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  • Army Wrestles With SIGINT vs. EW

    1 août 2018 | International, Terrestre, C4ISR

    Army Wrestles With SIGINT vs. EW

    This internal budget battle in the Army could cede the actual battlefield to high-powered Russian and Chinese jammers, electronic warfare advocates fear, with the same lethal consequences for US troops that Ukrainian forces have suffered since 2014. By SYDNEY J. FREEDBERG JR. CAPITOL HILL: Can the Army unite its rival tribes to retake the high-tech high groundof modern warfare, the electromagnetic spectrum? Those are the stakes in the service's ongoing internal struggles over doctrine, organization, and an obscure but critical program known as TLIS, the Terrestrial Layer Intelligence System. Army leaders see TLIS as a powerful synergy between Signals Intelligence (SIGINT), which eavesdrops on and locates enemy transmissions, and Electronic Warfare (EW), which jams those same transmissions and can be used for cyber warfare. But TLIS, as the “intelligence” in its name implies, began as a pure SIGINT system, before it absorbed the former Multi-Function Electronic Warfare (MFEW) program, and there's always the possible it might regress. At least some electronic warriors hear worrying rumors that the more powerful SIGINT branch wants to save money on TLIS by cutting back on its jamming capabilities, leaving it as a passive sensor rather than an active weapon. This internal budget battle in the Army could cede the actual battlefield to high-powered Russian and Chinese jammers, electronic warfare advocates fear, with the same lethal consequences for US troops that Ukrainian forces have suffered since 2014. “The intel people will finally be able to get rid of EW, again, by taking it over, again, and crushing it,” said Col. Jeffrey Church, who until his retirement last year was the most senior Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO) in the Army: There are no EW generals, in stark contrast to SIGINT and cyber. Church was also the last EWO to run the electronic warfare directorate on the Army's Pentagon staff: His immediate successor was an engineer — an expert on bridges and minefields, not electrons. Both the staff directorate and the EWO specialty have since been folded into Army cyber. “Next,” Church predicted in a bitter post on LinkedIn, “they will cancel the intel portions of MFEW they insisted be written into the EW requirements (i.e. when MFEW was folded into TLIS) and thereby kill the MFEW program.” “I don't think your article will affect anything for Army EW,” a weary Church told me. “The only thing that will is when a bunch of our soldiers get killed. Then the Army will act shocked by it and be compelled to bring EW into the force with real gear, real operators, real training and real EW leadership.” Synergy or Tension? From drones to foot troops, radio to radar, networks to GPS, everything in a 21st century military has to send and receive signals through the electromagnetic spectrum — which means everything can be detected, targeted, and disrupted. Russia and China have invested massively in electronic warfare since the end of the Cold War while the US disbanded most EW. Today, while the Navy and Air Forcehave high-cost jamming aircraft — the EA-18G Growler and EC-130H Compass Call respectively — they're too rare, expensive, and over-powered to support small units on the ground. But the US Army's own arsenal consists almost entirely of short-range jammers that fit in backpacks or on Humvees, most of them designed to disable radio detonators for roadside bombs. Meanwhile Russia and China have fleets of heavy trucks packed with high-power EW gear that can scramble US signals hundreds of miles away. The Army's original solution to this problem was called Multi-Function Electronic Warfare (MFEW), a common family of sensors and jammers meant to go on trucks, drones and manned aircraft — eventually. But the service decided to fold MFEW into the land-based TLIS and an as-yet-unnamed airborne counterpart instead. “We are specifically looking at putting SIGINT, EW and cyber on the same platform, both on the ground and in the air,” Maj. Gen. Robert Walters told a July 18 forumorganized by the Association of Old Crows, an EW professional group. As commander of the Army's intelligence center at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., Walters is the Army's lead “proponent” for TLIS requirements, with the cyber center at Fort Gordon, Ga. in a significant supporting role. There's a natural synergy here, Walters said. SIGINT finds the enemy signals and analyzes them, then cyber and electronic warfare can target the weak links in the enemy network. While he didn't say so out loud, that's how it's done by the current masters of the art, the Russians, whose SIGINT and EW officers often sit side by side in the same vehicle so they can quickly coordinate devastating electromagnetic maneuvers, as in Ukraine. But there's also a tension between the two sides. Intelligence naturally wants to keep listening to the enemy signals to find out more, whereas cyber/EW warriors want to shut them down or use them to feed cyber weapons into. Now, you can try to shut down only the enemy's most secure networks so they have to use the ones SIGINT can easily crack. That's what the Russians did against the Ukrainians, forcing them off their military radios onto personal cellphones — but it's not easy to pull off. Second, when EW turns on its jammers, their powerful signal doesn't just disrupt enemy transmissions: It also provides a big target for enemy missiles and artillery radars to home in on. At best, that means the combined SIGINT/EW unit has to relocate frequently, disrupting listening operations. At worst, it means the combined unit blows up in one shot. (You can reduce the risk to your troops by putting the jammers on drones or ground robots operated from a distance by remote control, but that creates a new problem: The enemy can detect, decode and jam your communications with the robots). So how well will the Army balance these tensions? Right now, said one well-connected electronic warfare expert, the intelligence branch is in the driver's seat, and “once again intel has defaulted back to SIGINT, which disappoints me.....It's not looking too good.” This attitude may be overly pessimistic. But there's little cause for optimism in Army's unhappy history of internecine intramural rivalries and cancelled procurement programs. Is Big Six Missing One? The current Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, is trying to make a break with the service's dysfunctional past. He has named six modernization