Putting the Smarts at the Sharp End of the Spear

The United States Navy and Marine Corps are an expeditionary team. Thus they operate in the littorals-in the sea and on the land along the coastline. Expeditionary work takes a very different set of operational capabilities from those needed in blue-water fleet operations. The Navy must bring in the Marines and support them ashore to accomplish missions that range from humanitarian operations to forced entry high-intensity warfare. Our strategy is moving from a dependence on forward-based forces (who rely on host nation support) to a strategy based on power projection by forward-deployed forces (who operate from the mobile sovereignty of American warships).

Most of the world's population lives along the littorals, within a hundred or so miles of the coast. The Navy and Marine Corps are extending their ability to operate from ships over the horizon all the way to two hundred miles inland. They are taking advantage of our national technological edge by pushing modern knowledge technology from the force commander down to the Marine infantry sergeants who are at the sharp end of the spear. The technology to do this is being delivered by the Extending the Littoral Battlespace Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration.

In conjunction with Exercise Kernel Blitz (Experimentation), the Office of Naval Research is demonstrating advanced battlespace information systems during a realistic Navy and Marine Corps exercise. From 18 to 24 June 2001, United States Pacific Command forces will operate from waters off San Diego, over the beaches of Camp Pendleton, California, and into the mountain desert of Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona. The systems they will use represent advanced science and technology developed to give Sailors and Marines a clear, accurate, easy-to-understand and use picture of the battle they're fighting. Thus the sergeant leading a recon unit will have access to the kind of situational awareness normally found only in command centers, warships, and modern combat aircraft.

The new capabilities exploit recent advances in information technology (wireless networking, decision support software, and miniaturized electronics). Developed by teams of government, industry, and academic partners, these technologies give us ways of extending situational awareness to leaders at all levels in a theater of operations. The benefits of doing this are obvious:

  • We extend the reach of our forces well inland while keeping our warships well off the coast and out of harm's way.
  • We give all of our units access to fast, accurate, and overwhelming fire support.
  • We finally gain a reliable way of avoiding "fratricides"-casualties to our forces or civilians caused by misdirected friendly fire.
  • We enable our smallest units to operate as independently as their commanders need them to.

The system ONR is demonstrating is called WARNET-the Wide Area Relay Network. WARNET is a system-of-systems organized into three tiers. Tier 1 connects small dismounted infantry units and vehicles on the ground, Tier 2 links unit headquarters ashore and afloat, and Tier 3 provides the airborne communications network that enables over-the-horizon connectivity throughout the battlespace. The entire network is wireless, fast, robust, and high-bandwidth. It connects users over the horizon by using airborne relays as opposed to scarce satellite resources. The major components participating in the demonstration include:

  • Upgrades to the Tactical Common Data Link (TCDL) High Data Rate Point-to-Point. TCDL is a high data rate microwave radio. ELB has upgraded it to give it an air-to-air capability.
  • Upgrades to the AN/VRC-99A tactical radio. ELB has upgraded this radio to give it an adaptive burst rate and dynamic time slot allocation.
  • Upgrades to the RT-1812 tactical radio (formerly the Near Term Digital Radio-NTDR). ELB has added a multicast capability to this radio.
  • End User Terminal. A situational awareness and networking tool for the small unit leader.
  • WaveLAN II. A commercial off-the-shelf local area network card, to which ELB has added an amplifier for improved military performance.
  • SECNET 11. This wireless Ethernet card has been modified to include levels of security appropriate to military expeditionary operations.
  • Network Status Panel. A real-time tool for monitoring network connectivity in a mobile tactical environment.
  • Battlefield Visualization Tool. Software that can be installed in a commercial laptop or palmtop computer. It gives the Marine on the ground access to information-reconnaissance imagery, friendly and enemy unit positions, etc.-normally found only on headquarters maps.
  • Middleware tools for fast, flexible, and cost-effective interoperability. Information Broker and the Marine Corps Systems Interface Translator enable a wide array of different legacy and emerging platforms to operate together seamlessly.

During Exercise Kernel Blitz these capabilities will be demonstrated aboard the Third Fleet's flagship, command ship USS Coronado. They will also be demonstrated aboard two amphibious warfare ships-USS Bonhomme Richard and USS Pearl Harbor-and the Aegis guided missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain. Airborne nodes will be installed aboard three unmanned air vehicle surrogates and a Navy CH-46 assault helicopter. Ashore, WARNET nodes will be found in seven ground vehicles, an Army Brigade Assault Command Post, and, of course, in the hands of Marine sergeants leading their units inland. More information about the Extending the Littoral Battlespace Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration is available at: Extending the Littoral Battlespace.

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