Military Embedded Systems

An insatiable need for ISR


January 15, 2015

John McHale

Editorial Director

Military Embedded Systems

An insatiable need for ISR

While U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) funding for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) remains flat due to sequestration and budget cuts, there is an insatiable need for ISR throughout the services to enable mission success.

In this Q&A with Rob Smith, vice president of C4ISR Systems for Lockheed Martin Information Systems & Global Solutions, he shares his outlook for ISR technology, the military threats that keep him up at night and how industry can solve them, and the need for more open architectures and automation in defense electronics. Edited excerpts follow.

MCHALE REPORT: Please provide a brief description of your group’s role within Lockheed Martin such as the markets it serves, key technology areas, etc.

SMITH: We are the C4ISR business of Lockheed Martin Information Systems and Global Solutions (IS & GS). In C4ISR, we develop and integrate mission systems for various air, sea, and land-based platforms. Our customers encompass every branch of the military as well as many government departments and national agencies.

MCHALE REPORT: How strong is the procurement activity within the Department of Defense (DoD) for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) technology within the current budget-constrained environment? Is it even more of a priority for the DoD with the drawback of ground forces worldwide or has funding flattened out in this area as well?

SMITH: There is an insatiable need for ISR. And this need will continue to grow. Regarding where we are today, the 2015 budget for ISR is essentially flat compared to 2014. We are seeing increased ISR spending internationally, which provides a more positive picture from a business sense.

Today’s asymmetric threat environment only reinforces the need for more advanced ISR capability. This demand will only increase as we address anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) concerns and look to improve our reach in the Asia Pacific sector and other austere environments.

MCHALE REPORT: Please describe a few C4ISR programs that Lockheed Martin is involved in right now.

SMITH: Some of the major programs we support include the Command, Control, Battle Management and Communications (C2BMC) system for the Missile Defense Agency, for which we provide all of the sensor integration algorithms for command and control for the worldwide ballistic missile defense system. Another is the Air Force’s Integrated Space Command & Control (ISC2) program, which provides situational awareness for North American air and missile defense. We also provide ISR capability for the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS), which is a family of systems that enables military analysts from all services to access shared intelligence. Within the communications space we are partnered with General Dynamics on the Army’s Warfighter Information Network – Tactical (WIN-T) to set up tactical communication networks anywhere in the world. We also provide ISR as a service to national and international customers by tailoring business jets to meet a particular user’s ISR needs with different sensor packages.

MCHALE REPORT: What are the key technological trends/areas you are focusing on to meet current capability requirements?

SMITH: I’d break them down into four areas, with the first being open systems architectures. Historically, proprietary architectures would lock the government into going back to an original provider for upgrades, which limits their design agility in regards to bringing in the necessary capability for complex missions. Today we see a big move toward open system architectures because you add new capability without redesigning the whole system, which can save a significant amount of money.

An example would be the DCGS program’s universal language translator. It has an open architecture with standard interfaces that enables new sensors to be integrated without redesigning the whole system. The sensors just need to work with the standard interface.

A software example would be the Distributed Data Framework (DDF), which is the core component of the software infrastructure that enables users of DCGS to share time-sensitive ISR data. DDF was developed as a Lockheed Martin proprietary product that queries multiple DCGS systems at once to create a holistic picture for decision makers. To create new opportunities to share information, we donated all copyright for the DDF source code to the Codice Foundation, a nonprofit organization established to support DoD open source projects. Our donating the source code provides improved access to DCGS data without the need to purchase commercial software licenses.

The second area is automation. You don’t need a man in the middle for certain tasks. Automation is a key component of predictive analytics, where we analyze what happened in the past to make assertions and understand probability to more accurately predict the future. We have carried this approach forward with analytics that support the open source renaissance. One way we do this is through a Lockheed Martin product called Wisdom, which uses its predictive capability to help customers analyze intelligence gleaned from social media. This capability doesn’t replace what government systems can do, but it can augment it by fusing in social media data to create a more accurate intelligence picture.

A third area is globalization of C4ISR. By this I mean that disparate systems will continue to be integrated and combined to create enterprise-like systems that provide a broader view of the entire ISR spectrum. Think of something like the DoD’s Distributed Common Ground System, which was developed with the intent of allowing users from all services to have access to the multitude of intelligence gleaned from all the manned and unmanned assets out there. The benefits are real-time intel, and more enhanced situational awareness. Right now we are working to converge command and control (operations) and ISR (intelligence) systems to provide a complete C4ISR picture. We’re also integrating air operations with missile defense systems to create a truly integrated air and missile defense system that gives commanders a view of everything that is happening in the battlespace.

