How Army PEO IEW&S is using sensors and cloud to seek battlefield clarity

EW technologies and ISR sensors boost situational awareness, force protection, and reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition.

The Army Program Executive Office for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors (PEO IEW&S) focuses on a single objective: understanding the battlefield. As it works to fulfill its mandate, the organization develops and refines an array of electronic warfare technologies and advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) sensors that promise to lead to improvements in situational awareness, force protection and reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition (RSTA).

Just six project managers direct Army PEO IEW&S's research and development efforts. Collectively, they are responsible for the organization's work in electronic warfare, airborne reconnaissance and exploitation systems, aircraft survivability equipment, distributed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems, navigation technology and night vision/RSTA technologies.

At a time when forces on the tactical edge are finding themselves targeted by nimble adversaries possessing lethal and often stealthy weapons, aircraft survivability equipment and cloud-enhanced intelligence processing and distribution have emerged as two key areas of Army PEO IEW&S's research and development.

Defending Aircraft

Using advanced sensors to detect and defend against enemy attacks is at the core of Army PEO IEW&S's mission. Even at a time when unmanned aerial vehicles are taking to the skies in unprecedented numbers, manned aircraft remain essential and irreplaceable in virtually all current and potential theaters.

Aircraft and pilot survivability is something that COL John Leaphart, project manager of PEO IEW&S's Aircraft Survivability Equipment (ASE) program, thinks about nearly every moment of every day. ASE's aim, Leaphart noted, is to ensure that all Army aircraft, both rotary- and fixed wing, are equipped with self-protection systems that are modular, integrated and optimized to ensure survivability across the range of operations.

Based at Redstone Arsenal, Ala., ASE includes three sensor-oriented projects, as well as a countermeasure research initiative. The sensor-focused programs are the AN/AAR-57 Common Missile Warning System (CMWS), the AN/AVR-2B(V) Laser Detecting Set (LDS) and the AN/APR-39A(V)1/4 Radar Signal Detecting Set (RSDS). On the countermeasures front, Leaphart manages the AN/ALQ-212 Advance Threat Infrared Countermeasure (ATIRCM) project.

Leaphart observed that ASE's core efforts are currently based on the CMWS and ATIRCM programs, with LDS and RSDS playing ancillary roles. CMWS uses an ultraviolet sensor array to detect incoming man-portable air-defense (MANPAD) shoulder-launched missiles, and then fires flares that are designed to confuse the missiles' internal navigation systems, thereby deflecting the attack. ATIRCM, meanwhile, is a laser-based countermeasure developed to defeat MANPAD attacks. Leaphart noted that ATIRCM is a reusable asset in that it requires no expendables. Additionally, an ATIRCM system failure won't impact CMWS's simultaneous flare counter response.

Leaphart noted that the technology has proven to be extremely effective. "It's been over five years since we lost an aircraft in theater due to a MANPAD," he said.

ASE's next objective is to combine the four existing programs into a single, aircraft self-defense system. Dubbed Integrated ASE, the merged system would combine multiple sensor, processing and countermeasure systems, giving aircraft crew members a simplified and unified situational view of threats and potential responses. The single package also promises to deliver significant size, weight and power, and also cost and maintenance benefits.

As work on Integrated ASE progresses, Leaphart and his team continue to refine and enhance other programs. Next up is a software upgrade to CMWS that is scheduled for release in September, and which will give pilots a quick-reaction "hostile-fire" capability designed to protect their aircraft against small-arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades and anti-aircraft artillery. "If a tracer is detected, a calculation is made to determine whether or not it is hostile fire," Leaphart said.

Cloud-Powered Intelligence Distribution

Another key PEO IEW&S program, the Distributed Common Ground System-Army (DCGS-A), uses cloud technology to enhance intelligence processing and deployment.

COL Charles Wells, DCGS-A's project manager, described the program as "the Army’s premier intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance processing and exploitation system." Wells noted that DCGS-A relies on cloud technology to rapidly gather, collaborate and share intelligence data to shape combat operations. "DCGS-A enables a paradigm shift in Army intelligence," Wells said. "It has been built to intelligence community framework standards, and delivers unprecedented real-time, integrated intelligence analysis fused into one common accessible format."

DCGS-A receives data from multiple sensors—space-based, airborne and terrestrial—as well as multiple intelligence sources, including signals intelligence, imagery, human intelligence and biometric data, and combines everything into a single system.

"With DCGS-A, the analyst can perform valuable multi-disciplined intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance analysis, and easily share that data with other Army units, sister services and even coalition partners," Wells said. "Better analysis and increased collaboration means better Intelligence support to the tactical commander."

DCGS-A marks a major change in the way intelligence reaches the people who need to use it, according to Wells. Historically, every sensor has had its own unique ground system to receive, store and process intelligence data. This arrangement forced the analyst to go to multiple, separate ground stations to analyze other sensor data. This also posed tremendous challenges when trying to share intelligence.

"DCGS-A provides an integrated solution that operates in a secure, distributed and collaborative environment," Wells said. "A single system means more powerful analysis, and increased collaboration."

An Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) of DCGS-A Software Baseline 1.0 was completed in June Fort Stewart, Ga. Wells noted that the results will support a Full Deployment Decision (FDD) sometime this fall.

Wells observed that one of the biggest challenges he faces is the need to accomplish more with limited resources. "Cloud technology is key, and will help us increase efficiency," he said. "We can have a secure, centralized location for our data, and provide access across the Army using just a secure Web browser and a data connection." The project promises savings in training and fielding costs as it consolidates or eliminates long-term software licensing expenses.

While DCGS-A is primarily an intelligence tool, it is also a key component in development of a common operational environment to facilitate decision making. "We are working closely with the mission command community to converge intelligence and operations onto a single, integrated system," Wells said. "This will generate huge efficiencies, not just in terms of hardware and software savings, but ultimately in making our commanders and staffs more efficient and effective."

Soldiers are already using DCGS-A in stateside and overseas missions. "DCGS-A is beginning to extend into the joint environment," Wells said. "We recently met with the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force in Okinawa, and are partnering with them on a USMC field use experiment of DCGS-A capabilities."

Wells observed that it's an exciting time for Army Intelligence and the DCGS-A program. "We will continue to evolve DCGS-A to ensure that it is powerful and easy to use, and that it fully leverages the capabilities of the intelligence community, all while using an acquisition model that levels the playing field for our industry partners," he said

Ultimately, however, DCGS-A's success will be judged by the troops. "We must ensure they have the best tools to accomplish the mission," Well said.