XML feeds data into crosshairs

XML feeds data into crosshairs

As the leading glue source among disparate data platforms, Extensible Markup Language is starting to cement together everything from terrorist watch lists to military targeting systems.

XML has even made inroads into real-time command and control in a recent urban warfare exercise testing remote control of unmanned aerial vehicles for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

Cmdr. James M. Joyner, the Joint Forces Command program manager for ISR experiments, said yesterday that a Level 3 XML schema 'let several of our tactical systems communicate. Each system did what it normally did, with a software driver to export data by cable or IP' through an encrypted satellite link to the other systems.

An XML schema lets disparate data platforms understand each other's vocabularies and rules.

Joyner called the cursor-on-target scheme 'a de facto standard for tactical system integration.' He said the targeting data can even include reduced-frame video snapshots if bandwidth is sufficient.

'It exceeded my expectations,' Joyner said of the cursor-on-target XML test. 'All the platforms have different operating systems, and XML communicates between them.' He said he considers it 'tactically significant, because 100 percent of the time the UAV went there' when the ground controller moved a screen map cursor to a new spot.

There was a delay, however, before the UAV executed each command, 'about 10 seconds,' Joyner said. He hopes that time will drop in future experiments this year, which will try out 'more sensors, more UAVs,' he said.

Cursor-on-target XML was developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mitre Corp. of Bedford, Mass., and the Air Force Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass. It would replace 'the human voice and physical interface needed when combat controllers transmit targeting data,' according to a September MIT paper.

The current process is for controllers 'to call in target coordinates to a forward command center, which in turn relays them to an airborne command center. The data is then given by voice to an Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft and then relayed again by voice to a strike aircraft pilot,' MIT said.

Cursor-on-target 'speeds up the operation and greatly reduces the possibility of human error,' the MIT paper said. 'All the necessary information and tasking orders flow to the target as needed when command center personnel literally put the computer cursor over the target and click to approve.'

Michael Daconta, the Homeland Security Department's metadata program manager, has called XML 'part of a larger trend to move the smarts out of the applications and into the data.'

He is leading a revision of the Federal Enterprise Architecture's data reference model to enable easier exchange of unstructured as well as semistructured data among different agencies' systems.

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