priorities, each with its own Cross Functional Team (CFT), led by a general who can pull in people from across the bureaucracy and put them in one room until they thrash out how to get things done. Those CTFs, in turn, will play a leading role in the new Army Futures Command being stood up in Austin. But electronic warfare has no clear home in this new structure. Of the six priorities — 1) long-range artillery, 2) armored vehicles, 3) aircraft, 4) networks, 5) air & missile defense, and 6) soldier equipment, in that order — the closest fit is with Priority No. 4, the network. That covers all the computerized communication and data systems the Army uses to transmit orders and intelligence: Lose all those and you're back to carrier pigeons. So, understandably, the emphasis of the network Cross Functional Team is on defending the US network from jamming and hacking, not on attacking enemy networks with our own jammers and hackers. A spin-off CFT on Precision Navigation & Timing has a similar defensive focus: How can US forces keep track of where everything is and when it has to happen if the enemy disrupts GPS? For that matter, the entire cyber center at Fort Gordon, despite having responsibility for electronic warfare, evolved when the old Signal Corps school took on a growing role in not just setting up communications networks but defending them. It's only recently taken on an offensive role, and primarily in cyberspace rather than electronic warfare. So all these leading Army organizations have the same focus on defense. Their job is to keep the network working under attack. But defense is not enough on its own. A tank doesn't just need armor: It needs a gun. Maybe a network doesn't just need cybersecurity and resilience against jamming: It needs to be able to attack the other side's network. A rmy Secretary Mark Esper has made clear the Big Six priorities are unlikely to change, so don't expect him to add electronic warfare as Big No. 7 any time soon. But there is still some wiggle room to spin off subsidiary priorities with their own Cross Functional Teams. In fact, from the beginning, there've been eight Cross Functional Teams, not six: The network priority is also supported by that Precision Navigation & Timing CFT, while the soldier equipment CFT spun off a training simulations CFT. Now, that eight-fold structure hasn't changed since the initial announcement in 2016. But there's no fundamental reason why the Army couldn't add a ninth CFT for electronic warfare, supporting the network priority area alongside the PNT team. What this would take — besides a memo from Esper and Milley — would be a fundamental change in how the Army thinks about “the network,” as an offensive weapon instead of a mere technical function. his is a philosophical shift. There's a longstanding tendency in Western militaries to focus on reducing what Clausewitz called the friction and fog of war, the innumerable minor mishaps, miscommunications, and misunderstandings that constantly impede military operations. The ambition to “lift the fog of war” reached its peak of hubris in the “transformation” movement before the invasion of Iraq, where the fog rolled in again unstoppably. Eastern tradition, by contrast, has long seen fog and friction as not only obstacles but weapons: You want to reduce them for your own side, of course, but also to increase them for the enemy. Hence Sun Tzu's maxim that “all warfare is based on deception,” a concept the Russians have embraced with their doctrine of maskirovka and which seems well-suited to the information age. So, instead of treating the network simply as an electromagnetic means to reduce our fog and friction, why not extend the concept to include electromagnetic means to increase the enemy's fog and friction? Instead of an asset to be defended, what if it's a weapon to attack? s the Network a Weapon? There are signs the Army is starting to think this way. At the Capitol Hill forum, Lt. Gen. Stephen Fogarty — current head of Army Cyber Command and former chief of the Cyber Center at Fort Gordon — even talked about the network as a “weapon” and (intentionally or not) echoed Sun Tzu. “We've truly started to operationalize the Army networks,” Fogarty said. “That's the foundational weapons platform for a modern military.” Without the network, he said, you can't do persistent intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); long-range precision fires (LRPF) with missiles and artillery; logistics; medical evacuation; or command and control (C2, what the Army now calls “mission command”). Now, Fogarty's list is about how the network enables other parts of the Army, rather than the network taking the offensive itself. Still, calling the network a “weapons system” is a long way from the old-school Army view of it as a mere utility, a technical convenience the geeks set up in the back room so the real mencan go up front and fight. Why is the network so fundamental, in Fogarty's view? Because, he said, “our ability to operate and defend that network is what gives our commanders the ability to do two things: to see the adversary and see ourselves.” Once again, Fogarty is not talking about using the network to attack, only to “operate and defend.” Nevertheless, he's sounding an awful lot like Sun Tzu: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” Or as Fogarty put it, with less elegance but more specificity: “In the multi-domain battlespace, not of the future but of today, against peer and near-peer adversaries, whoever has the ability to sense, understand, decide, and act faster than their opponent (will) enjoy decisive advantage.” (He's referring to an updated version of the classic OODA loop: Observe, Orient, Decide, & Act). That requires bringing formerly disparate specialties together in new ways, said Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, the deputy chief of Army staff for intelligence (G-2). “Our primary challenge is one of integration,” he told the AOC forum. “Future forces must integrate SIGINT, electronic warfare, and cyber capabilities to provide situational awareness” — i.e. know yourself, know your enemy — “and enable commanders to deliver kinetic and non-kinetic fires” — i.e. both physical attacks, like missiles, bombs, and shells, and intangible ones, like hacking and jamming. This transition can be intellectually and culturally wrenching, Berrier admitted. “While the tribes have come together, there are still members of the tribes that are a little obstinate,” he said to laughter. For those who don't see the inherent benefits, however, Berrier added, “another reason we're doing it is that the Chief of Staff of the Army told us to do it.”

