22 février 2021 | C4ISR

GEOINT provider BlackSky to go public through merger with investment company

The company will be listed publicly following a $1.5 billion merger with a special purpose acquisition company this summer.


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  • Arctic military port first promised in 2007 sees new delay

    5 août 2020 | Local, Naval

    Arctic military port first promised in 2007 sees new delay

    August 4, 2020   By Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press OTTAWA—The construction of a new military refuelling station in the Arctic is facing another delay more than 13 years after it was first promised by the federal government, with one analyst raising concerns about other pressing military needs in the region. Former prime minister Stephen Harper announced plans to build the Nanisivik deep-water port in Nunavut, along with up to eight armed Arctic patrol vessels, during a trip to the Far North in 2007. The port, considered one of the crown jewels of the Conservative government’s Arctic strategy, was intended to provide fuel to the patrol ships and other federal vessels while expanding the military’s permanent footprint in the North. The long-standing expectation was that the port located at the site of an old mining jetty on Baffin Island, about 20 kilometres from the community of Arctic Bay, would be ready by the time the first of those ships was delivered to the Royal Canadian Navy. Yet while the first Arctic patrol vessel was handed over to the navy on Friday after numerous delays and cost overruns, the Department of National Defence confirmed the Nanisivik facility won’t be operational until at least 2022. Defence Department spokeswoman Jessica Lamirande said COVID-19 scuttled this year’s construction season, which can only occur between June and September because of weather in the North. “Due to COVID-19 delays, a small number of contractors are expected to return to the site in August to start the 2020 work season,” Lamirande said in an email. “This means the season will be much shorter than planned and will only allow for a limited amount of work to be completed.” COVID-19 is only the most recent challenge to plague construction of the Nanisivik facility, which was originally supposed to be up and running in 2013 and include an airstrip and be manned throughout the year. The airstrip and year-round service were cut from the plans after the project’s original $100-million budget was found to have more than doubled to $258 million in 2013. The current price tag is estimated at $146 million, according to Lamirande. The federal government has also faced environmental hurdles due to the need to clean up the old fuel-tank farm located on the site, which was home to a port used to ship ore from an old zinc mine. There were also structural issues with the existing jetty. Lamirande said significant progress has been made on the facility since the first full construction season in 2015, with nearly all fuelling infrastructure in place. But the fact the port still hasn’t been finished, despite the scope of the project having been dramatically scaled back, is both disheartening and troubling, said defence analyst David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. Canada’s relative difficulty building a single port with limited facilities in the North contrasts sharply with Russia’s massive Arctic expansion in recent years, Perry said, and bodes poorly for needed Canadian military investments in the region. Those include upgrading the string of increasingly obsolete radars that forms the backbone of North America’s system for incoming missiles and air- and water-based threats, as well as several airstrips in the area that will be used by Canada’s new fighter jets. Those projects are expected to start in the coming years. “It’s kind of dispiriting how long it has taken us to develop relatively simple infrastructure at one of the most accessible parts of our Arctic,” Perry said of Nanisivik. “The length of time it has taken us to build doesn’t leave a lot of confidence that the other projects are going to move in a relatively quick timeframe.” https://www.on-sitemag.com/construction/arctic-military-port-first-promised-in-2007-sees-new-delay/1003969425/

  • Moving further into the information age with Joint All-Domain Command and Control

    10 juillet 2020 | International, C4ISR

    Moving further into the information age with Joint All-Domain Command and Control

