Military Embedded Systems

Empire Challenge 2011 pours on the power ... and not always in a good way


July 25, 2011

Chris A. Ciufo

General Micro Systems, Inc.

2,000 participants, 9 nations, and 12 U.S. agencies reach many conclusions in this year's Empire Challenge 2011. One of them is that low power, portability, and mission objectives rely on handhelds. Lower power means longer runtime.

Batteries, low-power devices, and energy conservation. What do these have to do with this year’s Empire Challenge (EC11)? EC11 is all about showing our coalition military strength and power, but like my January/February edition’s column “For want of a nail, the shoe was lost” ( mentions, it turns out the DoD is still desperate for lower-power solutions.

The test range at Fort Huachuca began humming with activity, EMI, and electronics cooling fans on May 1, as nine nations including the United States, Canada, Australia, and Great Britain began setting up for this year’s Empire Challenge. Focusing on C4ISR capabilities and coalition operations, the USJFCOM assumed the leadership role while relying on the Distributed Common Ground/Surface System (DCGS) Enterprise, the Joint Intelligence Operations Center (JIOC), the Distributed Development & Test Enterprise (DDTE), and too many other joint and coalition network backbones to mention here on one page.

The goals of EC11? 1. DCGS/DI2E (Defense Intelligence Information Enterprise) interoperability; 2. Support to coalition interoperability; and 3. Support to emerging sensor/system interoperability. In a nutshell: Make sure our C4ISR stuff all works as planned so we can gather actionable intelligence and conduct precision strike operations wherever we want to, anywhere on the planet. And we have to play nicely with our allies because this go-it-alone nonsense started by President Bush ain’t gonna get funding for much longer. I was privileged to be one of a small group of journalists to be briefed on and participate in a round-table discussion with the brass running EC11.

I had five COTS- and technology-related questions lined up, and when the discussion turned to “new ISR technologies and lessons learned,” I asked: “What technology do you most need that you didn’t have?” The answer surprised me. That’s because EC11 uses dozens and dozens of assets, from the U-2 Dragon Lady, A-10 Thunderbolt II, E-8 JSTARS, EC-130H Compass Call, F-16C, Firebird, RQ-4 Global Hawk, and on and on. Not to mention the network infrastructure, distributed databases, UAS ground stations, foreign platforms, and so on.

I expected to hear how better technology was required for any one of these platforms.

Nope. Instead, the EC11 program manager disclosed how important to the future were the Army’s handheld devices, based upon IP smartphones as part of the Land ISR Net. The Relevant ISR to the Edge (RITE) program brings soldier handheld devices to the battlefield, much like the ones I recently saw at demonstrated at Black Diamond and General Dynamics C4 Systems in Phoenix. These devices provide localized INTEL that’s essential for modern urban, asymmetric warfare. Turns out without that kind of on-the-ground info, all the other assets are less effective.

The challenges with portable, wearable devices, of course, are performance and power consumption, metrics that probably came to light during live fire operations at EC11. In fact, the typical DoD-style handheld device like GD’s GD300 wrist computer gets eight hours of runtime; that’s not much different from my iPhone when I lean heavily on the Wi-Fi. But I’m not in the field, behind enemy lines.

Accordingly, this issue of Military Embedded Systems is all about power. You could thumb over to our four-page Rugged Power Directory on power solutions starting on page 40, read up on how “Revolutionary lithium batteries might solve military’s power problems” (page 28), peruse the interview “This is how the Army builds a quiet hybrid vehicle: from the battery up” (page 32), and finally ponder the differences between “Hermetic power packaging vs. PEMs for mil electronics? No power issues here” (page 36).

The subject of power, power conversion, and batteries is so important that I’m talking about it here again. And the DoD seems to agree with me, since it came out as a key answer to my question about technology from EC11. To help you stay up on this topic, the editors at Military Embedded Systems have also placed the Rugged Power Directory online at and will be adding to it and expanding the capability to do product comparisons. This should be your “go to” source for rugged power products.

Chris A. Ciufo, Editor