  • Despite Trump’s Rhetoric, U.S. Defense Firms Pitch Moving Production To India

    1 août 2018 | International, Aérospatial

    Despite Trump’s Rhetoric, U.S. Defense Firms Pitch Moving Production To India

    As big defense firms line up to pitch their fighter planes to India, the government of Narendra Modi is demanding they build in India, something that might be at odds with the Trumpian America First philosophy. By PAUL MCLEARY WASHINGTON: The Trump administration has cleared the decks for what promises to be a huge increase in technology and weapons exports to India, putting the country on the same footing as members of NATO, and allies like Japan and Australia, when it comes to favored export status. While the new status may pave the way for major U.S. defense firms to lock up multi-billion deals with the Indian government, those deals would likely come with the stipulation that production be moved to India, something American defense giants like Lockheed Martin and Boeing have promised to do, even if it runs counter to the Trump administration's focus on creating more manufacturing jobs at home. Such offsets, as they are known in the arms export business, are a staple of such deals and are a crucial part of negotiations. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross made the announcement yesterday as part of the US government's continuing efforts to draw closer to Delhi, partly as a bulwark against Chinese expansionism in the region. Granting India Strategic Trade Authorization status also comes as the Indian military is considering spending tens of billions of dollars on drones, fighters and helicopters made by U.S. defense manufacturers. Ross, speaking at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event, said the move reflects India's efforts to abide by multilateral export rules, and “provides India greater supply chain efficiency, both for defense, and for other high-tech products.” India's ambassador to the United States, Navtej Sarna, added that it is a sign of trust in India's “capabilities as an economy and as a security partner, because it also...would allow the transfer of more sensitive defense technologies,” and “fleshes out our defense partnership in a big way.” But the new trade status can only do so much, and India's decades-long reliance on Russian weaponry over U.S. or European equipment is something that shows no sign of changing anytime soon, a fact that rankles many on Capitol Hill. In Washington, the House recently passed its version of the 2019 NDAA, which granted Defense Secretary James Mattis' request to waive sanctions on partner countries that have bought Russian arms in the past, but the Senate has yet to take up the bill, and is expected to vote on it some time next month. The waivers, Mattis said in a series of letters to lawmakers, would allow the Pentagon to forge closer ties with countries like India, Vietnam, and Indonesia, by not penalizing them for having Russian equipment, even as they move closer to the U.S. But the chronically chaotic state of the Indian military's acquisition practices also presents significant hurdles, according to experts. Air Marshal M. Matheswaran, former deputy chief of the defense staff in the Indian Ministry of Defense told an audience at the Stimson Center in Washington that the Indian government and military often seek to simply to “fill in technological gaps” they believe they have, rather than building strategically. “Their procurement is a mess. They're not joint. They're risk adverse. They've just got a ton of problems,” one former White House official, who asked to speak anonymously, told me. “Broadly, in procurement they have tried in the post-Cold War era to diversify their procurements as a political sop to potential partners,” he said. “They start to move more through the pipeline than they can actually pay for, and they end up building this very motley force in a way that's not always coherent.” As it stands, the United States accounts for about 12 percent of India's defense imports, a number which is expected to grow 6.2 percent annually through 2023, according to a recent study by Avescent, a consulting firm. The Indian defense budget, at more than $53 billion, is the fifth-largest in the world, and as the Avascent analysis noted, it “is also one of the most competitive,” as local companies battle it out, along with a mix of Russian, French, Israeli, and American firms. The air force, for example, flys Russian MiG and French Rafale fighters, along with American C-17 and C-130 transport aircraft and Israeli Heron drones. In recent years, France has emerged as the big winner in several hard-fought awards, inking an $8.6 billion contract for 36 Rafale fighter aircraft in 2016 — which will serve as India's primary nuclear delivery aircraft — and a deal for six Scorpene-class submarines for $4.6 billion in 2005. As part of the government's “Make in India” initiative, most of the work on the subs will be done at the Mazagon dockyard in Mumbai. But Russia isn't going anywhere. Moscow is on the verge of finalizing a $3.2 billion contract for four S-400 surface-to-air missile systems with India, part of about $12 billion worth of Russian arms deals in the works with the Indian government. The two countries are also close to finalizing a $1.1 billion deal for 48 additional Mi-17-V5 military transport/utility helicopters, with final signatures expected during Russian President Vladimir Putin's October visit to India. According to local reports, the contract will mandate that 30 percent of the work be done by the Indian defense industry, as part of the Modi government's push to build up the Indian manufacturing sector. The helicopters joint U.S.-made Chinooks and Apaches in the country's rotary-wing fleet. The Indian government says that it doesn't have a problem with such a mix and match approach, however, even if it does complicate supply chains. Currently, the big contract up for an award is the Indian Air Force's requirement for 110 aircraft, expected to be worth as much as $15 billion. Boeing has announced it would join with Indian firms Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and Mahindra Defense Systems to manufacture its F/A-18 Hornet in the country if it wins the contract, and Lockheed Martin has pledged to move its entire F-16 production line to India from Greenville, S.C., to India, potentially at the expense of 250 South Carolina jobs. “The F-16 gives the Indian industry a unique opportunity to be at the center of the world's largest fighter aircraft ecosystem,” Lockheed exec Vivek Lallsaid earlier this year in his pitch, adding that the company was ready to equip the jets with the same target tracking device currently on the F-35, as well as a helmet-mounted tracking system and a new radio data link system. Swedish defense giant Saab Group is also in the running for the fighter deal, and has announced it is ready to do a “full” technology transfer of its Gripen-E fighter jet production to India if it wins the competition. Boeing, in conjunction with Indian manufacturer Tata has already moved part of its Apache helicopter fuselage manufacturing to India, and the factory will eventually be the sole supplier of the part for Boeing's worldwide sales. The promise was one of the keys to the company winning the $3.1 billion deal in 2015 for 22 Apache and 15 Chinook helicopters. While the deal for the fighter planes shakes out over the coming months, the competition is merely one part of a larger American push, which included a recent visit by the Pentagon's top weapons buyer, Ellen Lord, and the upcoming “two-plus-two” meeting between defense minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and their American counterparts, James Mattis and Mike Pompeo. And in a jab at the Russians, Indian officials announced this week that they would be replacing their Russian-made Pechora air defense systems around the capital in a $1 billion deal to buy the NASAMS-II, manufactured by Kongsberg and Raytheon.

