Navy tries out tactical toolkit

The Navy plans to install a prototype of its new Area Air Defense Commander
module on the cruiser USS Shiloh this spring. The AADC toolkit for operational and
tactical planning will go on board 12 Aegis cruisers over the next five years.


The hardware and software toolkit is designed to smooth out joint operations by U.S.
military branches and allied forces. It integrates real-time situational information from
existing Defense Department systems with databases of geographic and weapons systems
information.


The prototype, developed by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in
Laurel, Md., can produce in a matter of minutes plans that would take weeks by hand.


“This capability does not now exist in the fleet. It doesn’t exist
anywhere,” said retired Adm. Leighton W. “Snuffy” Smith, a project adviser.


The Navy unveiled AADC during Joint Task Force Exercises 99-1, conducted over three
weeks in February and March. More than 24,000 Navy and Air Force personnel participated in
operations off the Carolina coast, along with forces from Europe and South America. The
operational commanders in Laurel used AADC to monitor, direct and respond to events
immediately.


Development began in 1997 with the Navy as lead agency, and AADC had its first field
test in May 1998 during Fleet Battle Experiment-C.


The February and March exercises were the last tests before the system moves onto the
Shiloh test bed.


Four databases in AADC hold information about assets to be defended, the order of
battle of U.S. and allied forces, the enemy’s order of battle and estimates of the
enemy’s course of action.


Other databases have 3-D renderings of world geography and details about the
capabilities of friendly and enemy weapons systems.


The planning portion of AADC combines this information with current positions to
produce a plan of action. A war-gaming function runs through the plan 25 times in about
five minutes to identify weaknesses and suggest alternatives.


The plan can display on multiple screens simultaneously, and planners in various
branches and at remote locations can collaborate via whiteboard and chat functions.


The operations portion shows commanders what is happening in the theater and lets them
compare actual positions of military elements against planned positions.


Retired Army Lt. Gen. Marvin Covault, an adviser, said teams of hundreds of planners
now labor for weeks to produce joint operations plans that cannot be updated effectively
when conditions change.


But a staff of 35 people using AADC could monitor operations 24 hours a day, seven days
a week, and produce 10 or more plans a day in response to conditions, he said.


The software and databases are proprietary. The commercial hardware from Silicon
Graphics Inc. is what Covault called “state-of-the-shelf.”


Planning functions are processed on an array of three SGI Origin2000 servers. Four SGI
Onyx2 Reality systems render the 3-D graphics. Seven SGI Octane workstations power the
user consoles. Other operations run on another Origin2000.


The graphical depictions of aircraft, ship and missile positions on the high-resolution
monitors resemble early computer games.


The images are constructed from continuous streams of data from Air Force and Navy
positioning and communications systems. Military users said the graphical icons are a vast
improvement over blips on a radar screen, and the silhouettes are realistic enough that an
F-14 Tomcat, for instance, is immediately recognizable.


The AADC hardware and software will cost about $10 million to install aboard the
Shiloh. The cruiser has an asynchronous transfer mode backbone network with redundant
100-Mbps Fast Ethernet links.


Covault said past advances in DOD technology have not improved effectiveness nearly as
well. He said AADC will be a turning point for using existing technology to produce
capability “far beyond what we can do today.”
         





About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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