Military Embedded Systems

JTRS, FCS, WGS, and DHS: Chances are Boeing Network & Space Systems builds it, talks to it, or helps the mission succeed


May 09, 2008

JTRS, FCS, WGS, and DHS: Chances are Boeing Network & Space Systems builds it, talks to it, or helps the mission succeed

At last Fall's MILCOM conference in Florida, AFCEA and the IEEE did a fabulous job creating a convergence between government and industry luminaries. One of these high-ranking officials was Boeing's Roger Krone, and I jumped at the chance for an exclusive interview with him on topics ranging from ASAT and missile defense, to network-centric warfare and rad-hard technology. Edited excerpts follow.

MIL EMBEDDED: Boeing is a veritable household name in military embedded, but can you enlighten our readers about its organization and focus?

KRONE: Boeing is one company with two distinct parts [commercial airplanes and defense]. We're in the $60 billion range, split about 50-50, although in 2006 the defense business was actually larger than the commercial aircraft business. The Precision Engagement and Mobility Systems business unit of IDS is essentially the airplane company and includes C-17, F-18, F-15, and some weapons. Meanwhile, our N&SS business unit is the network and space side. I always like to say, "We're everything else," with a real bent toward pulling together all our net-enabled, network-centric technology into one group. We also have some things that frankly didn't fit anyplace else, including the missile defense systems division. Then we have something called Combat Systems, which is primarily Future Combat Systems (FCS).

MIL EMBEDDED: What are a couple of your present programs?

KRONE: We just won the UK version of FCS called FRES, the Future Rapid Effects Systems, which will do the same thing we are trying to do at FCS: take a network and over-layer it on their medium-weight capability programs. We're going to upgrade all their vehicles. And we won the system of systems contract with Thales. Our role will be to do systems integration work, to provide the transport layer in the network, along with the network management.

We've also started up a new business division called Intelligence and Security Systems. It includes the SBI-net border security program, which is the application of net-enabled technology to the problem of protecting the southern U.S. border, on behalf of Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), under the Department of Homeland Security [DHS]. Under "Project 28," we build nine towers across the Arizona border around Sasabe. On the towers are personal radars and then IR and black and white or color TV cameras. We use the towers with a control center to actually detect illegal immigrants coming across the border and then the CBP can dispatch patrols to those locations.

Additionally, we do the combat search and rescue radio called Combat Survivor Evader Locator (CSEL) radio, which is the handheld radio that pilots carry in their flight suits. It's actually been used in combat to locate and communicate with soldiers. So it's a pretty exciting thing.

MIL EMBEDDED: What about on the space side of things?

KRONE: We provide technology for a wide range of programs for commercial, civil, and military government customers, including NASA, the DoD, and classified agencies. Our active, major satellite programs today are the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) system and the Global Positioning System satellites.

We also have another satellite on orbit, or on its way to its final destination, Spaceway F3. We launched two Spaceways and then changed the mission and used them for DirectTV services, which shows how flexible that design was. This third one is going up and will be used for its original purpose of satellite-based Internet services.

Besides that, we're a major subcontractor to NASA for the space shuttle missions. We built the Orbiters, so we've got the actual space shuttle part of the space shuttle system. We're the prime integrator on the International Space Station. We just won the contract to build the upper stage of the new launch vehicle called the Aries Upper Stage Production contract.

MIL EMBEDDED: So, what about space-based routers? Instead of uplinking and downlinking a bunch of channels and bits all the time, what kind of data processing is now available in space?

KRONE: In space, bandwidth is both the Holy Grail and the ultimate limitation. So, having a router in space allows you not to waste that bandwidth, in the sense that only when you're talking or only when you're sending new bits, you can get very sophisticated with data compression.

So routers in space can get very sophisticated with only having to send and update and actually use bandwidth when there's something new that has to be transmitted. You can also say to a router in space, "I want this to go point-to-point to 20 other people." It can also have algorithms onboard; it can find out if it dropped a bit  and retransmit it without having to go back, in a much quicker timeframe. And it also eliminates having to hop. All this is done on the spacecraft, so you don't have it going up to the spacecraft and down on the ground, then back up, giving it a double-hop term.

MIL EMBEDDED: Tell us about the choices and componentry needed to facilitate routers in space. Surely you don't have the same technology found in a CISCO router in a wiring closet.

KRONE: The satellite that's on its way to orbit right now "Spaceway 3" has a 10 Gbps capacity router. It's got around a dozen ASICS, unique designs, that are 10 million gates per ASIC. That was designed about five, six years ago, working with IBM. We've had a relationship with IBM for well over 10 years. We‚'re using their design rules and we have a very strict process that we follow.

Besides that, we're moving on with the Transformational Communications Satellite (TSAT). Same partners, same approach and we're taking it up there. And there we're bringing in the algorithms that CISCO uses in its routers for terrestrial programs today. So yes, the same type of CISCO technology found in your wiring closet is also found in our satellites.

MIL EMBEDDED: Routers are a perfect segue into interoperability of multiple assets, few of which were designed to talk to each other. Which technologies are needed to solve this problem?

KRONE: Part of the technology that we're developing in the Joint Tactical Radio System [JTRS] program is for use with multiple legacy waveforms, different pieces of software. So fundamentally, we have an operating environment with a confidential service layer that allows interoperation with different legacy waveforms, so we're able to bring in SINCGARS, EPLRS, and the new Wideband Networking Waveform (WNW). The idea is that by creating this open architecture, more waveforms can be added at a later date, providing users interoperability on the battlefield. So it's Software-Defined Radio.