  • Navy Exercises Options For Additional Future Frigate Design Work

    1 août 2018 | International, Naval

    Navy Exercises Options For Additional Future Frigate Design Work

    By: Ben Werner The Navy has exercised options adding several million dollars to the future guided-missile frigate (FFG(X)) conceptual design work being performed by five shipbuilders in contention for the final hull design. The Navy expects bids from the following shipbuilders – Austal USA, Huntington Ingalls Industries, General Dynamics Bath Iron Works, Lockheed Martin and Fincantieri Marinette Marine. A final request for proposal is expected in 2019, with the Navy planning to award a single source design and construction contract in 2020, according to the Navy. Ultimately, the Navy plans to build a fleet of 20 frigates Each company was awarded initial contracts of $15 million in February to start design work. The latest contract modification, announced Monday, sends between $6.4 million and $8 million in additional funding to each company to be used fleshing out their designs. “Each company is maturing their proposed ship design to meet the FFG(X) System Specification. The Conceptual Design effort will inform the final specifications that will be used for the Detail Design and Construction Request for Proposal that will deliver the required capability for FFG(X),” Alan Baribeau, a Naval Sea Systems Command spokesman, said in an email to USNI News. Each design for the future frigate competition is based on existing designs the shipbuilders are already producing. The Navy expects to spend between $800 million and $950 million on each hull, which will follow the Littoral Combat Ship. In terms of combat and communications systems, the Navy plans to use what is already deployed on LCS platforms. USNI News understands the new frigates will use the COMBATSS-21 Combat Management System, which uses software from the same common source library as the Aegis Combat System on large surface combatants. Missile systems for the frigate include the canister-launched over-the-horizon missile; the surface-to-surface Longbow Hellfire missile; the Mk53 Nulka decoy launching system and the Surface Electron Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP) Block 2 program with SLQ-32(V)6. The ships would also require an unspecified number of vertical launch cells. The frigate design also is expected to include the SeaRAM anti-ship missile defense system and several undersea warfare tools. The complete list of companies awarded contract options on their respective contracts include: Austal USA LLC (Austal), Mobile, Alabama – $6,399,053; initial contract award – $14,999,969 General Dynamics Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine – $7,950,000; initial contract award – $14,950,000 Huntington Ingalls Inc., Pascagoula, Mississippi – $7,997,406; initial contract award – $14,999,924 Lockheed Martin Inc., Baltimore, Maryland – $6,972,741; initial contract award – $14,999,889 Marinette Marine Corp., doing business as Fincantieri Marinette Marine, Marinette, Wisconsin – $7,982,991 initial contract award – $14,994,626

  • GE wins $631 million U.S. defense contract: Pentagon

    1 août 2018 | International, Aérospatial

    GE wins $631 million U.S. defense contract: Pentagon

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - General Electric Co (GE.N) has been awarded a $631 million contract for repair, replacement and program support of engine components used on the F/A-18 E/F and EA 18G aircraft, the Pentagon said in a statement on Tuesday. Reporting by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Eric Beech

  • France confirms Fincantieri-STX shipyard deal, cautious on defense merger

    1 août 2018 | International, Naval

    France confirms Fincantieri-STX shipyard deal, cautious on defense merger

    ROME (Reuters) - The French government continues to support Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri's (FCT.MI) takeover of STX France, finance minister Bruno Le Maire said on Wednesday, but cautioned against hastening a related defense naval merger. Speaking in Rome after a meeting with the Italian government, he told journalists France had not changed its position on the deal, quelling concerns the takeover could be hampered by tenser relations between Paris and Italy's new anti-establishment government. However, he warned against hastening a merger between Fincantieri and French military shipyards operator Naval Group which has been seen as a possible follow-up to the takeover of STX. “It would not be wise” to discuss a defense merger now, Le Maire told reporters, stressing that this was not part of the deal reached in 2017. Under the terms of that agreement between France and Italy, Fincantieri bought a 50 percent share in STX, but it took effective control of the French shipyards thanks to a 12-year loan of a 1 percent stake by the French state, which is subject to review clauses. Relations between France and Italy have soured in recent weeks over spats on migrants and after the Italian government raised doubts on the TAV French-Italian rail link project which would connect Lyon and Turin. Le Maire said after his meeting on Wednesday with Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio that Paris was still waiting for Italy's position on the project.

