Engineers learn to blend technologies in joint fighting platforms

June 1, 2004
To work effectively in joint warfighting, systems must be designed to cooperate from their inception, not patched together after the fact, says Navy Admiral Walter F. Doran, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

By Ben Ames

SAN DIEGO — To work effectively in joint warfighting, systems must be designed to cooperate from their inception, not patched together after the fact, says Navy Admiral Walter F. Doran, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

Doran speaks from experience. He also wears another hat: commander of Joint Task Force 519. In a recent joint operations exercise called Terminal Fury, Doran directed the task force as it tested its ability to command joint forces while moving to various headquarters locations around the Pacific, including a city park in Hawaii and a flagship off the coast of Japan.

The tools that worked best were those designed specifically for the task, such as the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI), Doran says. If they are not designed to cooperate, tools are often redundant, like the Air Force's ISRN and the Navy's Joint Fire Network, he says. Or they can be incompatible, like the Navy's own aircraft carrier and Aegis cruiser computer systems have been.

Sailors are not the only ones struggling to conduct joint operations. Industry contractors also are quickly learning Doran's lesson about building joint capabilities into devices from the ground up.

Engineers at Boeing are applying those rules to six major platforms now under construction, says John Lockard, senior vice president of naval systems at Boeing, in St. Louis.

The platforms include the multimission maritime aircraft, joint tactical radio system, future combat system, joint unmanned combat program, joint weapons systems, and V-22 Osprey aircraft.

One of the best examples of joint design is the multimission maritime aircraft (MMA), a version of the 737-800 airframe that will replace the P-3 airplane for missions in both antisubmarine warfare and antisurface warfare.

For best value in joint operations, planners chose the 737 platform because its long service in commercial applications means that military technicians can perform fast and inexpensive maintenance. That also means the Pentagon can keep the planes running with 3,000 fewer people than are currently assigned to maintain the P-3, Lockard says.

The plane will save additional money by using a version of the familiar British Nimrod antisubmarine warfare system, tapping its open architecture to ensure interoperability with other platforms.

The Joint Tactical Radio Systems (JTRS) will be a software-defined radio system that ties various forces together horizontally, instead of relying on a central hub. Planners are avoiding redundant design by assigning JTRS Cluster 1 to serve an array of U.S. Army users including helicopter support, armored vehicles, and soldier in the field.

Likewise, clusters three and four will cover the maritime and aerospace realms. As prime integrator, Boeing and its JTRS partner companies will field Cluster 1 devices by 2007 or 2008, Lockard says.

Other contractors are competing to create the system. General Dynamics Decision Systems of Scottsdale, Ariz., is bidding to build JTRS Cluster 5, which would extend the platform to manpack, hand-held, and miniature applications such as unattended ground sensors.

In weapons systems, the joint common missile will span many uses, as it replaces both the Hellfire and Maverick missiles on either rotor and fixed-wing aircraft, for three different branches; the U.S. Army, Navy, and Marine Corps. The device will be complete by the end of the decade, he says.

The X-45 Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (also known as the unmanned combat aerial vehicle) began as a project by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. But as a joint platform, it now shares input from both the Air Force and Navy. It will exist in varieties for both land use and carriers, but both will act more as autonomous weapon systems than remotely piloted vehicles, Lockard says. The 4,500-pound payload aircraft will see use in limited numbers by 2006 or 2007, he says.

Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems of El Segundo, Calif., is also bidding for the project, with its X-47B version, slated for test flights in early 2006.

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