-to-machine dialogue between these platforms to create integrated and actionable information for decision-makers to target the enemy formation rapidly and precisely.

In a joint or coalition environment, NCCT’s collaborative approach will confirm target identity and location in seconds rather than the tens of minutes it takes traditional sequential processes to move from finding the target to killing it.

Air operations in Kosovo highlighted a problem for the warfighter: Although traditional ISR sensors performed well, their stove-piped, closed network operations weren’t effective in providing timely, targeting solutions for time-sensitive threats. An individual platform would have to collect information on a target over a period time, usually measured in tens of minutes.

Efficiency was further degraded by increased time required for human analysts to process the high volume of fragmented data collected by individual sensors. Therefore, information gathered by these individual sensors frequently didn’t provide target identification and/or location to the required level of fidelity in time to be used to quickly retask combat strike forces.

Instead, the information was used primarily for intelligence preparation of the battlespace or to perform battle damage assessment following an engagement.

After discussing these shortcomings at the 1998 Defense Science Board, leaders began exploring ways to use sensors differently. NCCT was developed as a potential solution to these shortcomings.

Immediate Sharing

NCCT employs existing communications networks and links them so that critical information is shared immediately with weapon systems and decision-makers in a format that requires no further analysis. To employ NCCT, the commander determines criteria for a battlespace, including potential targets, and then tasks the ISR Division to apply the sensor network for the greatest effect.

The sensor network is aligned to capture likely enemy activity based on predicted centers of gravity and anticipated enemy response. When an enemy asset communicates or moves, a sensor platform will get a line of bearing on it and alert the other sensors to focus on the enemy asset and provide corroborating evidence of the enemy’s identity and location.

NCCT mimics the way the human central nervous system instantaneously focuses the eyes on the potential source of a threatening sound. Each NCCT participant will have a visualization capability, called the Operations Interface, to see the data collected by the other sensors immediately. Major General Tommy Crawford, commander of the Air Force Command and Control ISR Center, has called this new capability, “An exciting advance in military operations. NCCT goes beyond transformation— it’s revolutionary.”

NCCT is currently being developed and tested as an Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration by U.S. Central Command. The participants include surveillance aircraft such as AWACS, Joint Stars, Rivet Joint, U-2, Royal Air Force Nimrod-R and the U.S. Army Guardrail, as well as the Air Force Distributed Common Ground System and the Airborne Overhead Interoperability Office.

NCCT was slated to be tested in a live-fly environment for a military utility assessment during Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment (JEFX) 2004, which will provide an optimum opportunity for warfighters to give feedback on NCCT and to experience its ability to allow them to dominate the battlespace.

NCCT maximizes the use of all C2ISR assets across military service boundaries. Vice Admiral Arthur Cebrowski (retired), director of the Force Transformation Office of the Secretary of Defense, promotes NCCT as “the most important network-Centric program in the Department of Defense.”

NCCT promises to improve the warfighter’s efficiency and lethality through delivery of accurate and timely battlespace information.

Major Barb Carson is with Air Force Command and Control Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance public affairs.

Tests Back Collaborative Targeting

The Network Centric Collaborative Targeting (NCCT) has been successfully demonstrated during the Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment 2004 (JEFX-04), according to ComCept, which leads the Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD) industry team working on the project.

JEFX-04 is an Air Force sponsored combatant experiment combining live fly, live play, ground and naval forces, simulations, and technology insertion into a near-seamless warfighting environment. Held this summer, JEFX-04 was a highly focused experiment designed to validate NCCT capabilities that can be rapidly fielded.

At JEFX-04, the NCCT successfully located and identified critically important ground threats, including both time critical targets and targets prioritized by the commander. These threats limited exposure time and used other tactics similar to those observed in recent wars to prevent being targeted. However, through its coordinated and collaborative sensor networking techniques, NCCT provided targeting data to decision makers inside of the deception timelines.

ComCept, a division of L-3 Communications, leads the NCCT ACTD industry team responsible for design and development of network centric collaborative sensing, communications, and real-time networking of multiple airborne Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) assets. Other participating L-3 divisions include Integrated Systems and Communication-Systems West.

The intent of the NCCT ACTD is to develop an open network-centric architecture and software design that horizontally integrates air, space, and ground assets through machine-to-machine exchanges. In this manner, NCCT supports time sensitive and prioritized targeting operations more efficiently, accurately, and quickly.

During the exercise, NCCT correlated data from Rivet Joint, U-2, JSTARS, surrogate UAV, and national assets into composite tracks, including identification and location, significantly faster than existing systems.

“This demonstration was the first time multiple sensors on multiple platforms were successfully networked in real time, which will change the way current and future ISR systems will be employed to identify and engage targets,” said Mark Von Schwarz, president of ComCept.

As part of the concept, NCCT integrates common software applications on all sensor platforms to change the way they gather, process and report information with the goal of providing a common correlated picture to all network participants. All participating platforms and ground stations can exchange data, as well as cue other participants to coherently collect and reveal information otherwise unreported by individual stove-piped platforms.

Sensor information from NCCT platforms is combined to create a more complete view of the Battle Space. By efficiently networking and synchronizing sensors in real-time and combining multiple types of sensor detections, NCCT significantly increases the probability of detection and identification of fixed, stationary, or moving surface targets while reducing the time required to accomplish these actions by more than 90 percent.

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