  • The calculus of cheaper military comms satellites

    31 juillet 2018 | International, Aérospatial, C4ISR

    The calculus of cheaper military comms satellites

    By: Kelsey Atherton Space is not so much hard as it is expensive. Satellites today are expensive machines, expensively built and expensive to launch, with the understanding that, once on orbit, they can work for years. That calculus assumes several eggs in every pricey basket, and as space moves from a home for military satellites to a domain where nations prepare for actual combat, building resilience in orbit means rethinking how satellites are done. It means rethinking costs in the billions and imagining them instead in the millions. And to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Paul “Rusty” Thomas it means creating a whole new ecosystem for payloads and launches. Thomas is the program manager for Blackjack, a DARPA initiative that wants to pilot a constellation of cheaper satellites for military communication, with the costs low, uplinks up and the resilience of the whole constellation baked-in. C4ISRNET's Kelsey Atherton spoke with Thomas about the program. C4ISRNET: There's a lot of interest in both low Earth orbit [LEO] and constellations of satellites. What is DARPA's specific goal with Blackjack? PAUL “RUSTY” THOMAS: Blackjack, as an architecture demonstration, will build a portion of a constellation, looking at about 20 percent of a fully proliferated LEO constellation. That's a range of 20 satellites, 20 percent of the 90 to 100 satellite constellation, which would give a ground user three to four hours per day or more of theater-level operations so that we could actually demonstrate what we're going to do with a full, fully proliferated 24/7 constellation that covers the entire Earth and gives global constant coverage and global constant custody. C4ISRNET: What was the logic behind accepting separate proposals for busses and payloads? THOMAS: Most exquisite spacecraft we built have been married to the bus and payload from Day 1. That's a wonderful model for exquisite spacecraft. But we're trying to build a proliferated LEO payload ecosystem — like the commercial commoditized bus ecosystem — that can match the numerous types of payloads. To do that you don't want to just show that one payload matches great and then move forward. That just gives you a great payload. To try and build that ecosystem out, you want to go to at least Program Design Review with the payload developers working to a generalized initial design covering numerous types of commoditized busses. Once you get deeper into the design phase, match that payload to a bus, which allows a large range of payloads to be developed. C4ISRNET: There's a lot of commercial interest in this space; does that pose any risk to deploying a new constellation? THOMAS: The goal of Blackjack is to prove you can leverage commercial approaches with potentially lower costs, lower cycle times, lower times for design and build. It also comes with the issue that we're not directing the approach to building the bus, we're not directing how the constellation is put together for these folks; therefore, the rest is getting the government itself to do that match and to put our systems into play in a way that marches in lockstep with them without directing their commercial elements will play. That brings risk. We have to learn how to do business a little different than it's been done in the past, and to move a little quicker than the government has in the past. C4ISRNET: So, there's no risk of LEO being too crowded to accommodate more constellations? THOMAS: No. Well, I wouldn't say no risk, there's always risk, the mega constellations that you're starting to see FCC filings for look like they're going to put hundreds, and some of them into the 10,000-plus range, and that's certainly going to be a challenge and it's going to be a risk. Fortunately, we have air traffic control systems on the ground that cover large numbers of aircraft in the air at any given time. We haven't actually taken that step into how to manage large numbers of spacecraft in space yet, but we believe that all the technology is there and it's just a matter of implementing an area where the government is going to be tracking what the commercial folks are doing. There's a risk — it's not major, space is big — but you absolutely need to track the spacecraft and make sure they can deorbit. But in terms of putting thousands or even tens of thousands of satellites into low Earth orbit, all of that seems very feasible and is not in the high-risk bucket. C4ISRNET: What's the rough timeline you're expecting for demonstrations? THOMAS: For the 20-satellite constellation, we plan to have the first two spacecraft that we have integrated to the commercial busses and the payload together ready by the end of 2020, with launch by early 2021. We will follow that in 