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A joint tactical air controller observes the MV-22 Osprey's approach during a personnel recovery mission at Nellis AFB, Nev., during the Joint Expeditionary Forces Experiment 2010, which took place April 12 through 23. (Courtesy photo)
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IP-based airborne comm tested hard during JEFX '10

Posted 6/1/2010   Updated 6/1/2010 Email story   Print story


by Chuck Paone
66th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

6/1/2010 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- Officials at the Electronic Systems Center here are currently analyzing reams of data gleaned from the recently completed Joint Expeditionary Forces Experiment '10, known as JEFX.

The massive experiment, the final phase of which ran from April 12 through 23, featured live-fly activities mostly at Nellis AFB, Nev., but also over Dugway Proving Ground in Utah and elsewhere. It also combined numerous simulations.  Nearly all activity was controlled from the combined air and space operations center at Nellis, known as CAOC-N.

JEFX provided a forum to experiment with 13 promising technology initiatives, most dealing with some aspect of airborne networking. The airborne network set up for JEFX was the most complex to date, involving multiple experimental and emerging Internet Protocol, or IP, waveforms.

"IP radios are definitely where we're headed," said Col. Jeff Hodgdon, Enterprise Integration Division director here. "The key now is to develop and use IP as effectively as we can."

Without IP, data exchanges are more limited, with too much reliance on point-to-point exchanges between stove-piped systems, according to Jeff Doane, the EID's lead communications engineer.

"We could never have created the network we had without IP," he said.

The experiment produced numerous data-sharing successes, with ground-to-air and air-to-ground communications working particularly well. Participants moved data "terrestrially" over IP effectively too. They also moved most situational awareness data to and from various locations without much problem.

"There were a lot of different types of IP radios out there," Colonel Hodgdon said. "Those instances of IP working directly with the guy on the ground, line of sight, worked very well."

Moving full-motion video, with its huge bandwidth requirements, through the air proved a bit more challenging. Successfully transmitting video between Dugway, where the Defense Department's ISR Task Force was operating, and Nellis via a so-called airborne bridge brought particular challenges.

The bridge entailed two properly outfitted DH-6 Twin Otter aircraft brought from MIT's Lincoln Laboratory, located here. One was positioned over St. George, Utah, the other over the Nellis ranges. The hope was to transmit unmanned aerial system video from Dugway via the bridge back to CAOC-N. While this didn't work as well as officials hoped, they learned a lot.

"It was the first time we tried to point two airborne IP radios at one another to create an air bridge," Colonel Hodgdon said. "We didn't have total, end-to-end success, but sometimes that's why you do the experiment."

The ESC team scheduled a full-day meeting involving numerous parties in late May to go over all the data and try to sort through the issues. "It's a very challenging technical problem," Mr. Doane said.

An equally significant challenge, Colonel Hodgdon said, is deciding how to manage all of this. "If everyone wants to push imagery around, IP's a great way to do it, but how do you manage it?"

Mr. Doane said the team brought in a number of management tools, many of which had considerable success. "But one of the outcomes of this has to be: how do we cut back on the number of tools? And how do we identify the right tools to give the operator, so they can control, monitor and manage the network?" he said.

Much of the air-to-air effort revolved around a Joint Concept Technology Demonstration known as CABLE, which stands for Communications Airborne Layer Expansion. ESC's 653rd ELSG is one of the main organizations involved in CABLE, which allows IP traffic to choose automatically the optimum communication route to get to its endpoint, creating a true network and even linking disparate networks. The bottom line is that data gets to and from where it's needed, automatically.

The ESC and MITRE-developed Cursor on Target, or CoT, system also played a critical role. CoT is now used in myriad defense and non-defense applications to enable automated machine-to-machine interfaces, effectively translating information among disparate systems.

During JEFX, the technology processed "25 million messages," according to Lt. Col. Dan Bennett, chief of the EID's Experimentation Branch.

CoT is a proven technology, wrung out in previous experiments, dating to 2003 and 2004. Yet it's constantly evolving, and JEFX still provides a great opportunity to test advances, Colonel Bennett said.

While many demonstrations, exercises and experiments continually grow in size, JEFX has actually shrunk. Now smaller and more tightly focused, it also features fewer operators and more engineers and technicians.

"It's all about the data," Colonel Hodgdon said. "So we use JEFX to get information and then we analyze that information to make the key decisions that need to be made to transition the capability to programs of record and/or the warfighter."

6/11/2010 8:35:37 AM ET
It would be nice if they could write these articles in a language that is understood by people on the outside. A person without years of military experience would have no idea what half of this article, and most articles written by the AF, says.
Mark, USA
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