C4ISR development: A system-of-systems challenge

C4ISR represents an area of significant growth for the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), but it comes with a raft of challenges around technical and procedural integration for joint and coalition forces. Concepts, doctrine and common standards must be synchronized to ensure interoperability across land, sea, and air forces, and with allies.

That is especially true for the Canadian Army as it strives to support a future operating concept of adaptive dispersed operations (ADO).

As Major Michael Moulton, the project director for Army Electronic Warfare and Signals Intelligence projects, told delegates at Vanguard’s C4ISR and Beyond conference in January, the land force has invested significantly in C4ISR-related capabilities – approximately $3 billion over the past two decades – integrating ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance) sensors, upgrading radios, and developing a deployable command and control (C2) network to support commanders.

And over the next 10 to 15 years, it anticipates a capital project budget of $1.7 billion for the introduction of new command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems.

Although that has made Canada a leader at times – “we were the first nation to field a fully digitized C2 system at the tactical level,” Moulton said – it nonetheless faces a major challenge integrating both legacy and new capabilities into a true system of systems, what he called a fully network-enabled capability to deliver “into that CAF C4ISR context and deliver effects for the commander in the land battle space.”

That means looking at C4ISR development as a whole program rather than individual projects. It also means taking a different perspective and considering development from the bottom up rather than top down, understanding how information gets from the soldier to the commander for effective decision making.

“Instead of asking how does that commander need to pass information down to make a decision, [if] we want to be able to do tactical manoeuvre at a combat team level, what level of information needs to be passed, how do we enable…the exchange requirements? That is where we are going from a requirements engineering perspective.”

Moulton outlined a range of C4ISR-related projects geared toward the 2021 timeframe, including modernization of intelligence, electronic warfare, deployed headquarters, and an enhanced C2 system for new vehicle fleets such as the Tactical Armoured Patrol Vehicle and upgraded Light Armoured Vehicle.

All are tied into three larger programs under the Land Command Support System (LCSS) modernization effort: tactical communication systems, ISR systems, and tactical C2 information systems. The army is also modernizing its systems for joint airspace control and joint fires.

“By 2016 we will have a fairly robust system, modernized to a certain extent, setting the conditions for where we want to go with those future modernization projects. I think we will have a first-rate command and control network, underpinned by some very good software decision-making tools and systems, integrating C4ISR systems, and providing that critical sensor-to-shooter link for commanders,” he said.

More than new equipment and technology, the effort also requires changes to doctrine, training and infrastructure to ensure the whole system is institutionalized across the army.

For industry seeking to engage with the army, Colonel (retired) Rick Fawcett, a 34-year veteran of the army and now director of business development for land and joint solutions with General Dynamics Canada, said companies must understand the thinking behind concepts like ADO and JIMP (joint, interagency, multinational, public). Not only does the range and complexity of tasks require adaptive C2 systems, but the joint and multinational nature of those tasks means “the systems have to be able to talk to virtually everybody, which poses huge challenges.”

Fawcett laid out several key considerations for future solutions, from unlimited demand for bandwidth to embedded security, simplicity to operate – “bear in mind the reality of where this equipment is being deployed” – scalability and interoperability.

He noted that General Dynamics, for example, has made security a design feature from the beginning rather than an add-on, and now uses open standards and commercial technologies and commonality where possible to ensure solutions will work in the joint environment. “The term we are starting to use is graceful evolution,” he said. “There will never be a wholesale swap out of C4ISR equipment, it will be gracefully evolved.”

But the complexity of integrating C4ISR systems means industry “needs to work together with the military to solve these problems,” he said, pointing in particular to the current challenges around training. “Training for the army has become very difficult and complicated. There are a lot of systems [to integrate] and not a lot of money to do that. It is up to industry to help solve that, too.”

Commander (retired) Walter Nolan, who served 34 years in the Royal Canada Navy before joining Lockheed Martin Canada, also stressed the importance of collaboration between the military and industry.

“As a team, we have to make others understand what the issues are and work together to resolve them,” he said in a presentation that described several key challenges, including interoperability and the critical importance of intelligence.

Information sharing is vital as the navy continues to advance its ability to support operations ashore from contested. “C4ISR permeates up and down through all aspects of air-land-sea operations. [It] is about taking individual data points and finding a way to make them all link, to make them all tell a story, and separate the garbage from what is really important to the end user.

“In the last four years I have really come to understand how intelligence is the cornerstone to all of this,” he said. “I have looked at the kinds of [intelligence] tools we use in the army, navy, air force – they are not that dissimilar but they are not very interoperable. We have got to figure out a way to make those systems more interoperable so the information sharing happens more quickly and with more trust. Trust is the big issue that will permeate horizontally through those vertical issues we are dealing with.”

Nolan said that although great strides have been made in recent years to improve the data link between the services, timely movement of information still remains a challenge and the air force and navy lack “a good method of quickly and accurately determining where our ground forces are so they can be readily seen by our sailors at sea and air crews coming in to drop ordinance.

“How do we ensure we have trust in that information such that our army brethren are happy to have ordinance come in close to where they are working? Or that a commander at sea has confidence in to hit the fire button?” he asked. “Ground truth is critical…direct and indirect fires are so much more complicated than they ever were in the past.”

He also noted that the introduction of more unmanned systems is creating new issues around not just accessing and sharing data from the sensors, but also assigning and sharing the platforms themselves as different headquarters compete for their availability.

“All services need to work with industry to figure out how best to solve these issues,” he said. “I firmly believe that only those countries that have the ability to manage the battle space will be given lead roles, and Canada has aspirations to take lead roles. If we don’t understand the battle space and can’t manage [the data], we won’t be given a position of authority. That requires more agile C4ISR management and better training.”

Author: Chris Thatcher (from Feb/Mar 2014)

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