2021 with the rest of the 18, once we've confirmed the first two are fine. We will have the full demonstration capability running late in 2021 with an expectation of theater-level autonomous operations from low Earth orbit in 2022. C4ISRNET: One argument for satellite constellations and against exquisite satellites is resiliency. How does that work here? THOMAS: You get a lower cost, the individual node becomes a bit expendable, you don't build your resiliency around the individual node, you don't try to protect that spacecraft to the nth degree like in exquisite billion-dollar-plus craft. If the Blackjack model works, spacecraft will be in the $3 million to $4 million range, $2 million to $3 million to put it into orbit. We're talking about a $6 million node, including the cost of getting it into space. Therefore, it's less than the cost of a high-end munition. The constellation itself becomes your resilient element. You can put your high-level availability, reliability and mission assurance at the constellation level instead of at the node, because of the numbers you're putting up. If one satellite has fallen, its replacement is coming over the horizon 10 to 15 minutes later. You have a different approach to resiliency, large numbers of spacecraft in play, which totally turns some of the counterspace elements on its ear. C4ISRNET: What counter-space elements might this be especially resilient against? THOMAS: You now have low-cost nodes, so a lot of the direct ascent type of methods out there no longer makes a lot of sense. Of course, you still have varied threats from non-kinetic and cyber. We still need to protect the constellation against all the other types of threats out there, so it probably helps the most on the kinetic side, but it certainly gives you lot of resilience in all the areas. C4ISRNET: What kind of communications presence will this enable? THOMAS: Blackjack is aimed at leveraging the new mesh networks being set up by these commercial companies. A user currently in the DoD might need to look up at two or three different options in space to actually talk and do communications in this space segment. Once we link up and do encryption, the user on the ground will look up and see hundreds or more potential network nodes overhead at any given point on the planet, North Pole to South Pole; it's going to drastically change how the DoD does communication. That is a bit independent of what Blackjack is going to do. If the commercial companies succeed and come out, that capability, call it raw gigabit-per-second class, not all of them it. But they all have many megabit data links from one point of the planet to another, at very low latency, 100-200 milliseconds, so you do really change the game for how any user, DoD included, does global communication. C4ISRNET: Is a desired end goal of Blackjack specifically a redundant spaceborne network that can function independently if access to internet on the ground is cut off? THOMAS: If you have a problem with your terrestrial network — whether it's a ground network system or point-to-point comms, fiber optics or others being interfered with — the space mesh network provides the ability to move the data up, move it through the space mesh, and move it back to the ground, without any other system being involved in that data transition. The switch network that Iridium has up right now, it's low bandwidth but a wonderful system in terms of moving data from one point to another on the planet through the Iridium gateways that DoD and its users have worldwide. Move that up to high broadband access, and not just two or three satellites overhead but dozens or hundreds, and it really does move us into a new realm. C4ISRNET: At what point in the program do bus and payload link? Is there a point where they're demoed together? THOMAS: In the [broad agency announcement] out right now, you can see we're looking for multiple payloads to go at least through phase one, potentially multiple buses to go through phase one. As we progress the programs through the preliminary design review into phase two and get critical design review, first two spacecraft built, we'll be selecting the ones to continue deeper and deeper into the program to match up and do the demo. We'll start with a wide range and narrow down to a smaller set to actually do the demonstration with a secondary objective of showing why a huge payload will work, why different types of payloads will be successful in this type of architecture, even though we've only got one or two of them. C4ISRNET: What does the future of Blackjack look like? THOMAS: We are looking at large numbers of types of payloads. We very much want to get into a rapid tech refresh cycle ... putting up payloads every two or three years that are newer version of the ones that have gone previously, have an open architecture standard so we can update over the air with better algorithms.

