Military Embedded Systems

GIDE-X, Onramps, PC21, IMX-22, PRAM-FX, and the Kill Web


October 28, 2021

Ray Alderman

VITA Technologies

WARFARE EVOLUTTION BLOG. There’s been a lot of activity going on in the past few months, testing different technologies and operational concepts. We need a model to organize those events to avoid confusion and reduce complexity. So, we’ll use the basic structure of the Kill Web to make sense of it all. The JADC2 (Joint All-Domain Command and Control) program sits at the top. That’s the Pentagon’s vision of how all ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) systems, weapons systems, satellites, logistics, and operations from all the different services are connected together and share data in realtime. Off to the side is the JAIC (Joint Artificial Intelligence Center), that develops and feeds different artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms into JADC2 and the different services’ activities.

There are five sequential phases to the JADC2 program. The first was the formation of the CFT (cross-functional team) who were tasked with identifying the details about what must be accomplished to make the Kill Web work. That phase is complete. The second phase was the approval and release of the JADC2 comprehensive strategy document. U.S. Secretaryof Defense Lloyd Austin did that back in June. The third phase was “gap analysis:" finding things that have been overlooked. That has also been completed. The fourth phase is the release of the JADC2 Implementation Plan, that tells each of the services what to do but not how to do it. By the time you read this article, SECDEF Austin should have signed and distributed the Implementation Plan (a classified document) and an unclassified summary has been released to the public. After that, the Pentagon will create the JWS document (Joint Warfighting Strategy) in the fifth phase. Just think of JADC2 as the strategic part of the Kill Web.

Hooking everything together on a network might look simple, but it’s not. Access to certain data must be controlled by need-to-know and classification. When platforms or people come into the network, they must “comply-to-connect” using some very complex and secure user-verification processes to keep enemy cyber-hackers out. All data stored on the network, and transmitted between nodes, must be encrypted for security. And, the network must have back-up and recovery capabilities using the 3-2-1-1-0 rule (3 copies of all data on at least two different types of media, 1 copy stored away from the main network servers, and one immutable copy stored in some super-secure location).

Also, consider that the Pentagon cancelled their JEDI (Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure) cloud contract with Microsoft, after a bunch of legal haggling, and the new effort is called JWCC (Joint Warfighter Cloud Capability). That says there will be multiple clouds from multiple vendors connected together on multiple networks that connect multiple platforms to multiple users with different security clearances and different levels of authority. Now, you understand why building the Kill Web network is not an easy task. This network stuff is really complicated, so let’s move on to the next level.

To read more Warfare Evolution Blogs by Ray Alderman, click here.

Underneath JADC2 sits each of the individual service’s programs that connect all their unique ISR, weapons, logistics, and operations systems together. Then, those services’ networks will connect-up to JADC2’s network. For the Army, that’s their IBCS (Integrated Battle Command System) program. The Air Force has their ABMS (Advanced Battle Management System) program. And the Navy has their CEC (Cooperative Engagement Capability) program. For the Space Force, they don’t have a name for their effort yet. Think of these programs as the operational and tactical parts of the Kill Web.

Why have four different networks under the JADC2 network? Ignoring political reasons for the moment, each service operates at different tempos in a battle. Space Force platforms operate at about Mach 20 in space. The Air Force operates platforms from slightly under Mach 1 to above Mach 3 in the sky. The Navy operates ships at about 30 MPH in the water and some aircraft under Mach 1 from the carriers. And, the Army operates soldiers and tanks that move from about 3 MPH to maybe 20 MPH on land (depending on the terrain). From a logistics standpoint, the Navy has to connect supply ships into the network. The Air Force has cargo planes to track. And the Army moves supplies with helicopters and trucks. The Air Force and Space Force have a project called “Rocket Cargo,” to deliver tons supplies and solders to the battlefield using the Space-X Starship, or something similar.

With that background, think of this structure as a four-sided pyramid. JADC2 is at the peak and one side is IBCS, the second side is ABMS, the third side is CEC, and the fourth side is whatever the Space Force is doing. Now, let’s take a look at the testing and experiments being conducted, starting with JADC2. Last December, in the GIDE 1 (Global Integration and Information Dominance) exercise, some historical enemy IMINT {image intelligence], SIGINT [signals intelligence], and ELINT [electronics intelligence] data was fed into an AI algorithm in a table-top exercise. That algorithm then generated possible enemy courses of action and recommended certain responses from our combat commands and weapons platforms in the area.

In the GIDE 2 exercise in March, radar data from both military and FAA sources in Canada, Hawaii, Guam, Alaska, and the U.S. were fused together into one radar picture of a simulated attack against the U.S. mainland with a software tool called Pathfinder. That tool then feeds the data into another algorithm that calculates which fighter planes in what locations should be launched to intercept those enemy planes, based on time-to-intercept, fuel requirements, and weapons loads.

The GIDE 3 exercise took place in July. It used the tools in the first two exercises, plus it added another tool to integrate data from satellites, surface ships, and aircraft to create a 3-D picture of the situation. That picture was then shared with operational commanders around the world. There’s more detail about the GIDE exercises on the web.

