Air Force zeroes in on common intelligence imaging system

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass.-U.S. Air Force leaders are spending nearly a billion dollars to procure a new generation of reconnaissance and intelligence ground stations that use commercial information technology and comply with open-systems architecture standards.

By John McHale

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass.-U.S. Air Force leaders are spending nearly a billion dollars to procure a new generation of reconnaissance and intelligence ground stations that use commercial information technology and comply with open-systems architecture standards.

This new design approach will enable the Department of Defense to deploy new systems more quickly, while achieving interoperability between intelligence assets at less cost than existing systems, Air Force planners say.

Officials of the Air Force Electronic Systems Center (ESC) at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., awarded two five-year contracts worth $450 million each Dec. 4 to Raytheon E-Systems Garland Division of Garland, Texas and to Lockheed Martin Tactical Systems Co. of Akron, Ohio, for the Reconnaissance/Intelligence Ground Systems (R/IGS) Products and Services (RPS) project.

The R/IGS program is "a family of systems that receive, process, exploit, and disseminate products from a variety of national, airborne, theater, and tactical sources," explains Joe Howard, department head for the imagery group at Mitre Corp. in Bedford, Mass., which assisted ESC officials to structure the program.

The R/IGS standards, developed by the Defense Airborne Reconnaissance Office in Washington - a partnership of the Air Force and the CIA - are known as Common Imagery Ground/Surface Systems (CIGSS), says Don Fulop, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin Western Development Laboratories (WDL) in San Jose, Calif.

The CIGSS standards are "a way to get away from the stovepipe systems we have today and get into a standards-based open-systems architecture," says Patrick Dagle, the R/IGS program manager at ESC. "It takes CIGSS and develops a common architecture from which to base future products. Our first step is to get the contractors to agree on a common architecture based on the standards, and from there we will produce products."

The first systems to be developed and fielded under the contract include the U.S. Marine Corps Tactical Exploitation Group (TEG) and the U.S. Navy Tactical Input Segment (TIG). Future ground stations will include the Squadron Ground stations and unmanned vehicle ground stations, Fulop says.

"The contractors will pick the implementations, but the CIGSS handbook is the guideline and the menu, with several different available media devices such as tape storage, and several different local area network technologies identified as meeting throughput and functionality for a CIGSS-type system," Howard says. "Depending on if you are building a large or small system, you will make selections and size those selections accordingly."

The CIGSS standards flow down from the recently published Joint Technical Architecture from the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) in Washington. The CIGSS standards include the Posix operating system interface; the Fiber Distributed Data Interface, better known as FDDI; the TCP/IP Internet protocols; and the Joint Photographic Experts Group algorithm for image compression and display, better known as JPEG.

The long-term goal for CIGSS is to migrate toward the Asynchronous Transfer Mode and Synchronous Optical Network from FDDI, according to the CIGSS Acquisition Standards Handbook version 1.0. This handbook is available on the World Wide Web at http://www.acq.osd.mil/daro /ciggs.html. More on the Joint Technical Architecture is available on the DISA homepage at http://www.itsi.disa.mil/jta.

The use of common architecture and protocol makes for a fast and efficient system, Fulop says. The majority of the products will use commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment.

"We are strongly emphasizing off-the-shelf commercial technology, based on work and studies that conclusively said we can do this without development," Howard says. "The job at hand is to integrate these commercial packages so they work together right now."

Officials from E-Systems and Lockheed Martin are working together to design a plan for the system, and are waiting for the government to decide which company will produce the TEG and which will produce the TIG, Fulop explains.

"It`s called acquisition reform and is something new," he says. "Two companies bid and design a plan for a product then wait for the government to decide who gets what. The only difference in our designs are some minor points of the open system architecture," Fulop says.

The contract calls for both companies to develop and provide products and services required to design, prototype, test, and field CIGSS compliant imagery ground systems. The systems provide strategic and tactical commanders with battlefield, theater, and strategic reconnaissance information. Also included will be imagery ground subsystems, communications, and data links, commercial, and logistics support.

"Under our core efforts, the contractors have teams of people working in the Hanscom Air Force Base area on a migration facility, where they work on developing a common architecture, try to keep it up to date with existing standards, and evolving COTS into their architectures if it is feasible," Howard explains.

"We will have that core effort of both contractors for the five years of the program," Howard says. "When we get individual products that need to be developed - when we get a customer who wants an unmanned aerial vehicle ground station, for example - we can compete the contractors under indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contracts. That gives us a six-month savings on an individual source selection in a traditional acquisition. We will already have a common architecture from which to flow an implementation."

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