  • GAO backs use of commercial satellites to host military payloads

    31 juillet 2018 | International, Aérospatial

    GAO backs use of commercial satellites to host military payloads

    by Sandra Erwin “Using hosted payloads may help facilitate a proliferation of payloads on orbit, making it more difficult for an adversary to defeat a capability." WASHINGTON — The Pentagon should use commercial satellites as host platforms for military sensors and communications packages, says a new Government Accountability Office report released on Monday. GAO auditors investigated the pros and cons of “hosted payloads” and agreed with what private satellite operators have been saying for years: The military can save money and get capabilities on-orbit faster by hitching rides on commercial satellites. The industry has been building huge spacecraft that have extra carrying capacity, and hosting national security payloads is viewed as a profitable business that also helps the military fill a need. The report says there are national security benefits to deploying military payloads on commercial satellites. “Using hosted payloads may also help facilitate a proliferation of payloads on orbit, making it more difficult for an adversary to defeat a capability.” Since 2009, DoD has used three commercially hosted payloads, with three more missions planned or underway through 2022. In 2011, the Air Force created a Hosted Payload Office to provide expertise and other tools to facilitate matching government payloads with commercial hosts. GAO found that defense programs using hosted payloads are not required and generally do not provide cost and technical data, or lessons learned, to the Hosted Payload Office. Having that information would “better position DoD to make informed decisions when considering acquisition approaches for upcoming space system designs.” The Pentagon has not been too keen on hosted payloads for several reasons, GAO noted. There is a perception among some defense officials that matching government payloads to commercial satellites is too difficult. Another concern is that DoD's knowledge on using hosted payloads is “fragmented, in part because programs are not required to share information.” DoD officials who spoke with GAO identified “logistical challenges to matching government payloads with any given commercial host satellite.” For example, they cited size, weight and power constraints as barriers to using hosted payloads. Some individual DoD offices have realized cost and schedule benefits, but “DoD as a whole has limited information on costs and benefits of hosted payloads,” said the report. Officials at the Office of the Secretary of Defense told GAO that “matching requirements between government payloads and commercial satellites is typically too difficult for programs to overcome.” DoD's Hosted Payload Office is “developing tools designed to help address these challenges,” said the report. Defense officials also argued that budget and planning processes are a hurdle. “This can complicate alignment with commercial timelines because the development of a government sensor would need to be underway well in advance of a decision to fund a commercially hosted payload approach.” Officials told GAO that it is possible to align government and commercial timelines. For example, the Missile Defense Agency adopted the commercial host's schedule to ensure its Space Based Kill Assessment payload was ready for integration and launch without delaying the host satellite or missing its ride to space. Similarly, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has been able to align acquisition and development schedules with the commercial host. In its written comments in the report, DoD concurred with GAO's recommendations and noted that the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center had initiated a major reorganization and that under the new organization, the Hosted Payload Office had changed and may not be the appropriate office for centralizing DoD-wide hosted payload knowledge. Language in the Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act directs the Pentagon to seize oversight of military investments in hosted payloads.