    Lt. Gen. David Deptula (ret.) The United States’ comparative military advantage has eroded significantly as the technologies that helped sustain its primacy since the Cold War have proliferated to great power and regional competitors such as China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran. They have evolved their capabilities and operational approaches to negate and otherwise avoid traditional American warfighting strengths. The United States is highly unlikely to regain its competitive advantage through like-for-like replacements of its legacy platforms with incremental improvements while remaining beholden to industrial age notions of warfare focused on individual weapon systems focused on inflicting attrition. Instead, future success demands that the U.S. military embrace a new approach. Advancements in computing and information technology hold the potential to radically transform how military forces attain desired effects, where success depends foremost on the speed and integration of information. By harnessing information technologies to promote the rapid and seamless exchange of information across platforms, domains, services, and even coalition partners, commanders can make faster decisions and better integrate actions across domains. In such a manner, we can enable friendly forces to operate inside the adversary’s decision-making cycle and impose multiple, simultaneous dilemmas that collectively confound and paralyze an adversary’s ability to respond. To put it simply — it comes down to understanding the battlespace to know when and where to position forces to maximize their effectiveness, while minimizing vulnerabilities. Realizing this future vision of combat, however, faces challenges given legacy command and control (C2) systems and processes currently in use that were not designed for the speed and complexity that information age all-domain operations demand. Overcoming these constraints will require not just material changes involving technology, but also a shift in how the role of networks and information systems are perceived relative to weapons and platforms. Recognizing this, military leaders are pursuing joint all-domain command and control (JADC2) as the guiding construct to address these challenges. Undeniably an ambitious undertaking, the success of JADC2 will ultimately depend upon having a champion at the top of the Department of Defense that will guide the modernization of related policy, acquisition, and concepts of operations toward a common goal that all relevant stakeholders can understand and accept as the desired way forward. Progress to date Although U.S. forces can presently conduct multi-domain operations, current practices are far from what will be required when facing advanced adversaries. Each service branch and coalition partner organize, train, and equip their own forces, which joint force commanders then stitch together in a federated “joint and combined” employment construct. This ensures that military personnel and their communications and weapon systems can work together in a synchronized fashion. In other words, the services tend to develop their capabilities in a stand-alone manner focused around their primary operating domain without an overarching construct to ensure joint or allied partner interoperability. This often leads to strategies focused on deconfliction versus collaborative partnership or the interdependence required to achieve force multiplying effects with available resources. As a result, the employment of these capabilities is at best additive, rather than complementary where each one enhances the effectiveness of the whole, while compensating for the vulnerabilities of other assets, optimizing the force’s overall capacity for dynamic exploitation of opportunities. The good news is the services agree that data is the principal currency of future warfare and that leveraging data through a network that connects forces across both domains and services to seamlessly collect, process, and share data will provide an asymmetric advantage in future conflicts. The bad news is that the services are pursuing a number of individual, stove-piped efforts aligned with their own distinct requirements. The development of concepts such as Multi-Domain Operations, Multi-Domain Command and Control, Distributed Maritime Operations, and Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations, as well as their associated capabilities such as the Cooperative Engagement Capability and the Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System, have been sporadic and uncoordinated, consisting of dozens of programs being developed independently and lacking a coherent vision to align mission requirements and reconcile gaps or redundancies. To better streamline and synchronize these efforts under the JADC2 banner, the joint staff and the Office of the Secretary of Defense created a joint cross-functional team including representatives from the offices of the DOD Chief Information Officer, the Under Secretary of Defense for Research & Engineering, and the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition & Sustainment. This body is charged with bringing the services together to develop the JADC2 construct by identifying gaps and requirements, enhancing experimentation collaboration, and recommending resource allocation for both materiel and non-materiel C2 capability improvements, while also being mindful of the distinct capabilities inherent in each service and government security organization. At the same time, the Secretary of Defense has tasked the joint staff to deliver a warfighting concept that outlines how the U.S. military plans to fight in the future — a much needed update to existing joint concepts that are becoming increasingly outdated. By describing the capabilities and attributes necessary to fight effectively in the future operating environment—including for JADC2 — this concept will inform the requirements that are produced by the joint requirements oversight council and pushed out to the services. This top-down guidance is critical to help inform bottom-up technological development and experimentation. Although each of the services has been active developing related technologies, the Air Force has taken the rare step of volunteering to lead JADC2′s development as a joint function. Currently, these efforts center on the Advanced Battle Management System — essentially a “combat cloud” to connect any sensor with any shooter across all domains—that the Air Force is using as its technical engine for enabling JADC2. To help field new capabilities as fast as possible and cultivate broader buy-in, the Air Force is partnering with the other services to conduct small-scale field demonstrations scheduled for every four months. The first experiment was completed in December 2019, which connected Air Force aircraft, Space Force sensors, Navy surface vessels and aircraft, Army air defense and fire units, and a Special Operations Team with incompatible data and communications systems to defeat a simulated cruise missile. These efforts are intended to develop both the architecture and the technologies required to implement JADC2. As currently envisioned, ABMS