September 2005 
Volume 04, Issue 5 
Industry Wrap

Fast work for network

Fast work for network

Northrop tests rapid NCO setup, follows Boeing 2004 test

Northrop Grumman researchers said they've shown that a communications network that lets different digital networks interact can be set up and working in a matter of months.

A recent Aviation Week & Space Technology article detailed the latest of Northrop Grumman's experimental, network-centric-warfare tests. In this test scenario, researchers linked a collection of ground forces, aircraft and ship-based sensors to track down, identify and bomb a team of "terrorists" smuggling missiles into the United States.

U.S. defense contractors including Boeing are working on programs to support network-centric warfare. In late 2004, Boeing similarly demonstrated recently developed technologies to link fielded systems and future systems in a network. The experiments involved four live platforms, nine aircraft simulation facilities and 30 virtual warfighting platforms and the use of simulated U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force units.

Network-centric operations involve creating a communications network that links people, hardware and assets to enable the right information to get to the right people at the right time so they can make the right decisions. Accordingly, in network-centric warfare, warfighters use these network-centric operations assets to shorten the time between detecting a target and striking it.

A key aspect of enabling network-centric operations is to make different networks talk to one another. That's why the Northrop Grumman test involved a number of platforms and surrogates to illustrate the command-and-control and communications flow, a company representative said in the Aviation Week story.

In the test, Northrop Grumman researchers used an E-8 long-range ground-surveillance aircraft, an experimental version of an E-2C command-and-control aircraft, an F/A-18 (acting as a Joint Strike Fighter) and an EA-6B ICAP II signals and communications intelligence aircraft. There were also virtual elements simulating an aircraft carrier, U.S. Northern Command headquarters and an electronic warfare command-and-control center.

According to Aviation Week, the elements were tied together with an airborne Internet using Joint Tactical Radio System–surrogate or prototype-software radios to connect the disparate sensor and communication systems. The story also said that a Decision-Making Toolset workflow manager allowed the transfer of target geo-locations from images—a crucial capability for pursuing time-critical targets.

As explained in the Aviation Week article, the scenario began when NorthCom, responsible for U.S. security, received intelligence that terrorists were bringing in antiaircraft missiles by ship. NorthCom contacted the Joint Forces Maritime Component commander, who had tactical forces. The latter determined what assets were available for intelligence-gathering and surveillance. The joint force commander also ordered the establishment of a digital network to connect all the major players. The E-8 provided overland patrol and searched the area in question, while a Global Hawk maritime demonstrator deployed over water.

The EA-6B detected the terrorist ship's electronic signature, refined it and transferred the location to the rest of the participants. The crew passed an image to a Prowler electronic warfare officer for faster battle-management commands, and the Global Hawk transmitted the image to all the other nodes. Meanwhile, the EA-6B picked up the ship talking to a ground party on shore and figured out where the two would meet. An F/A-18 was assigned to drop a bomb using a geo-location tool on an image of the coastal rendezvous point.

The work was done over six months, the article said. It took four months to install the capabilities on the E-2C and EA-6B, experimentation took two weeks, and the actual mission was compressed into 90 minutes of flight time to contain costs.

There are two crucial elements to making this airborne Internet a reality, Northrop Grumman representatives said in the Aviation Week article: Such a system has to be able to connect all types of aircraft effortlessly, and it must have an open architecture that allows outdated elements in the system to be replaced quickly by new, off-the-shelf items.


Front Page
Contact Us | Site Map| Site Terms | Privacy | Copyright
Copyright© Boeing. All rights reserved.