  • DARPA’s Fast Lightweight Autonomy program tests the scouting software of tomorrow’s wars

    31 juillet 2018 | International, C4ISR

    DARPA’s Fast Lightweight Autonomy program tests the scouting software of tomorrow’s wars

    By: Kelsey Atherton Every map is an outdated map. Buildings change, people relocate, and what was accurate a decade ago may mean nothing to someone on patrol today. Which is one reason the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is pursuing Fast Lightweight Autonomy, a program designed to teach drones to effortlessly scout and map unfamiliar locations, without the help of GPS or external guidance tools, so that the military can rely on the freshest scouting information possible. For Phase II of the program, DARPA split the task into three parts. One team worked on better flight outdoors in a natural environment at full speed. Another team pursued drone flight in an urban environment, with the drone building a semantic map of the cars and buildings it encountered, while a third team focused on navigating indoors. Taken together, the teams are demonstrating in part the way robots can do what humans do when in unfamiliar terrain, but then speed it up and transmit that information back to humans following behind. First and foremost are the military applications. If DARPA's program results in workable code and sensors, future missions equipped with quadcopters could let the robots scout a contested area before putting any humans at risk. And that area could include dense woods, civilian-lined streets in an area that's seen some insurgent action, or even shelled-out buildings that may be hiding snipers or other traps. The robot explores and informs, and then the humans can follow afterwards, with fresh information loaded onto their tablets and guiding their movements. There are applications for the technology beyond a shooting war. Rescue workers could use drones based on this software to see if a damaged building is safe enough to send rescuers into, or to see if there are even people alive inside who might need rescuing. Drones that can fly quickly through forests could seek out lost hikers, shifting the human energy from search to rescue. Some of this, notes FLA program manager Jean-Charles Ledé, could be done at present by skilled human pilots, the kind that race drones with first-person view goggles. But, says Ledé, “We don't want to deploy a world-class FPV racer with every search and rescue team.” Drones that can navigate by software alone reduce the skill needed to manage the flying robots. In a pinch, the algorithm is a substitute for expertise, and far more scalable a solution.

  • Satellite Imagery + Social Media = A New Way to Spot Emerging Nuclear Threats

    31 juillet 2018 | International, Aérospatial

    Satellite Imagery + Social Media = A New Way to Spot Emerging Nuclear Threats

    BY PATRICK TUCKER A research team is training computers to find and fuse clues from wildly different rivers of digital data. Hiding illicit nuclear programs might be getting harder, thanks to new ways of gleaning and combining clues from various rivers of digital data. That's the conclusion of new research funded in part by the U.S. Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration. Satellites offer one kind of information; social media another — particularly inside countries that may be trying to flout inspections. But large volumes of satellite imagery and social media data aren't similar. You can have one analyst examine satellite pictures and another look at social media posts to see if they align, but the process is time-consuming and generally far from comprehensive. The study's authors developed a method for fusing different types of data in a machine-readable way to offer a much clearer picture. “In light of their ubiquitous emergence, social media increasingly promise to be of great value even though associated applications have thus far remained simple, and their fusion with other data has been largely ad hoc,” the team from North Carolina State University writes in “Fusing Heterogeneous Data: A Case for Remote Sensing and Social Media.” Only by creating a new statistical method for fusing the outputs of satellite data and social media data do you get something you can use to predict what might happen next within a given area of interest, such as a specific nation's nuclear enrichment or weapons development. The researchers looked at satellite and social media data from August 2013, when deadly floods killed eight people and caused widespread damage in Colorado. They sought to show that if you could algorithmically identify which imagery showed the flooding from space, and which geotagged tweets described it on the ground, you could could much more quickly verify one data set against another — that is, you could determine whether incoming social media data supports the conclusions you might be reaching from your satellite data, and vice versa. “Next steps for the project include evaluating nuclear facilities in the West to identify common characteristics that may also be applicable to facilities in more isolated societies, such as North Korea,” notes a press release on the paper. One of the authors, NCSU computer and electrical engineering professor Hamid Krim, said the team would try to “address the insufficient knowledge in general in areas of great interest (e.g. N. Korea and Iran). The goal is to come up with systematic methodologies to transport knowledge about nuclear environments available in other areas (e.g., in the West) to these domains where there is very little available. Creating such an environment in these places of interest will help them detect potential undesired activity.” Of course, there are limitations to media monitoring in Iran and North Korea. The former's social media environment is largely underground, thanks to bans on Twitter and many other social networks. The latter has virtually no social media environment at all. Krim noted that the “adversarial strategy” of social-media censorship makes his team's analysis harder. But even social posts from nearby countries can help illuminate their more secretive neighbors, he said — think tweets from Japan after earth tremors are felt.

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