Sensor Network Helps Clear ‘Fog of War’
by Lt. Cmdr. Tom Druggan, USN
The Navy’s netted-sensor system known as Cooperative Engagement
Capability (CEC) is a revolutionary technology that helps dissipate
the fog of war.
The idea of CEC is simple, but the mechanics are not.
CEC is a weapon-quality, wireless network that brings clarity to
the increasingly cluttered and complex battle-space. The system
is a combination of a fast, wireless network and advanced software
programs running complex algorithms on specialized computers.
Rather than e-mails traveling over the Internet, the data on the
CEC network is simply raw radar data (called “parametric data”)
that is processed by computers onboard ships and aircraft operating
together in a carrier battle group package. This is the fundamental
difference between CEC and other tactical data links.
CEC exchanges raw data, all of which is then processed together
into a composite picture by each platform, whereas traditional data
links exchange only processed data and then attempt to correlate
each track. Many benefits stem from this approach, including collective
reliability and, by extension, survivability, accuracy, speed of
command and a growth path to future applications.
First, the reliability of the total system is much higher than
any one platform. By transmitting raw radar data, each unit essentially
has “sensors in depth.” That is, every CEC-equipped
ship can see and shoot what anyone in the battle group sees. Each
ship is able to rely not only on its organic radar, but also on
those aboard other ships, and even CEC-equipped aircraft.
For instance, instead of two or three radars, a ship in a battle
group will have data from many radars—upwards of 20 radars
in just one battle group, including data from aircraft which have
a birds-eye view of the battlefield. Airborne sensors significantly
extend the range at which low targets can be detected and are an
integral part of the network. Conceptually, a unit could have no
transmitting radars and just silently monitor the network, ready
to strike targets, while remaining unseen and much less detectable
than units with transmitting radars and communications.
Additionally, for any one contact, platforms will have different
aspect views, which is important to circumvent the effects of jamming
and to ensure target detection. Contacts often reflect radar energy
differently (radar cross section) depending on the relative viewpoint
and radar frequency. Consequently, processing data in near real-time
from many different radars operating on many frequencies doesn’t
just produce a better tactical picture, it delivers collective battle
The resulting composite picture is highly accurate—accurate
enough that weapons can be fired using CEC data alone. Superior
accuracy is achieved, because radars measure range very accurately,
azimuth (bearing) less so. Fusing raw radar data, particularly range,
from several units that view a target from different aspects results
in an accuracy orders-of-magnitude greater than any single sensor
With CEC, precise tracking of tactical jet aircraft in a dogfight
or missiles in a jamming environment is achieved, quickly. Ships
can shoot down even multiple, sea-skimming supersonic targets that
are at or beyond the horizon. In the near term, another platform
illuminates (shines a beam of radar energy on) the target in the
final stages of the engagement, but an active missile (one with
its own active seeker and thus self-guiding) is only limited by
Consequently, even today’s most advanced anti-ship cruise
missiles will be shot down in a measured, timely response. Another
direct result of CEC accuracy is stable identification—once
identified, always identified—without manual intervention
or procedural work-arounds.
CEC also provides a future growth path for advanced radar integration,
joint applications and inter-service interoperability. Raw radar
data is useful, regardless of the source. Basic radar data has been
successfully passed between a Navy Aegis ship and an Army theater
high-altitude air-defense battery. Other systems could be CEC-enabled,
such as Patriot missile batteries, long-range air search radars,
radar aerostats and early-warning aircraft. This would enhance the
ability of the joint force to defend against theater ballistic missiles.
Additionally, CEC enhances the capability to detect stealthy targets,
such as sea-skimming cruise missiles. The CEC-enabled composite
picture, derived from many radars operating in many frequencies
from many aspects, exposes radar-evading targets in plenty of time
for a forceful response.
It is important to understand how the United States employs naval
forces in peacetime to truly appreciate why CEC is important to
the Navy’s future.
One half of the Navy’s ships are underway on a typical day.
More than one-third are forward-deployed overseas, ready to serve
in missions ranging from peaceful exchanges and humanitarian assistance
to regional conflict and war.
To be ready for war, the Navy prepares in peace by building regional
knowledge bases—developing operational awareness of the potential
adversary. Sensors—and the information they provide—are
the basis for ensuring command of the seas. Further, a shared, accurate
picture of the battle helps the Army, Navy, Marine Corp and Air
Force all function more effectively together.