The fourth trend is that we are doing more with less. Shrinking budgets are placing demands on the customer and on industry to bring in new technology at the right point in the design cycle and at a reliable, reasonable cost. It is a tough balance – trying to meet every requirement at a lower cost and it comes down to managing risk.

MCHALE REPORT: It seems every piece of electronic equipment is getting smaller – GPS systems, radios, etc. How are reduced size, weight, and power (SWaP) requirements impacting C4ISR systems? What are the tradeoffs with smaller tech?

SMITH: I think there are tradeoffs, but overall reduced SWaP is a very good thing as overall lower SWaP enables more mission. Take for example everything warfighters carry when they are on a mission. If you lower the SWaP, you will enable them to carry more capability and give them a decision advantage. Reduced SWaP also increases the number of different platforms that can have sensors such as small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The proliferation of sensors married with data fusion and big data algorithms is a critical tool for satisfying ISR mission requirements.

Reducing SWaP continues to be critical in all of the missions we support, but like most things there is a tradeoff. We have to be careful. The complexity of ISR systems only continues to increase and we have to balance enhancing system capability with the desire to reduce size and weight.

One interesting product we have in development addresses SWaP and power challenges in a very unique way. Our Kinetic Boot uses a small device to recover energy from a soldier while he is walking. The device can generate between two to three average watts of power, which is enough to power an iPhone 5 three times after a 60-minute walk.

MCHALE REPORT: Speaking of reduced size requirements, you have a background in nanotechnology. What are some areas where nanotechnology is leveraged today in defense electronics applications?

SMITH: Obviously nanotechnology and advanced material science in general is an area of significance for us for what it can bring to our customers. We are working with advanced technology and stronger and lighter materials that have unique electro-optical properties.

One example of this is NRAM or nanotube random access memory, which is being developed by engineers at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. It is nanotube-based RAM that is high-speed and low-power. We have developed four-megabyte FLASH test chips in a CMOS facility and while that is still small it promises to have phenomenal performance. Imagine a FLASH memory at low power with super high speeds and what you can do in architectures on the ground, and in space with that type of technology.

We are partnered with Nantero to develop the NRAM technology. Lockheed Martin owns the rights for military and intelligence applications while Nantero has the commercial rights.

MCHALE REPORT: What threat keeps you up at night?

SMITH: There’s so much out there that I could give a dissertation on this. However, I will narrow it down to threats in broad categories such as cyber and electronic warfare (EW). Cyber and EW concerns are critical for everyone. Just look at what has been reported publicly about cyber threats from rogue hacker groups to nation states.

MCHALE REPORT: How can technology help mitigate those threats?

SMITH: Technology can help mitigate those threats by ensuring that systems are robust and secure enough to operate through any type of environment. Cyber is known as the fifth domain of warfare. And at Lockheed Martin, everything we do, every program we manage, has a cyber-thread running through it. We’ve made significant investments in a robust cyber security capability that defends systems we develop from these tenacious, sophisticated threats.

Speaking transparently, the public has been used to the U.S. operating with total superiority and we need to continue to develop capabilities that ensure our superiority in future conflicts.

MCHALE REPORT: Looking forward, what disruptive technology/innovation will be a game changer for defense electronics? Predict the future.

SMITH: I think the Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD) from the top down is clearly focused on long-range research and development and how they partner with industry. Areas where they want R & D to ensure next generation dominance include:

  • Space technology
  • Undersea warfare capability
  • Air dominance and strike technology
  • Air and missile defense
  • And other technology areas such as automation

Those all will be game changers. Lockheed Martin invests significantly in all these areas. Our C4ISR business is focused on three out of five of these domains, and they are air dominance; command and control for air and missile defense; and automation.

It’s hard to predict what will happen in the future. The progress we’ve made technologically in the past decade compared to the previous 50 years is astounding. Going forward it will be crucial for industry to employ open system architectures to maintain agility leveraging the best innovations from the commercial world while keeping costs down for the end user.

Robert Smith is vice president of C4ISR Systems for Lockheed Martin Information Systems & Global Solutions. He leads a comprehensive portfolio of Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) programs. In this capacity, he is responsible for more than 100 programs that provide services and capabilities for all branches of the U.S. military, various national agencies, and numerous international customers. Smith received a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Maryland, a master’s degree in business administration from Johns Hopkins University, and a doctoral degree in chemical engineering from Auburn University.


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