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Challenge winners
Members of the winning team in the 2010 Air Force Research Laboratory Commander's Challenge pose for a photo while at Kirtland AFB, N.M. They are (top row, from left): 1st Lt. Colleen Carey, 1st Lt.1Lt Jameson Utrilla Brandon Witbeck and David Rozenberg. (Bottom Row, from left): 1st Lt. Kana Yamamoto, Cinque Ajose and 1st Lt. Sun Han. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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ESC engineers bring innovation to AFRL Commander's Challenge

Posted 11/5/2010   Updated 11/5/2010 Email story   Print story

    


by Kevin Gilmartin
66th Air Base Group Public Affairs


11/5/2010 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- Four Electronic Systems Center engineers were among 15 junior Air Force Materiel Command personnel chosen to participate in the 2010 Air Force Research Laboratory Commander's Challenge, a two-team competition where each team designs, develops and demonstrates a solution to an urgent warfighter need.

The challenge for this year's competition, which lasted six months, involved developing a perimeter surveillance and detection system for a forward operating base and combat outposts, primarily in the Afghanistan theatre of operations. Both teams had a limited time and budget to produce a system that could be transitioned to the warfighter with very little follow-on effort.

"This is a win-win situation," said Maj. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, commander of Air Force Research Laboratory. "Junior people from throughout Air Force Materiel Command get the opportunity to work on a team to take on a real world problem. The Air Force Research Laboratory gets the opportunity to watch 'out of the box' thinking."

David Rozenberg of ESC's Capabilities Integration Division and 1st Lt. Colleen Carey of ESC's Battle Management Directorate were members of the winning team, which operated out of Eglin AFB, Fla. Second Lt. Stephen Maksim and 2nd Lt. Ryan Dicosomo of the Battle Management directorate were part of the second team, which operated out of Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.

All four agree the challenge, which ran from April through September, was a great experience, although often grueling. The experience offered hands-on engineering, purchasing, and working with outside agencies. They also had to write their own code, solder wires and do whatever else was necessary to field the system.

For six months, both teams worked hard on developing their solutions. In September, both team's systems were tested at White Sands, New Mexico, where a simulated forward operating base used for training was attacked by an opposing force manned by contractors. Both teams faced the same 18-hour scenario on separate days. The Eglin team's solution was chosen as the competition winner.

"We met the other team for the first time at the kick off meeting," said Mr. Rozenberg, who served as the winning team's engineering lead. "Communication was cut off after that to prevent a cross-flow of information, except through a central team which ran the challenge."

"After the initial meeting, we got right to work," said Lieutenant Carey, who was the team lead. "Our first objective was to interview users, and industry members to find out what the need is and what's already out there."

The Eglin team learned that the New Mexico National Guard had a system known as the Mobile Detection and Assessment System that was designed for border protection, but was a ripe candidate for innovative improvements to existing hardware that were not fully integrated due to lack of funding.

"This was the perfect place to start," said Mr. Rozenberg, "because much of the equipment was already in the inventory, which meant a limited transition time to the user. Our goal was to fuse the sensors and other equipment together and make an easy-to-use system that could quickly disseminate information on intruders to the end users; primarily the fire team or people in the guard tower."

The equipment already in the inventory included long- and short-range radars, cameras with electro optical and infrared capabilities, and unattended ground sensors for areas beyond the line of sight. They also employed a Raven remotely-piloted vehicle, a small, hand-launched plane that provides reconnaissance and target acquisition.

"All sensor information was fed into a user interface we developed," said Lieutenant Carey. "The interface fused the information together and the tactical operations center disseminated it to smart phones to give the users the location and imagery of whatever the target was."

A smart phone was chosen over radios, because the fire team or guards could view a picture of the target taken moments before, as well as view a map with the target's coordinates. The information could also be sent to the Raven pilots, allowing them to fly the RPV over the target area.

"The data can be sent in cursor-on-target messages and be easily integrated with any other military asset," Lieutenant Carey said.

The fire team members that responded to potential intruders were outfitted with bio monitoring systems that could indicate if they were engaged in a fight, were wounded or killed.

The team also developed an early warning analysis system that would store data on potential enemy movements and intrusion attempts, analyzing trends that could indicate weapons caching, and other hot spots for increased situational awareness.

All the participants agreed that testing their system at White Sands in late September was stressful, but also exhilarating.

"The scenario we faced at White Sands was very realistic, and really put our system to the test," Lieutenant Carey said. "Our adrenaline was pumping throughout the event, and it was great to see our system put through its paces."

The system developed by the Eglin team performed well during the 18-hour scenario, which began at 6 a.m., and really kicked into high gear around noon. The system helped the "blue force" forecast an impending attack, and informed them of when and where it actually took place.

"It was a great experience, from start to finish," said Mr. Rozenberg. "Actually getting to talk to people in the field and find out what they're using and what they need and directly address their needs gave me a different view of the fight. Then, bringing your own interpretation and seeing it come to life was awesome. "

The challenge was developed by ESC Commander Lt. Gen. Ted Bowlds in 2006, when he was a major general serving as AFRL commander.

"I'm happy to see that four of the 15 participants in the AFRL Commander's Challenge were from ESC, because the innovation and out-of-the box thinking to develop rapidly fielded solutions for our warfighters that this competition encourages is just what we need here, and throughout our command, as we meet our mission requirements," he said. "These four individuals have proven what can be accomplished by a small, focused group of people with a limited budget in a short amount of time."



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