Empire Challenge’ Promotes Intelligence Interoperability

WASHINGTON, May 27, 2011 — A hand­held device that would give new intel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance and recon­nais­sance capa­bil­i­ties to warfight­ers and an air­frame equipped with “plug and play” sen­sors are among new tech­nolo­gies being test­ed dur­ing U.S. Joint Forces Command’s Empire Chal­lenge 2011 demon­stra­tion.
The demon­stra­tion kicked off May 23 and con­tin­ues through June 3, bring­ing togeth­er more than 2,000 par­tic­i­pants world­wide in a live, joint and coali­tion ISR inter­op­er­abil­i­ty demon­stra­tion, John Kit­tle, Empire Chal­lenge project man­ag­er, told reporters yes­ter­day.

The annu­al exer­cise show­cas­es emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies and pro­vides lessons learned to improve intel­li­gence col­lec­tion and analy­sis and test bet­ter ways to get it out to warfight­ers who need it.

The demonstration’s three pri­or­i­ty objec­tives focus on inter­op­er­abil­i­ty between the ser­vices’ dis­trib­uted com­mon ground sys­tems and between U.S. and coali­tion part­ners, and in incor­po­rat­ing new and emerg­ing sen­sors, Kit­tle explained.

Par­tic­i­pants from the Unit­ed States, Aus­tralia, Cana­da, Den­mark, Fin­land, France, Nether­lands, Swe­den, the Unit­ed King­dom and NATO are work­ing togeth­er on those objec­tives dur­ing Empire Chal­lenge. Almost half of them are on the ground at Fort Huachu­ca, Ariz., where teams from the Unit­ed States, Unit­ed King­dom, Cana­da and Aus­tralia are oper­at­ing along­side oth­er multi­na­tion­al part­ners among moun­tains, canyons and veg­e­ta­tion that close­ly resem­ble con­di­tions in Afghanistan.

“This year, we’ve spread every­thing out in order to repli­cate the oper­at­ing envi­ron­ment in Afghanistan, pro­vid­ing a more real­is­tic set­ting which dri­ves real­is­tic results,” said Air Force Col. Joe McDon­ald, Joint Forces Command’s Joint Intel­li­gence Oper­a­tions Cen­ter ISR inte­gra­tion, exper­i­men­ta­tion and sys­tems inte­gra­tion chief.

The activ­i­ties and sce­nar­ios are ramp­ing up, Kit­tle said. “We are ful­ly func­tion­al with all of our net­works and all of our sys­tems,” he added. “Lots of air­craft are fly­ing, lots of ground sen­sors are work­ing, lots of aerostats are out here col­lect­ing all of that infor­ma­tion that we are hop­ing to share among our part­ners.”

As “blue” and “oppos­ing” forces on the ground con­duct sce­nar­ios based on case stud­ies direct­ly out of Afghanistan, they’re sup­port­ed by a broad range of ground and air­borne intel­li­gence-gath­er­ing plat­forms.

These include aerostats, Cess­na Car­a­van air­craft, E-8 joint sur­veil­lance tar­get attack radar sys­tems, EC-130H Com­pass Call air­borne tac­ti­cal weapon sys­tems, FASTCOM Navion air­craft, Fire­bird option­al­ly pilot­ed sys­tem, Proxy Skyraider advanced heavy pay­load manned air­craft, RQ-4 Glob­al Hawk unmanned aer­i­al vehi­cles, ScanEa­gle unmanned air­craft sys­tems, U-2 Drag­on Lady high-alti­tude recon­nais­sance air­craft and Desert Hawk unmanned aer­i­al sys­tem.

Through­out the demon­stra­tion, the par­tic­i­pants will test more than 30 capa­bil­i­ties with a focus on improv­ing multi­na­tion­al inter­op­er­abil­i­ty and data shar­ing. Among them is the Army’s new “Rel­e­vant ISR to the Edge” or RITE, sys­tem. This hand­held device is equipped with var­i­ous appli­ca­tions designed to bring intel­li­gence direct­ly to troops at the brigade com­bat team lev­el and below.

“This is what that pro­gram is real­ly try­ing to get at: get­ting tac­ti­cal­ly rel­e­vant infor­ma­tion to a sol­dier at the lead­ing edge in a hand-held device,” Kit­tle said.

Anoth­er promis­ing new tech­nol­o­gy is based on a com­mer­cial “Fire­bird” air­frame that can oper­ate either as an unmanned drone or a pilot­ed air­craft. What’s par­tic­u­lar­ly excit­ing, Kit­tle said, is its sys­tem archi­tec­ture that enables users to switch out dif­fer­ent sen­sors or com­bi­na­tions of high­ly capa­ble sen­sors in as lit­tle as 20 min­utes.

While putting these and oth­er tech­nolo­gies to the test under real­is­tic con­di­tions, McDon­ald said a major objec­tive of Empire Chal­lenge will be to ensure capa­bil­i­ties live up to their promis­es.

“There’s noth­ing like a capa­bil­i­ty arriv­ing in the­ater that says it will do A, B and C; how­ev­er, in the field they real­ize it does A and B, but C it doesn’t do at all,” he said. “We don’t want to leave young sol­diers in the field try­ing to fig­ure out how to make things work. We need to deliv­er capa­bil­i­ties that do what they say they do.”

As the train­ing tem­po picks up at Fort Huachu­ca, live oper­a­tions also are tak­ing place at Camp Leje­une, N.C. There, the Army Research Lab and par­tic­i­pat­ing river­ine assets will test the use of a net­worked sen­sor array deployed in a mar­itime lit­toral envi­ron­ment to sup­port mar­itime sur­veil­lance, tar­get­ing, coun­ter­drug and coun­ter­pira­cy oper­a­tions.

Addi­tion­al­ly, com­put­er mod­el­ing and sim­u­la­tion and analy­sis is under way at Joint Forces Command’s Joint Intel­li­gence Lab in Suf­folk, Va.; the Com­bined Air Oper­a­tions Cen­ter-Exper­i­men­tal at Lan­g­ley Air Force Base, Va.; each service’s dis­trib­uted com­mon ground or sur­face sys­tem lab­o­ra­to­ries; and coali­tion sites in Cana­da and the Unit­ed King­dom. Intel­li­gence col­lect­ed at Fort Huachu­ca or gen­er­at­ed through com­put­er mod­el­ing and sim­u­la­tion is fed to ana­lysts at par­tic­i­pat­ing sites, who turn it around as quick­ly as pos­si­ble.

Sev­er­al days into the demon­stra­tion, Kit­tle report­ed he’s see­ing promis­ing signs that Empire Chal­lenge is pro­mot­ing data-shar­ing among coali­tion part­ners and ensur­ing new tech­nolo­gies are designed with inter­op­er­abil­i­ty in mind.

“As things start to be devel­oped and inte­grat­ed into the mil­i­tary ser­vices, we try to ensure that the infor­ma­tion they pro­duce is inter­op­er­a­ble with all those oth­er sys­tems and that those sys­tems can mature and hope­ful­ly be field­ed in the short amount of time,” he said.

A broad range of U.S. orga­ni­za­tions and agen­cies are sup­port­ing this year’s Empire Chal­lenge. They include the office of the under­sec­re­tary of defense for intel­li­gence, the Joint Staff Intel­li­gence Direc­torate, the Defense Intel­li­gence Agency, the Nation­al Geospa­tial-Intel­li­gence Agency, the Nation­al Recon­nais­sance Office, the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Agency, the ser­vices and U.S. Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Com­mand.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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