As U.S. conventional forces draw down in Afghanistan, Special Forces are tasked with multiple responsibilities. Special Forces personnel reportedly now must help watch forward-operating and air bases, staging areas, truck parks, ammunition depots and other facilities.
To enable this, personnel employ a burgeoning array of command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) technology to gain timely, actionable intelligence on enemy movements, and beyond-the-wire situational awareness.
More than ever, the watchwords are “small,” “light,” “durable,” and “energy-efficient.” Instrumentalities and applications range broadly and include Android mobile devices and other tablets, micro-mini comms units, satellite-orientation and uplink capabilities, electronic warfare/counter-electronic warfare, and cyber solutions.
Ground-based intel tools meld with small, tactical unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) such as the hand-launched Raven UAV. Output from the large “persistent-stare” Global Hawk, and other strategic UAVs, also is likely accessible to special operators.
The new release of a promising combination-tool garnered a lot of attention at the March 2012 Special Operations Forces Industry Conference in Tampa, Fla. General Dynamics’ Itronix GD300 wearable computer, with its Tactical Ground Reporting software and specially configured AN/PRC-154 version of the Rifleman Radio, enables inter-squad communications. (The company also makes the PathMaker, a commercial, first-responder radio for Special Forces.)
Deployed in operational assessments with the 75th Army Rangers, the GD300 lets soldiers mark maps and view situational awareness information. What’s more, it can send text messages and situation reports.
Users can connect to different tactical networks while sharing the same computer, data, user-interface and mission-critical radios. Gateway options let it communicate to cell phones, satellites, UHF/VHF radios and IP-based devices such as an Internet-connected laptop.
The 8-ounce, rugged GD300 computer runs on the Android OS and boasts smart phone-like capabilities. General Dynamics says the device’s reduced size, weight and power consumption give SpecOps forces “evolving capability.”
“The warfighter has an enhanced individual situational awareness that when I was part of the force was only available at the platform level,” said Mike Iacobucci, a former special operations officer and special operations account manager for General Dynamic’s C4 Systems. He said that users can create their own network in remote locations where no infrastructure exists or where it has been destroyed or overloaded.
“The majority of the feedback on this system is positive with some [mildly negative] comments in relation to battery life and some minor configuration management – but overall the Rangers were very satisfied with this setup,” said Ken McGraw, Special Operations Command (SOCOM) spokesman.
Similar systems being studied are tethering smart phones to Harris’ PRC-117G radio, for applications like geo-location, McGraw said. The data is passed across a tactical radio network, from the operator on the ground to the operations center.
Hungry for ISR
With ISR appetites ever growing, SOCOM and conventional forces are hoping to quickly transition toward Defense Department organic-satellite capabilities like the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) constellation, McGraw said.
Not that this will happen overnight.
While a lot of funding goes to things such as antenna/modem development, integration and air-net worthiness certifications, the big money advantage of migration for the manned/unmanned assets “from a predominantly commercial Ku band satellite backhaul architecture to the DOD’s WGS Ka/X-band capability” is often overlooked, he said.
And then there’s the “drowning in data” phenomenon, which National Security Agency directors increasingly warn against.
There is no easy way to mitigate the problem since “the military gets better and the ability to gather more data in regards to missions, the amount of data will continue to grow,” McGraw said.
SOCOM is looking into storing and sharing data across a disparate network via distributed data centers. In keeping with federal mandates, it’s trying to establish a data-centric architecture that lets information be stored “at the tactical edge, regional service centers and the distributed data centers for specified time limits,” he added.