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FEATURE ARTICLE  

Brigades Trading In Heavy Armor for Sensors 

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by Sandra I. Erwin 

In the foreseeable future, a large portion of U.S. Army investments in advanced battlefield sensors will be devoted to the service’s new fighting forces—the interim brigade combat teams, said a senior official. These brigades, called IBCTs, are the Army’s new rapid-reaction units designed to be more deployable than traditional mechanized brigades, but more heavily armed than light infantry.

The IBCTs will have “more sensor capabilities than any other brigade in the Army,” said Edward T. Bair, the service’s program executive officer for intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors. These units will rely on advanced sensors for “survivability and situational understanding,” Bair said in a recent interview. For the Army of the future, particularly, “sensors will be more critical than they are today, when we have tanks that can go toe-to-toe [with the enemy] in open space.”

The IBCTs, for example, will be expected to fight in urban areas, which are especially difficult for soldiers trained for wars in the desert or in wide-open fields. Ideally, soldiers fighting urban wars need sensors that can separate the “good from the bad signals,” said Bair. That means, for example, being able to differentiate enemy radio signals from those coming from allies, even though they may all be using the same type of radio.

“We need sensors that don’t radiate,” Bair said, in order to help reduce electronic signal emissions in the battlefield. “More importantly, so that the adversary can’t find me or the beacon.”

A top priority is for future forces to have electronic surveillance capabilities, he said. That means being able to locate the adversary and have precise information of where the enemy goes for cover. That requires, for example, all-weather sensors that can see through clouds and dust.

Much of the sensor technology that works effectively in complex combat environments still is in development, explained Bair. That is a problem for the IBCTs, which were designed to operate with off-the-shelf equipment and cannot afford to wait years for technologies to mature. IBCTs, by nature, he noted, are “come as you are, bring what you’ve got” units.

“I am getting some additional money,” he said, “to equip the first IBCTs with the most advanced night-vision goggles, thermal driving vision enhancers (DVE) and thermal weapon sights for .50 cal machine guns.”

The Army plans to field six to eight IBCTs during the next decade. Each brigade will have an organic reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition (RSTA) squadron, equipped with sensor-packed unmanned aircraft, called the TUAV (tactical unmanned air vehicle). The squadron, said Bair, “will see further than any brigade or division ... will hear better, will have better signal intelligence.”

The RSTA squadron will have a long-range advanced scout surveillance system, called LRAS-3, and advanced thermal imaging systems. These technologies will be mounted on vehicles such as Humvee trucks and the IBCTs’ recently chosen armored vehicle, the LAV III.

The reconnaissance version of the LAV has the LRAS-3, which “is just being produced right now and will be incorporated into that vehicle,” said Lt. Gen. Paul J. Kern, military deputy assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics, and technology. The LRAS-3, made by Raytheon Tactical Systems, in McKinney, Texas, consists of a second generation forward looking infrared (FLIR) system with long-range (up to 10 kilometers) optics, a laser rangefinder, a day video camera and a global positioning system. The Army plans to begin fielding LRAS-3 systems in fiscal 2001.

The first three LRAS-3 systems have been deployed to Kosovo. “We were authorized to buy 60 during the first year,” said Bair. Except for those currently in Kosovo, “all the other units will be redirected to support the IBCT.”

The thermal weapon sights will be purchased at a rate of about 500 a year. “We will provide them to the IBCTs during the next five to six years,” he added.

The LAV infantry carriers will have thermal weapon sights and DVEs, which will help soldiers operate in dark conditions and through smoke. “The thermal sight and DVE are the two sensors that we will bring to the IBCT immediately,” said Bair. Raytheon also makes the DVE systems, which have been installed on Bradley infantry vehicles since 1998.

The thermal DVEs will be used on all vehicles in the IBCT, said Bair. That means about 800 will be needed for each brigade.

He is hopeful that the commercial industry will help lower the cost for these systems. “We are anxiously watching the automotive industry to see how the thermal driver’s vision enhancer will go. That could dramatically reduce the cost for us, if they can drive it down to a price that will sell in the automotive business.”

A DVE rugged enough to meet Army requirements for rough terrain and extreme temperatures costs about $8,000. “In the commercial market, you won’t spend $8,000 to get a DVE in your car,” said Bair.

