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The Fusion of Systems Discussed at Naval Domain Intelligence

Commodore (Retd) Ian McGhie, Former Deputy Director Intelligence Capability, Strategy and Policy, Royal Navy commenced Day 2 of Naval Domain Intelligence, supported by event partner NATO CMRE via a scene-setter of the key issues, points and questions that emerged from Day 1’s engagement, namely: as ever, collaboration (in all its facets) cannot be under-estimated; we simply must capture Requirements better than we currently do; ‘capability’ needs to be delivered to the market quicker; utility is key; and innovation must lead to tangible capability delivery.

The overall theme of Day 2 was all about ‘Fusion of Systems’, broken down further into: ‘Surface Sensors’; ‘Streamlining Data Across Platforms’; and ‘Next Generation Battlespace Management’.

Presentations commenced with Captain Kenneth Blackmon USN, who is the Chief Staff Officer at NATO’s Combined Joint Operations from the Sea (CJOS), in their Centre of Excellence. CJOS’ mission is to transform Allied Maritime potential into reality. Reflecting this and in the context of today’s event, Kenneth highlighted how CJOS seeks to integrate Allied capabilities to enhance ‘Naval Domain Intelligence’.

CJOS has 13 sponsoring nations, with NATO, PfP nations and individual nations. CJOS has many programmes of work, but Kenneth honed in on the Maritime ISR Doctrine Development work strand. Success in this key capability area pivots on, inter alia, shared situational awareness, collaboration and reducing technical limitations (that are usually based on narrow and/or bespoke national parameters).

Next to speak was Alex Bertin, who is the Wireless and Maritime Service Owner, at NATO’s Communications and Information Agency, on enhancing BLOS wireless communications. Alex works within a small team (17), but they deliver effect beyond their mass. He talked about the transition to IP networks from traditional HF, the integrating of systems architecture to mitigate the risks of cyber-attack, and developing opportunities with industry to upgrade NATO and national systems.

Commander Anjinho Mourinha is the Transformation Lead in the Concept, Development and Experimentation area within the Planning Division of the Portuguese Naval Staff. Talking to enhancing Maritime situational awareness via unmanned systems, Anjinho highlighted the need for the Portuguese Navy to be flexible in trying to meet its Maritime commitments, exposing in the process the ‘Maritime Security Cooperative Concept’.

He eloquently argued that a large part of the answer and key to success undoubtedly has an unmanned element to it, noting that his required traditional organisational stovepipe to be deconstructed. Experimentation was done in logical phases: modelling; sea trials; and OPEX and/or operations. Following questions, the consensus was that Portugal had sensibly limited the scale of their ambition and been logical in their approach to capability development, which helped them more accurately conduct and present their capability requirements.

After a short break, Lieutenant Commander James Stone, the CROWSNEST Programme Manager in the Royal Navy, talked about this system from an organic force protection/layered defence capability of the QE Class aircraft carrier. Whilst potentially able to be hosted in a Merlin MkII ASW Helicopter, this is on a ‘fitted for but not with CROWSNEST’ model (noting that the ASW and AEW roles are mutually incompatible).

Key capabilities include IFF, ESM, AIS, Radar, Enhanced HMI (Data Fusion (Data over IP)), BLOS comms, and Link 16 (MIDS/JTRS), with in aircraft (Level 1), post-mission analysis (DOB -Level 2), and reach back (UK -Level 3). Importantly, the capability has an in-service Date of 2019, IOC 2020, and FOC of 2022. James finished his presentation by highlighting the importance of joint synthetic collective train, and stressed that CROWSNEST will provide real-time information to meaningfully inform Command decision-making.

In tandem, Professor Agostino Monorchio (Department of Electromagnetics, University Consortiu for Telecommunications) and Lieutenant Marco Sfrecola (Project Advisor Antennas and Telecommunications Branch, Italian Naval Support and Experimentation Branch) spoke about developing antenna technology to gain Maritime supremacy.

Key points coming out of their informative presentation included the minimising of RCS (as it brings exponential benefits), antenna miniaturisation (linking this to wavelength), and RAM technologies (usually to reduce hot spots on platforms already in-service), highlight the pros and cons in each potential solution.

In the final session of the morning, Robert Walden, a Principal Scientist at DSTL, talked about the integration of unmanned systems, and their sensors, into warships. He described Open Architecture Combat System (OACS), which aims to transition to an App-based CMS, and Maritime Autonomous Platform Exploitation (MAPLE – and associated ACER App), a persistent information open architecture for integrating Maritime unmanned vehicles.