includes six key “product categories” and 28 specific “product lines” the Air Force intends to develop over time. Underpinning all these efforts is digital engineering, open architecture, and data standards that allow all the disparate elements to ‘snap’ together. Obstacles remain Despite encouraging progress and widespread agreement of the necessity for JADC2 across the services and other relevant defense agencies in the DOD, significant obstacles remain before its full potential can be realized. Foremost among these challenges, current organizational structures and service cultures do not align well with JADC2′s emphasis on employing assets in service- and domain-agnostic ways that entail dynamically connecting sensors and shooters across domains and enabling multiple, rapid shifts in supporting/supported relationships. Specifically, JADC2 raises difficult questions regarding who has decision authority and risk acceptance. Although joint force commanders exercise operational control over joint forces and are tasked to maintain conditions for joint force success, the subordinate command structure tends to exacerbate military service and domain stovepipes that are resistant to ceding control over their assets. Similar frictions are likely to extend beyond a single combatant command, particularly in terms of integrating space and cyberspace capabilities, which have their own functional combatant commands. Of course, this assumes U.S. forces eventually reach a level of integration that makes resolving such relevant operational authorities necessary. The current service-based model for systems development and acquisition is not optimal for achieving the level of interdependency that JADC2 envisions. Given the complexity and number of programs likely to be affected by ABMS, the Air Force created the position of chief architect to ensure it acquires the right mix of capabilities in a coherent manner. However, the authority of that position does not extend to the other services, which are likely to focus on their own specific operating requirements as they fund and develop their components of JADC2′s technical architecture. Furthermore, ABMS technical demonstrations focused on connectivity have thus far outpaced development of the operational concepts it is intended to support. Consequently, JADC2 risks over-emphasizing communications and ubiquitous connectivity at the expense of effective battle management. This could have several deleterious implications for future operations. First, it could exacerbate the tendency of senior commanders to centralize control, usurping tactical level decisions. Second, the desire to push as much information as possible forward to the tactical edge could overwhelm warfighters, resulting in operational paralysis or chaos. Third, it could result in unrealistic communications demands, particularly in a conflict with China or Russia or their proxies where the United States’ exploitation of the electromagnetic spectrum will be fiercely contested. Lastly, given the enormous financial investment JADC2 entails, maintaining stable funding will present a continual challenge due to both the likely downward pressure on the defense budget resulting from the COVID-19 epidemic and because it is challenging to cultivate a constituency on Capitol Hill for ethereal “connections” and “data” compared to more tangible platforms, some of which the Air Force defunded in its latest budget proposal in part to fund further development of ABMS. Furthermore, JADC2 is likely to face ongoing scrutiny because the nature of the program does not lend itself to traditional methods of evaluation, as evidenced by the Government Accountability Office’s recent report that was highly critical of ABMS. The path forward   Navigating these challenges requires the highest level of direction from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and centralized, OSD-level management along the lines of the recently formed joint cross-functional team to champion overall JADC2 development. Using a DOTMILPF-P (doctrine, organization, training, materiel, interoperability, logistics, personnel, facilities, & policy) approach, the primary goal of this group should be to define a “template” to guide modernization policy, acquisition, and concepts of operation. The United States requires the distinct capabilities inherent in its separate military services and other defense agencies. However, they must be bound by a common vision for employing joint and combined forces, as well as an overarching strategy to realize the JADC2 concept. The United States cannot risk boutique solutions that do not integrate in a seamless, mutually reinforcing fashion. To achieve this, the OSD-level group must pursue four critical lines of effort: 1) establish standards and continuity so individual programs integrate within the greater JADC2 enterprise and secure desired outcomes in a timely fashion; 2) support effective programs and help them to maintain momentum and protection from competing bureaucratic interests; 3) engage across the military services and DOD agencies to respond to combatant command warfighting requirements, while also holding participating entities accountable; and 4) ensure industry is fully integrated into appropriate JADC2 development. If properly executed, JADC2 promises to provide commanders with “decision advantage” by allowing them to gather, process, exploit, and share information at the speed and scale required to defeat potential adversaries. At the same time, allowing joint and combined forces to distribute access to relevant information more widely, JADC2 must also enable new, more flexible command and control techniques that empower subordinate elements to effectively act when they become isolated. The ability to leverage capabilities across a network through the seamless and ubiquitous sharing of information could also ease requirements for systems that are currently expected to operate independently. The complexity inherent to this approach of overloading requirements on a given program drives lengthy development cycles, time and cost overruns, and delays in capability. Instead, by leveraging numerous redundant function options through a combat cloud, individual systems could focus on narrower requirements where their capability can be maximized while also minimizing cost and technical risk. Change will not come easy, particularly given how successful the United States has been using the traditional combined arms approach. However, such complacency could be disastrous, given that critical information technology advances are often measured in days, potentially enabling competitors with less dominant industrial combat means to leapfrog past legacy military concepts by investing in newer information technologies and capabilities. The United States’ efforts to harness information are not being pursued in a vacuum—America’s adversaries are pursuing similar concepts. JADC2 may be ambitious, but it is also imperative to gain a competitive advantage to deter and, if necessary, defeat those potential adversaries. https://www.c4isrnet.com/opinion/2020/07/09/moving-further-into-the-information-age-with-joint-all-domain-command-and-control/