Another goal that Bair has set for his program office is to consolidate various types of lasers that Army units currently use on weapons, such as laser rangefinders, laser designators and common-identification lasers. “One of the missions in my organization is to come up with a singular laser that will have three different wavelengths to do those functions,” he said. “That will reduce the weight, the [electrical] power needs for individual soldiers.”

The primary capability for signal intelligence and electronic warfare for the IBCTs will be the Prophet ground system, currently undergoing testing. Mounted on a Humvee truck, the antenna-shaped Prophet will be used to detect, identify and locate enemy radios and surveillance radar.

“We are currently in operational test with the Prophet Block I, which is for electronic surveillance,” said Bair. “We have a draft solicitation on the street for a competitive source selection to take that capability into full-rate production, assuming the testing is successful.”

Each IBCT will have three Prophet systems—with electronic surveillance capability, but no electronic attack capability, Bair said. They will not be networked. The networking feature will be part of the Block III upgrade.

By 2008 or so, Bair envisions the Army will be able to introduce a Block IV Prophet multi-intelligence sensor suite with electronic surveillance, acoustic sensors and radar-like all-weather capability. Eventually, he said, “there will be electronic attack, organic to the IBCT. We are sorting through how much we need.”

Titan Delfin Corp., based in Santa Clara, Calif., was awarded a $10 million development contract about a year ago for seven Prophet ground, Block I systems. These mobile terminals will monitor enemy radio signals. The company will compete for the Blocks II and III upgrades, which will award contracts for full-rate production of Prophet and will incorporate electronic attack features.

Another likely competitor will be Raytheon Command, Control, Communications and Information Systems, in Falls Church, Va.

An airborne version of Prophet will be purchased for the TUAVs, under a TUAV signals intelligence (sigint) program. The aircraft, built by the AAI Corp., in Hunt Valley, Md., could begin entering the force as early as next summer.

“Currently, I am conducting a prototype program of electronic attack as well as electronic surveillance on a TUAV,” said Bair. “I have to prove the tactical feasibility of putting electronic surveillance, electronic attack payloads on a TUAV.” The TUAV sigint program will continue to test prototypes until at least 2004, before the Army makes any further purchasing decisions, he said. “It will be 2006-2007 before we field this capability, assuming we prove tactical feasibility and operational relevance.”

The TUAV requires a payload far smaller than any other system that has been built yet, said Kerry Kachejian, manager of business development for strategic systems at the Raytheon Company. The company is working on a 10-pound sigint payload, Kachejian said in an interview. He noted that Raytheon only is working on electronic surveillance technology, not electronic attack.

The ideal TUAV, said Bair, would integrate multiple sensors, which would see in any environment. It would have electro-optical infrared imaging sensors, radar, and an electronic surveillance sensor, all in a single platform.

For future IBCTs, maybe number five or six, said Bair, he would like to see new sensor packages becoming available. There is promising work underway on advanced sensors, under the so-called Future Scout Cavalry System (FSCS) program—a joint U.S. Army-United Kingdom project that seeks to develop an armored scout vehicle. The U.S. Army drastically cut back its participation in the program for financial reasons.

“We are looking at the FSCS effort for candidate technologies to integrate into the [U.S. Army] objective force. We are going to assess the viability of bringing them into the IBCTs” as well, said Bair.

The FSCS, for example, has a FLIR sensor that is light enough that it can operate on a mast and thus provide an increased area of coverage. Additionally, there are plans to have a radar on the vehicle that can cross cue with the FLIR. “That capability does not exist today in the U.S. Army,” Bair said. “We don’t have radars and FLIRs on the same vehicle.” The Army typically has not used radar on vehicles, because radar emits radiation, thus creating signatures. In the FSCS program, said Bair, “they have to work on reducing the signature of the vehicle, since it will have something that radiates.” The technological challenge, he noted, is the antenna.

Target acquisition systems that work effectively in a high-clutter environment, he said, today are “not mature and not affordable enough to introduce into fighting vehicles. ... As I look into the crystal ball, [however], I am less concerned about high-density than about what technologies will be available to potential adversaries.

The technologies that need to mature, he said, include multi-spectral imaging sensors, foliage penetrating radars and laser radar.

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