The Space Force has been collecting sunlight on solar panels aboard the X-37B space plane, converting it to microwave energy, and beaming that power back to earth. That’s called the PRAM-FX program. They are also designing next-generation rocket engines along with Rocket Lab, Space X, Blue Origin, and ULA (United Launch Alliance). Their sister organization, AFRL (Air Force Research Labs), is testing gas-station satellites that can refuel and possibly repair the different military satellites already in orbit.

There’s also a project for satellites to communicate with lasers. And, there’s some stuff going on with GPS and PNT (position, navigation, and timing) satellites. They just issued contracts to create a data transport network that will hook space platforms into the Air Force ABMS meshONE network. Politicians in Colorado are desperately trying to prevent the Space Force headquarters from being moved to Redstone Arsenal in Alabama, so that might be delaying testing of some concepts and platforms. Personally, I think Space Force headquarters should be in Roswell, New Mexico (for obvious reasons). Making things more complicated, multiple services and different government agencies control different satellites. I’ll have to do more research on this.

On the Air Force's ABMS side of the pyramid, they have conducted four exercises (called “Onramps”) in the past year or so. The latest one was held in Europe in February, where multiple aircraft, satellites, and bases were connected together and shared targeting data. Amazon Web Services and Juniper Networks constructed the cloud servers and data links in Europe for the test, and communications were passed through commercial Starlink satellites. Some AI-algorithm elements were also running in these tests. Congress cut the budget for ABMS testing in half earlier this year, so I can’t tell if they held the #5 exercise this summer or not. The #6 exercise, scheduled for this fall, has definitely been cancelled. That test would have brought Australian and other allies’ military platforms into the network. You can read more details about the previous ABMS tests on the web.

On the Army’s IBCS side of the pyramid, they have conducted two exercises (called “Project Convergence,” with the last 2 digits of the year added to it). PC20 took place in August of 2020. I have written about what they did in previous articles here. They identified a target using numerous sensors in the Arizona desert and hit it with a cannon shell from 30 miles away in 20 seconds. PC21 is scheduled to start in October and run for 6 weeks, so I don’t have the results to talk about here. They plan to explore seven different battlefield scenarios and test some new technologies and software. So, look for PC21 articles to start showing-up on the web in November. In October, the Army issued contracts to Palantir to develop their data fabric network and data analytics software.

On the Navy’s CEC side of the pyramid, they sent an autonomous ship from the Gulf of Mexico, through the Panama Canal, and into San Diego back in June. They call their robotic autonomous boats the "Ghost Fleet." They have been playing with connecting a few vessels into their network here and there, leading up to their planned IMX 2022 test (International Maritime Exercise). They will be connecting manned and unmanned surface vessels, submarines, drones, and aircraft from different services and different countries.

The Navy is far behind the other services in Kill Web testing. To be fair, they have been through eight changes n the Secretary of the Navy in five years, so they had no continuous leadership at the top. The new SECNAVY (Carlos Del Toro) has released his top priorities, called “The 4 C’s." They are China, Culture, Climate Change, and Covid. Additionally, Del Toro is trying to figure out how many manned and unmanned vessels the Navy needs and what they will do in battle. The Marines have transferred all their tanks and crews to the Army, and they are doing something similar with their artillery units. They seem to be returning to their original specialty: amphibious landing operations on islands in the Pacific.

Before we depart, I need to give you an update to my last article about robotic autonomous lobsters and sharks. Back in the 1990s, the CIA designed and built a robotic catfish named “Charlie." He was 25 inches long, 11 inches wide, 7 inches tall, and had propeller-driven propulsion in his tail. He was radio-controlled (for speed, direction, depth). The CIA planned to put Charlie in rivers and streams in enemy territory, to collect water samples and detect human waste from enemy units camped along the embankments. Then, those positions could be targeted for attack.

Additionally, China tested their new underwater autonomous drone in early September. It’s shaped like a manta ray and swims by flapping its wings. It’s painted bright yellow, weighs 1,036 lbs, and can dive to 3,362 feet. From the pictures, it’s about 8 feet wide, and will be used for ISR missions.

Something else I need to do here. In my previous article, I mentioned a recent techno-war novel worth reading: “Ghost Fleet” by P. W. Singer and August Cole (2015). And, I promised to give you information about two new techno-war novels about the Kill Web, so here they are: “Burn-In," also by P. W. Singer and August Cole (2020), and “2034" by Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis (2021). If you read these books, you’ll see a lot of the new ISR systems and weapons capabilities we have discussed in this Warfare Evolution series.

There you have it. While the elements mentioned in this article are selective, they should give you a basic top-down view of things. I spent a week trying to draw a diagram of all the programs, tests, exercises, and platforms from all the services, and how they hook into JADC2. It started looking like a wiring diagram for a nuclear power plant. Then, I read a recent article about how JADC2 will eventually connect 10 million nodes into their network, so that explained the futility of my diagram.

Now that you know the basic structure, the next logical step is to take each of the services’ programs, one at a time, and look at the platforms and technologies being tested. Which service we start with depends on whether SECDEF Austin released his JADC2 Implementation Plan or not, if we get some good data on the Army’s October Project Convergence 21 exercise, if I can find out if the Air Force actually conducted the Onramp #5 ABMS test last summer, or the if Space Force does something kinky. The first one I discover will be the winner.

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