A partnership between U.S. Joint Forces Command and Northrop Grumman is helping enable joint warfighters during Empire Challenge 09, a live joint and coalition intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance demonstration that spans locations around the globe.
By MC2 Katrina Parker
(SUFFOLK, Va. - July 17, 2009) -- It’s a ghost army which exists only on video screens, but it is helping U.S. Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM) as it conducts a live joint and coalition intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) demonstration that spans locations around the globe.
The annual demonstration, Empire Challenge (EC), conducted by USJFCOM and its partners on behalf of the under secretary of Defense for intelligence (USD(I)), focuses on providing ISR support to warfighters. Empire Challenge participants include the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and NATO.
For this year’s Empire Challenge – EC09 - the demo includes a virtual brigade combat team (BCT) in addition to the live ISR assets. Both the live and the virtual assets are working together to form a combined task force that collects, analyzes and shares information.
Virtual simulation is used in place of live assets to exercise and experiment with new tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP).
“We are careful when using real world systems because we do not want to do anything that may inadvertently cause these capabilities to be affected negatively,” said Christopher Jackson, Integration Division chief at USJFCOM’s Joint Transformation Command for Intelligence and a principal investigator for EC09. “Accordingly, we use modeling and simulation capabilities to push the envelope and see what works and what does not work in changing how these high demand ISR assets are utilized.”
The virtual simulation provides an opportunity to test new capabilities and concepts in an environment that is operationally representative of what goes on in the real world, such as determining the proper sensor mix for particular types of targets in different types of environment.
Much of this work comes from a partnership between USJFCOM and an industry partner.
Northrop Grumman, as part of a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) with USJFCOM is providing virtual human-in-the-loop physics-based platform and sensor simulations and contributing technologies to EC09 that enhance ISR utilization in the execution of irregular warfare military operations.
“The virtual modeling and simulation environment provided by Northrop Grumman and exercised by the USJFCOM warfighters adds robustness to live demonstrations and provides the analytical underpinning in evaluating alternative net centric ISR architectures,” said Chris Frangos, chief architect of advanced programs and technology for Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems sector.
“What we learn from these research efforts will lead to innovative approaches to meeting the current and future needs of our warfighter customers.”
A CRADA is a written agreement between industry and government to work together as partners on a research project of mutual interest. Both partners appoint principal investigators to manage CRADA activities: Jackson for USJFCOM, and Frangos for Northrop Grumman.
According to Larry Rhodes, a MITRE employee supporting USJFCOM on the virtual BCT work, an objective for the virtual BCT is to force these sensors to do something they were not built to do. “How do we better optimize the use of individual and combinations of sensors to find the targets that we are looking for today? We have to use a combination of human intelligence, signals intelligence and imagery intelligence. All of those are needed to positively identify a target.”
Rhodes said that having a virtual BCT is important because in the current budget climate the cost of doing live flying events and moving around the right warfighters will be extremely difficult to sustain in the future.
"What we are doing through the CRADA is taking existing ISR capabilities and developing new ways of using these systems,” said Jackson. “We make them more effective, efficient and responsive in answering warfighter intelligence requirements.”
With the support CRADA provides, USJFCOM and Northrop Grumman will use data from EC09 to review ISR concepts and TTPs to address real world ISR issues.
“I think the government has certainly benefited from the CRADA,” Jackson said. “We have gained things we would not have had otherwise. The CRADA gives Empire Challenge the ISR modeling and simulation capability it has never had to any degree in the past. Without the CRADA, it would be very difficult to perform the tasks we have going on right now.”
Jackson said the virtual BCT, supported by the CRADA, is a win-win for both the government and Northrop Grumman.
“Most importantly, it ultimately becomes a win for the warfighters on the ground,” Jackson said. “We are working towards giving them better situational awareness, better battlespace awareness, better understanding of where the adversary is and what his capabilities are. That is really the goal.”
Empire Challenge 09 runs through July 31.