Sensors Move Army Closer to Common Environment

The Army envisions a future where sensors dynamically interact with each other while sharing information with soldiers. Its researchers are one step closer to enabling this common operating environment through the development of a foundational software architecture.

The Integrated Sensor Architecture, known as ISA, establishes standards that bring together sensors within an area of operation so they can talk without requiring physical integration.

Army researchers say dynamic discovery will improve situational awareness by enabling the Soldier to query different sensors as he or she moves through an area. (US Army Illustration/Released)

Army researchers say dynamic discovery will improve situational awareness by enabling the Soldier to query different sensors as he or she moves through an area. (US Army Illustration/Released)

“You have this fundamental architecture enabling sensors to not only recognize the systems they want to interact with, but to also broker the information exchanges,” said Joe Durek, deputy director for the Modeling and Simulation Division of the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center’s Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate.

As Army researchers and engineers develop ISA, they hope to put together fundamental interoperability so that when future sensors come online to a network, they can register and communicate their capabilities; assets and sensors on that network can then subscribe to the types of information they need.

ISA uses dynamic discovery to find other ISA-compliant systems, regardless of platform, on a tactical network. It understands the capabilities of those sensors and shares their information with operators.

“Dynamic discovery will improve the mobile soldier’s situational awareness by enabling him to query different sensors as he moves through an area and access information that was previously ‘invisible’ to him, such as event messages or spot reports,” said Christine Moulton, ISA project lead for the Communications-Electronics Center’s Night Vision Electronic Senors Directorate, or CERDEC NVESD.

However, the architecture has built-in rules so there’s no “free-for-all” when it comes to soldiers tasking sensors, she said.

ISA also addresses the challenges of how emerging sensor technologies can communicate with fielded legacy systems.

“We want these different sensor systems to collaborate instead of working in stove pipes,” Moulton said. “The Army has a lot of legacy systems that can speak only to other specific systems, and we have server racks of computers and multiple monitors to do simple things in theater.”

Moulton said a soldier shouldn’t have to have a doctorate to configure the equipment.

“He just needs to be able to bring up a sensor, control it and understand its data,” she said.

CERDEC NVESD developed ISA under a deployable force protection program, which seeks to provide the critical capabilities needed for a forward operating base to defend itself.

(U.S. Army Illustration provided by the Army Technology Magazine/Released)

(U.S. Army Illustration
provided by the Army Technology Magazine/Released)

During the past four years, all deployable force projects have been ISA enabled, ISA compliant and communicating over the ISA network.

“The thing that makes the ISA stand apart from other interoperability architectures is that it is designed to work in the tactical environment. We assumed you’d have bad communications, small bandwidth and intermediate communications, so we designed it to handle those situations and recover,” Moulton said.

“We have a working prototype that we’ve tested in the field, so the [Program Executive Office] PEO is really getting a jump start,” she said.

CERDEC NVESD has a formal technology transition agreement with program executive office intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors under its sensor computing environment program, or Sensor CE.

Sensor CE is a component of the PEO intelligence electronic warfare and sensors, or IEW&S, mission, which has a portfolio that covers a broad range of capabilities across the reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition gamut. ISA will be the PEO’s first use of middleware associated with Sensor CE efforts to achieve discovery.

“We’re looking at ease of use and an integrated package that provides a common operating picture — in other words, an intuitive construct where a soldier can look at one screen and get all the sensor information that he needs,” said Stephen D. Kreider, PEO IEW&S director. “The ISA takes all the different sensors and puts them on a common interface.”

During the summer of 2014, NVESD and PEO IEW&S demonstrated how dynamic discovery will work during CERDEC’s integrated capabilities experiment at the CERDEC C4ISR Ground Activity’s field laboratories at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.

The experiment centered on common standards for secure, interoperable applications across computing environments and emerging science and technology designed to automate, simplify and secure network operations.

“We demonstrated it to show that dynamic discovery is doable now, and from what I’ve seen, it’s ready for transition; we really don’t have to wait,” said Tom Conway, Sensor CE lead and acting technical director for the Project Manager Terrestrial Sensor.

“Sensor discovery is a cross-cutting capability within COE [common operating environment], which means it will touch pretty much all the CEs,” Conway said. “This demonstration was an important first step so folks can start thinking about concept of operations and tactics, techniques and procedures. TRADOC [Training and Doctrine Command] is currently writing requirements for COE; hopefully, demonstrations like these can help with the requirements generation process.”

PEO IEW&S will implement lessons learned before bringing the next iteration to the planned 2015 integrated capabilities event, he said.

“It plans to grow the capability by incorporating other sensor types such as chem-bio and radar,” he said.

Researchers and engineers from CERDEC NVESD, have worked closely with PEO IEW&S on multiple ISA integrations, and plan to continue supporting PEO IEW&S throughout the transition.

“With the ISA program, we’ve been able to execute a classic development activity where we start with a blank slate, look at the art of the possible, do some functional allocation and try different prototypes, get figures of merit to what works and what doesn’t, and then implement it,” said Dr. Michael Grove, CERDEC NVESD principal deputy for Technology and Countermine.

“This is the first step in a continuing process. Sensor CE is not finished by any stretch; in fact, it’s just started, so we need to continue growing and continue supporting the PEO in developing additional technology alternatives to make Sensor CE a reality.”


By Edric Thompson, CERDEC Public Affairs
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