Military Embedded Systems

Enabling tactical-edge data dominance over near-peer adversaries


February 08, 2022

Chris Ericksen

Chief revenue officer

Klas Group

Photo: Joel Rivera-Camacho/Unsplash

During the summer of 2021, U.S. Army leaders articulated the vision of Capability Set (CS) 25, which is the third in the Army’s iterative series of integrated tactical communications packages for delivery to soldiers. While each CS has had a different capability focus, the overarching objective is to realize “...the multidomain capable network of 2028, which seeks to enable information dominance against a peer or near-peer adversary.”

The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) noted in congressional testimony within the past year that China will have “basically modernized” its military in just six years, in part due to what DIA Director Lt. Gen. Scott D. Berrier referred to as “military-civil fusion” that pushes to aggressively integrate civilian and military technologies. Information dominance is further challenged by the fact that emerging near-peers such as China and Russia do not abide by the same set of rigorous rule sets when it comes to fielding new technologies.

As a result, there is an understandable focus on accelerating the fielding of innovative technologies to deliver a modernized tactical network. Core to orienting around the tactical edge via Capability Sets and aligned concepts such as Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) is establishing a baseline set of tactical comms that will enable dynamic changes to capability requirements, platforms, and technologies.

While there are numerous fielded technologies able to create information dominance, addressing the multidomain data challenge at the tactical edge is a growing priority.

The multidomain data challenge

At the tactical edge in today’s battlefield, there is a continuous struggle for information superiority with our adversaries. Sensors deployed on land, air, and sea vehicle platforms – as well as those carried by individual dismounted soldiers – are constantly collecting situational data and transmitting it back to the U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC), where commanders can assess the situation and determine the proper course of action, whether it be a re-organization of deployed forces or the activation of fire platforms. Sometimes the window of opportunity is short-lived, and the slightest delay in intel reaching a commander can cost the U.S. and its allies an opportunity to defeat a growing threat. Enter LINK 16.

LINK 16’s inception traces back more than 25 years, as it was designated as the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) primary tactical data link for all military service and defense agency command, control, and intelligence (C2I) systems in 1994. It is the standard across U.S., NATO, and coalition forces for transmitting and exchanging real-time data, providing a complete tactical picture at the edge while supporting the exchange of text messages and imagery data. JADC2, for its part, interconnects all the military’s weapon systems, layering in advanced technologies such as machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), and predictive analytics to unlock multidomain operations in ways not previously possible.

Fielding technologies and tools to address this challenge should include a number of considerations.

Reduce form factor

Link 16 is a prime example of how a low-SWaP [size, weight, and power] form factor can facilitate real-time data exchanges across connected battlespace domains (air, land, sea, space, and cyber) while also ensuring a unified common operating picture (COP). Systems enabled by Link 16 have, to date, been large and bulky, requiring four people to lift. Smaller versions exist but provide no means to include the compute power to host important tools, robust virtualization support, or the fully featured software necessary to ensure radios can communicate with one another across frequencies or AI/ML at the tactical edge.

Making Link 16 available in a cost-effective, low-SWAP package that can be broadly deployed – while also enabling forces to seamlessly add new capabilities to meet evolving mission needs – democratizes deployment and unleashes the next generation of data-sharing capabilities at the tactical edge.

Ensure interoperability

Not only is there an urgency to enhance operability for an individual tactical data link standard across multiple domains, but there exists the need to make the different data links more compatible. It’s part of a broader call by the DoD for industry to improve the “data-friendliness” of weapons and other sensors at the tactical edge by eliminating data silos.

For tactical data link standards, interoperability means equipping tactical gear to be platform-agnostic so that proprietary data interfaces and protocols can be easily fused and integrated. It also requires providing troops with simultaneous access to disparate and incompatible communications networks – including Link 16 – so that data sharing between the U.S. military and coalition partners is not restricted. Finally, true interoperability is only possible if emerging data link standards and capabilities can be quickly added.

Create an intuitive user experience

Coalition forces deploy to the field without the ability to easily converge disparate radio and data networks on the fly to adapt to evolving conditions. Tools and processes that attempt to do so are often complex to operate, aren’t reliable in suboptimal edge conditions, or require a form factor so large that it precludes rapid deployment.

Ease-of-use by U.S. forces at the tactical edge is critical to information and decision dominance. Configuration and setup for users should be intuitive, with automation of as many configuration steps as possible to eliminate manual errors and issues. Tactical comms gear must allow for all levels of users – even those with minimal to no training – to carry out complex integration tasks that power multidomain data sharing.

Reducing or eliminating the complexities of communications enables coalition forces to interact as a truly combined force and achieve objectives faster. This move towards “ease of use” enables more technology to not only be fielded and used, but also allows for the rapid repurposing of fielded gear to fit the mission set.

Extend analytical power to the edge

Commanders and soldiers do not suffer from an information vacuum. The data is there, all around them, so much of it that the sheer volume slows rather than speeds up decision-making, strategy, and execution.

Data access and sharing at the tactical edge is core to JADC2 and other programs, but it isn’t solely about delivering data to the edge. There exists the need to field tools to parse all of this data at the edge, sort it, aggregate it, and get it in the hands of commanders in an easy-to-consume fashion without having to wait as it cycles through command IT systems and data centers. This is the case whether data analysis takes place at the command post at rest, mounted on military vehicles in motion, or on the soldiers themselves.

Never before has information been so critical to those on the front lines of the battle. Used correctly, this information shared amongst allies can give them the operational edge, change the dynamic between two peer or near peer competitors – and ultimately save lives.

Chris Ericksen is Chief Revenue Officer at Klas Government.

Klas Government ·

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