  • Can the Army perfect an AI strategy for a fast and deadly future?

    15 octobre 2019 | International, C4ISR

    Can the Army perfect an AI strategy for a fast and deadly future?

    By: Kelsey D. Atherton Military planners spent the first two days of the Association of the United States Army’s annual meeting outlining the future of artificial intelligence for the service and tracing back from this imagined future to the needs of the present. This is a world where AI is so seamless and ubiquitous that it factors into everything from rifle sights to logistical management. It is a future where every soldier is a node covered in sensors, and every access point to that network is under constant threat by enemies moving invisibly through the very parts of the electromagnetic spectrum that make networks possible. It is a future where weapons can, on their own, interpret the world, position themselves within it, plot a course of action, and then, in the most extreme situations, follow through. It is a world of rich battlefield data, hyperfast machines and vulnerable humans. And it is discussed as an inevitability. “We need AI for the speed at which we believe we will fight future wars,” said Brig. Gen. Matthew Easley, director of the Army AI Task Force. Easley is one of a handful of people with an outsized role shaping how militaries adopt AI. The past of data future   Before the Army can build the AI it needs, the service needs to collect the data that will fuel and train its machines. In the shortest terms, that means the task force’s first areas of focus will include preventative maintenance and talent management, where the Army is gathering a wealth of data. Processing what is already collected has the potential for an outsized impact on the logistics and business side of administering the Army. For AI to matter in combat, the Army will need to build a database of what sensor-readable events happen in battle, and then refine that data to ultimately provide useful information to soldiers. And to get there means turning every member of the infantry into a sensor. “Soldier lethality is fielding the Integrated Visual Augmentation Systems, or our IVAS soldier goggles that each of our infantry soldiers will be wearing,” Easley said. “In the short term, we are looking at fielding nearly 200,000 of these systems.” The IVAS is built on top of Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented reality tool. That the equipment has been explicitly tied to not just military use, but military use in combat, led to protests from workers at Microsoft who objected to the product of their labor being used with “intent to harm.” And with IVAS in place, Easley imagines a scenario where IVAS sensors plot fields of fire for every soldier in a squad, up through a platoon and beyond. “By the time it gets to [a] battalion commander,” Easley said, “they’re able to say where their dead zones are in front of [the] defensive line. They’ll know what their soldiers can touch right now, and they’ll know what they can’t touch right now.” Easley compared the overall effect to the data collection done by commercial companies through the sensors on smartphones — devices that build detailed pictures of the individuals carrying them. Fitting sensors to infantry, vehicles or drones can help build the data the Army needs to power AI. Another path involves creating synthetic data. While the Army has largely fought the same type of enemy for the past 18 years, preparing for the future means designing systems that can handle the full range of vehicles and weapons of a professional military. With insurgents unlikely to field tanks or attack helicopters at scale anytime soon, the Army may need to generate synthetic data to train an AI to fight a near-peer adversary. Faster, stronger, better, more autonomous “I want to proof the threat,” said Bruce Jette, the Army’s assistant secretary for acquisition, logistics and technology, while speaking at a C4ISRNET event on artificial intelligence at AUSA. Jette then set out the kind of capability he wants AI to provide, starting from the perspective of a tank turret. “Flip the switch on, it hunts for targets, it finds targets, it classifies targets. That’s a Volkswagen, that’s a BTR [Russian-origin armored personnel carrier], that’s a BMP [Russian-origin infantry fighting vehicle]. It determines whether a target is a threat or not. The Volkswagen’s not a threat, the BTR is probably a threat, the BMP is a threat, and it prioritizes them. BMP is probably more dangerous than the BTR. And then it classifies which one’s [an] imminent threat, one’s pointing towards you, one’s driving away, those type of things, and then it does a firing solution to the target, which one’s going to fire first, then it has all the firing solutions and shoots it.” Enter Jette’s ideal end state for AI: an armed machine that senses the world around it, interprets that data, plots a course of action and then fires a weapon. It is the observe–orient–decide–act cycle without a human in the loop, and Jette was explicit on that point. “Did you hear me