DOD plans first exercise in August to use Internet for sensor fusion

Joint-service exercises are set for August under the U.S. Department of Defense's Smart Sensor Web program to evaluate sensor-fusion technologies that can help improve situational awareness on the battlefield.

By John Rhea

ARLINGTON, Va. — Joint-service exercises are set for August under the U.S. Department of Defense's Smart Sensor Web program to evaluate sensor-fusion technologies that can help improve situational awareness on the battlefield.

The exercises will be at the McKenna Military Operations in Urbanized Terrain (MOUT) test site at Fort Benning, Ga. These exercises initially are to involve about 100 personnel from all the services to create a test bed for two years of evaluations.

The goal of the program is to determine how military leaders can use existing technologies for new battlefield systems and system upgrades, says Jeff Paul, deputy to Jasper Lupo, the director of sensor systems in the Office of the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Science and Technology.

To support that goal, the exercises aim at finding out how to extend Internet access and provide critical real-time information to the lowest possible echelon of deployed military forces, Paul adds. The urban warfare scenario, he notes, will kick off the program because it represents the most pressing military challenge in today's post-Cold War environment.

The sponsors of the exercises assume that improvements in microelectronics will continue, unmanned aerial vehicles or even individual soldiers can distribute over the battlefield. The sponsors then find how they can integrate the data and display it to the users.

Army Lt. Col. Bruce Gwilliam, the Smart Sensor Web program manager in the ODUSD/S&T, is seeking information from industry and says he expects the program to result in significant contracts, including advanced concept technology demonstrations.

Gwilliam lists five areas of interest, each of which he plans to invest about a million dollars into during the evaluation phase, and says he expects to leverage this investment to yield a 5-to-1 return to the Defense Department.

Heading Gwilliam's list is the image web, which will help evaluate several different kinds of sensors, digitized maps, radars, and real-time video. A weapons web will analyze current and projected battlefield weapons. Of particular interest is the weather web, he says, because experts have not sufficiently localized weather reports for tactical purposes.

The fourth web, simulation, will emulate weapons and sensors that experts cannot readily use in the exercises. Military leaders do not consider the fifth element, information integration, to be a web. Nevertheless, Paul says information integration is crucial in determining the best displays. The program office is still working that issue, he notes, and candidates include laptop computers, helmet-mounted displays, and head-up displays.

Gwilliam adds a sixth element, which he calls the physiomedical web — an addition to the main exercises. This is a variant of telemedicine, which is being pioneered under the Defense Department's "wearable computer" efforts, and Gwilliam wants to monitor such variables as whether soldiers in battle have had enough rest and water to drink.

Having this information in real time will enable commanders to determine when they must recover personnel from the battlefield, he adds. "We want the ability to look around the corner without going there," he says. "We want to keep more people alive."

The basic concept of migrating data downward is comparable to the U.S. Navy's Cooperative Engagement Capability, or CEC, and is predicated on the wireless communications infrastructure, he notes. "Then they can make cogent decisions about what to do next," he says.

The MOUT is already instrumented for the exercises, Paul reports, and the initial demonstrations in August will be for top Pentagon officials and take about a week. Then program personnel will begin activating the test bed and rotating military personnel through the scheduled exercises.

More in Communications