MIL EMBEDDED: Do you really think that the SCA is the way to go to facilitate that?

KRONE: The hardware architecture and a portion of the functionality between the different sets of processors within that has a big play in the porting aspects. So if we had more of a standard architecture on the hardware side, it would result in better portability and reuse. By "hardware architecture," I mean the digital signal processor, the general purpose processor, and the gate arrays.

MIL EMBEDDED: How should cross-banding be approached, for example, SINCGARS talking to EPLRS?

KRONE: From an interoperability viewpoint, one of the first things you have to do is have a wide-open front end that goes from 2 MHz or so up to 2 GHz, so now you can see the signals' different waveforms. Now you've got the data from two different waveforms, two different modems, and now it's in a common format. One of the things that we did with our demos was to hook up a PRC 117 to a JTRS Ground Mobile Radio (GMR) and send over to a SINCGARS RT-1523E that had never talked to each other before. But once we got them into the JTRS radio, the data was digitized, and we just turned around and sent it out. Not only can two operators talk together, a third person can also take part in a conference call. There's a lot of potential there.

MIL EMBEDDED: So, switching gears, what about low power? FPGAs are certainly not known for their low power. What kind of technology leaps and bounds do we need to be able to do more?

KRONE: We can get to lower power by taking advantage of what they've been doing on GMR. When we put together the MILS [Multiple Independent Levels of Security] system, we had a much more severe SWaP requirement. So, to meet the SWaP, we went in and said, "OK, what are the power sources that you guys have?" Then we went ahead and put together some key differences that allowed us to get the power down to what is required in a much smaller configuration.

MIL EMBEDDED: Regarding the GIG [Global Information Grid] and ad hoc networking, what needs to happen in terms of the ability to jump on/off and talk to whomever is available, as long as you can authenticate?

KRONE: You have to have a lot of nodes that can talk to each other. The more nodes you have, the power of the network goes up by the squared factor. So once you get one or two gateways out there, you have an issue where the data is throttled and it doesn't work like cell phone towers. So, again, you must have nodes that talk to each other and waveforms that are compatible with each other.

MIL EMBEDDED: What are the key challenges?

KRONE: The authentication and the information assurance, so that you're protecting that network, are really key challenges in making sure that people who are trying to register are the right people that they are who they indicate they are.

If you have a pervasive network, you'd better have pervasive security that's distributed and able to protect the network and truncate branches that are questionable or have been compromised. It can heal itself later and rejoin to get back in the network if, in fact, it was a good guy. But if it was a bad guy, you haven't let the rest of the network become infected.

MIL EMBEDDED: What are the top three technologies that Boeing sees as absolutely critical to accomplishing its myriad programs?

KRONE: Multilayer security and fast switching, to name a couple. Besides those, like we talked about, there are always power issues. Sometimes we design great packaging, and then we have a power amp that's twice the size of the radio.

Processor speed is key as well to have a lot more overhead and speed in the processors to allow you to crunch those algorithms, especially with the security issues. The network protocols are also vital. We're trying to design a network in an ad hoc mobile environment, especially the Ground Mobile Radio environment [one of the JTRS domain radios], which turns out to be even more severe with soldiers that go behind hills and go in ditches and break the network and then rejoin. So those network protocols are very important, but not as sexy as some of the other stuff.

MIL EMBEDDED: Are you inventing some of these, or can you use technology straight out of the commercial world?

KRONE: In this latter case, commercial world technology definitely does not work. Everybody says, "Gee, I've got my cell phone or my Blackberry; why doesn't it work like that?" And it's a completely different system and architecture, so it makes sense that the protocols that they have developed for that wouldn't be directly applicable. So we've taken some of the pieces of those where we could, as we demonstrated on TSAT, but they mostly had to be adapted because it doesn't work the same way.

MIL EMBEDDED: My perception of Boeing before today has been "thought leader domain experts, yet no COTS." I don't think your COTS intentions necessarily come out to the world very often.

KRONE: If you look at what we're doing with IBM, that is COTS in a way, but to a very different extreme. And with CISCO, that's COTS in a way. It's just not "off-the-shelf and you plug it in." But it's getting to the foundation of "how do you leverage IBM, how do you leverage a CISCO and their investments." It's about being smart, about picking the places you do it in and knowing where you can‚'t.

MIL EMBEDDED: Your competitors on these programs have the same ORD to meet as Boeing. The perception is that your competitors will go buy components at RadioShack and clearly you folks wouldn't.

KRONE: We've always been thought of as the high-end, in-house-developed, big thick piece of intellectual property type of company. That's great for the one power user who will pay to buy the best, but we want to be broader in the marketplace. There are a lot of programs that we didn't talk about today where we've partnered with COTS providers. And we built COTS. SBI-net's Project 28 is an example of that. SBI-net is almost all COTS, and we are integrating it with off-the-shelf equipment. And we had to go contract and field it in nine months. Well, that's the paradigm for us, probably why we struggled with this. But it's helping us to create a different mindset.

Roger A. Krone is president of N&SS, a business of Boeing IDS. Prior to his assignment at N&SS, his most recent roles at Boeing include: vice president and general manager of Army Systems for Boeing IDS, as well as vice president of strategic programs at Boeing's corporate headquarters. He earned a bachelor's degree in Aerospace Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology, a master's degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington, and a master's degree in Business Administration from the Harvard Graduate School of Business. Roger, a commercial pilot, is also a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).

Boeing Integrated Defense Systems

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