anywhere in there say ‘man in the loop?,’ ” Jette said. “Of course, I have people throwing their hands up about ‘Terminator,’ I did this for a reason. If you break it into little pieces and then try to assemble it, there’ll be 1,000 interface problems. I tell you to do it once through, and then I put the interface in for any safety concerns we want. It’s much more fluid.” In Jette’s end state, the AI of the vehicle is designed to be fully lethal and autonomous, and then the safety features are added in later — a precautionary stop, a deliberate calming intrusion into an already complete system. Jette was light on the details of how to get from the present to the thinking tanks of tomorrow’s wars. But it is a process that will, by necessity, involve buy-in and collaboration with industry to deliver the tools, whether it comes as a gestalt whole or in a thousand little pieces. Learning machines, fighting machines Autonomous kill decisions, with or without humans in the loop, are a matter of still-debated international legal and ethical concern. That likely means that Jette’s thought experiment tank is part of a more distant future than a host of other weapons. The existence of small and cheap battlefield robots, however, means that we are likely to see AI used against drones in the more immediate future. Before robots fight people, robots will fight robots. Before that, AI will mostly manage spreadsheets and maintenance requests. “There are systems now that can take down a UAS pretty quickly with little collateral damage,” Easley said. “I can imagine those systems becoming much more autonomous in the short term than many of our other systems.” Autonomous systems designed to counter other fast, autonomous systems without people on board are already in place. The aptly named Counter Rocket, Artillery, and Mortar, or C-RAM, systems use autonomous sensing and reaction to specifically destroy projectiles pointed at humans. Likewise, autonomy exists on the battlefield in systems like loitering munitions designed to search for and then destroy anti-air radar defense systems. Iterating AI will mean finding a new space of what is acceptable risk for machines sent into combat. “From a testing and evaluation perspective, we want a risk knob. I want the commander to be able to go maximum risk, minimum risk,” said Brian Sadler, a senior research scientist at the Army Research Laboratory. “When he’s willing to take that risk, that’s OK. He knows his current rules of engagement, he knows where he’s operating, he knows if he uses some platforms; he’s willing to make that sacrifice. In his work at the Vehicle Technology Directorate of the Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, Sadler is tasked with catching up the science of AI to the engineered reality of it. It is not enough to get AI to work; it has to be understood. “If people don’t trust AI, people won’t use it,” Tim Barton, chief technology officer at Leidos, said at the C4ISRNET event. Building that trust is an effort that industry and the Army have to tackle from multiple angles. Part of it involves iterating the design of AI tools with the people in the field who will use them so that the information analyzed and the product produced has immediate value. “AI should be introduced to soldiers as an augmentation system,” said Lt. Col. Chris Lowrance, a project manager in the Army’s AI Task Force. “The system needs to enhance capability and reduce cognitive load.” Away from but adjacent to the battlefield, Sadler pointed to tools that can provide immediate value even as they’re iterated upon. “If it’s not a safety of life mission, I can interact with that analyst continuously over time in some kind of spiral development cycle for that product, which I can slowly whittle down to something better and better, and even in the get-go we’re helping the analyst quite a bit,” Sadler said. “I think Project Maven is the poster child for this,” he added, referring to the Google-started tool that identifies objects from drone footage. Project Maven is the rare intelligence tool that found its way into the public consciousness. It was built on top of open-source tools, and workers at Google circulated a petition objecting to the role of their labor in creating something that could “lead to potentially lethal outcomes.” The worker protest led the Silicon Valley giant to outline new principles for its own use of AI. Ultimately, the experience of engineering AI is vastly different than the end user, where AI fades seamlessly into the background, becoming just an ambient part of modern life. If the future plays out as described, AI will move from a hyped feature, to a normal component of software, to an invisible processor that runs all the time. “Once we succeed in AI,” said Danielle Tarraf, a senior information scientist at the think tank Rand, “it will become invisible like control systems, noticed only in failure.” https://www.c4isrnet.com/artificial-intelligence/2019/10/15/can-the-army-perfect-an-ai-strategy-for-a-fast-and-deadly-future

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