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ESC helps U.S. Coast Guard improve tactical communications
Lt. Col. Valerie Hackett of the Electronic Systems Center Capabilities Integration Office discusses proof of concept capability with Lt. Cmdr. Ryan Hamel, 1st Coast Guard District, at the Logan Airport Emergency Operation Center Oct. 6. Hamel and Hackett were members of a team that demonstrated a “mesh network” capability that enables the sharing of information between disparate command centers and mobile tactical assets in real-time. (Courtesy photo)
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ESC helps U.S. Coast Guard improve tactical communications

Posted 12/15/2011   Updated 12/15/2011 Email story   Print story

    


by Patty Welsh
66th Air Base Group Public Affairs


12/15/2011 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- The Electronic Systems Center Capabilities Integration Office recently demonstrated a proof of concept capability for the U.S. Coast Guard to improve command and control communications between assets ashore, afloat and aloft.

The new capability, devised as part of the office's Rapid Innovations Project program, is also more agile than current practices.

"Commanders need to stay in constant contact with their ships on the tactical edge," said Carmen Corsetti, MITRE project lead for Joint Expeditionary Force Experimentation. "We looked at what technology already existed and how we could leverage it in a cost effective manner to enhance that capability."

By using commercially available frequencies, the Coast Guard and other local, state and government agencies are able to access the same critical information through a network available on an internet protocol backbone.

The Cross-Agency Composable Mesh Network, through the use of supporting IP-enabled radio nodes and infrastructure, enables the encrypted sharing of data, voice and video information between disparate command centers and mobile tactical assets in real-time.

"This could be used for multiple mission threads, rapidly deployed to counter an emerging crisis or to manage an event of national significance like a hurricane, such as Katrina, major oil spill like Deepwater Horizon or large public events," said Michael Hussey, Experimentation and Innovation team member.

The network is extensible and can seamlessly integrate various government agencies, which in the recent past, struggled to communicate directly with the Officer-in-Charge, or OIC, because each agency generally had their own dedicated radios or frequencies. One example of this is when Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) carriers come into Boston Harbor. As the ships are classified as Certain Dangerous Cargoes vessels, it is mandated by the USCG Captain of the Port that they be escorted to their discharge facility. This requires extensive cross-agency information sharing and planning in advance and real-time communications during all harbor transits.

As part of the USCG Innovation Expo, a proof of concept demonstration was completed in October in Tampa, Fla. A prototype line of sight mesh network had already been set up throughout Massachusetts Bay, between Provincetown, Mass., and Gloucester, Mass. Additionally, a second mesh network was set up in the Tampa Bay area and linked to the primary network locally, which included a node at ESC's C4ISR Integration Enterprise Facility (CEIF) lab.

During the demonstration, live video, audio and situational awareness products were exchanged securely in real-time between tactical aerial and maritime assets in both Tampa Bay and Boston Harbor, as well as the CEIF lab at Hanscom and the exhibit floor, which included a Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle streaming live video of the Expo.

"A lot of networks currently are limited to voice," said U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Ryan Kowalske, TRIDENT project lead from District 1. "This [mesh network] allows us to do full motion video, real time chat, Blue Force Tracking - we know where our assets are and everyone has the common operating picture."

As part of the demonstration, personnel using mobile devices (Android, iOS and RIM) were also able to receive and share data securely.

"We wanted to ensure that those who were authorized and needed the information would be able to access the network and get the needed information," said Corsetti. "Today a lot of this would be through a labor-intensive and often latent paper process. We wanted to shorten that timeline by making the information available machine-to-machine."

The project's strategic objectives were to enhance the command and control decision making cycle, expand current defense support for civil authorities (DSCA) capabilities, and by leveraging recent advancements in mobile ad-hoc networking technology (self-forming and healing network), to broaden interoperable communications for sustained mission coordination for tactical teams on the move.

"The system performed exceptionally well [at the Expo]," said Kowalske. "It showcased an enhanced capability that is needed. It provides a conduit to get information out to warfighters and first responders."

For the future, the project team will be examining other government agency, or OGA, mission requirements, establishing policies and procedures and advancing the proof of concept capability, especially in the areas of cross-domain security, emergency management and first responder communications. The Mesh Network is currently being evaluated to see if it would be a good candidate for future demonstration at the Air Force-sponsored Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment 2012, or JEFX 12, to be held in the spring.

"Through the combined dedication of the U.S. Coast Guard and ESC supporting the Wyle-MITRE engineering team, a C4ISR proof of concept capability was rapidly delivered that enables seamless collaboration across U.S. government agencies," said Lt. Col. Valerie Hackett of the Capabilities Integration Office. "We want to make the most of our current success in JEFX 12, and apply, tailor, and refine this capability to support our warfighters in deployed, austere environments. Where appropriate, we want to continue our OGA innovative partnerships and leverage other existing and emerging technologies in relevant fields."

The Coast Guard sees benefits as well.

"In this lean economic time, all parts of DoD and DHS [Department of Homeland Security] need to collaborate," said Kowalske. "No one can accomplish anything on their own, especially in the area of ever-changing technology. We all worked to achieve this common goal."



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