The spine of his presentation emphasised the importance of high-fidelity, user-friendly integration as a critical factor in relaying information from unmanned systems, in attempting to improve Command decision-making. Ultimately, this effort aims to generate an actionable tactical picture that includes the fusing of off-board sensor product from unmanned vehicles.

The final presenter of the conference (as opposed to panellist) was Dr Emanuel Coelho, who is the Programme Manager for Maritime ISR at NATO’s CMRE. He talked about littoral battlespace sensing (ISR (I&W and IPOE)).

Giving examples of shortfalls in capabilities identified in NATO studies, Emanuel highlighted the continuum of ‘Sensemaking-Processing- Sensing-Deciding’, against a backdrop of ‘Informing and Preparing’.

He explored how best to use advanced Robotic Sensing Networks and Ocean Acoustic Prediction, in the context of IPOE and Battlespace Characterisation. Cantering through many of the concepts being researched, Emanuel talked through some capabilities being developed, for example underwater gliders (including related integration and reach back aspects).

The conference ended with an excellent and highly buoyant panel session, made up of John Stastny (Science Advisor to CNE-CAN- C6F at the US Office of Naval Research), Jorg Norrmann (R&D Coordinator, Bundeswehr Technical Centre for Ships and Naval Weapons, Maritime Technology and Research), and Commander Anjinho Mourinha (the Transformation Lead in the Concept, Development and Experimentation area within the Planning Division of the Portuguese Naval Staff).

The panel questions posed were: where are we now, and where do we want to be; networks of manned and autonomous systems…….is it possible; and how can we prepare for the next generation battlespace? That said, I encouraged delegates to be open-minded about what they might engage the panellists on, and they should be challenging in tackling ‘wicked problems’.

The points and questions covered in this final session were far too many and rich in protein to cover in detail here, but highlights in outline include the following:

  • Not sure we know where we are now! Need to task ourselves (including requirement capture) more effectively. Should CJOS COE, or a similar organisation, conduct a capability audit, then more sensibly, efficiently and/or sensibly task multiple organisations (e.g. CMRE)?
  • Future capability requirements are to linear in thinking, and are far from radical. This limits Vince’s in technology and prevents Allied nations obtaining a competitive edge.
  • Are we already in the ‘next generation battlespace’ (the so called grey zone of warfare)? Or are we not looking far enough ahead from a temporal horizon perspective, and/or is our level of ambition – for many reasons, some justified – too stifled? Should we be shaping/dictating the ‘next generation battlespace’?
  • Unmanned and/or autonomous systems are possible because they are already here! Or are we talking about the predominant culture related to this type of capability (especially in the underwater battlespace)?
  • Why has ‘WITIA’ (Warfare in the Information Age a Comd JFC driven initiative), nor ‘Big Data’ been mentioned substantively in this conference?
  • Are we kidding ourselves about Defence’s genuine collaboration with industry partners? Yes, it is done in patches, but is it common/best practice? Given the competitive fiscal factors in play, will Defence sector industry players really collaborate? Are we proactively engaging companies who traditionally do not operate in the Defence space?
  • Arguably, legal and ethical issues are a bigger issue than making technological advances. For example, are we confident that truly automated capabilities will consistently obey the Commander’s intent?
  • We need to consider threats and vulnerabilities to automation more seriously. Can we counter the autonomous systems of potential adversaries? Are we factoring in the fact that high-end technology is available to the masses at a low entry level (in terms of price and availability)?
  • Can current military personnel operate emerging NDI technologies? Are DLODs (or equivalents) rebalanced to account for the additional training effort that will undoubtedly be required? Are Armed Forces changing the way they recruit to allow for future capabilities? Or should we develop capabilities that follow the iPhone model (i.e. a hugely complex and capable piece of ‘equipment’, that is used by virtually all (and without a handbook!))?
  • Do we know what technologies are available, and are we asymmetric in exploiting it?
  • Should we shift from being agile in generating military capability (as it generally takes too long to obtain and is too expensive), to being flexible in exploiting what becomes available.

The Naval Domain Intelligence meeting was then concluded by conference chairman Commodore (Retd) Ian McGhie, Former Deputy Director Intelligence Capability, Strategy and Policy, Royal Navy.