Army Unveils New Plan to Build Ground Vehicle Network
The demonstrations will be the first big test of the Vehicular Integration for C4ISR/EW Interoperability initiative. More commonly known as VICTORY, the effort comprises a new network architecture and specifications aimed at facilitating better interoperability between ground vehicles and their communications, command-and-control, computing and surveillance (C4ISR) equipment.
“We feel that if we get it in front of some soldiers and let them ride around [in] the vehicle … and demonstrate some operational vignettes, then by doing so we will have demonstrated to Army leadership the utility of VICTORY,” said Lt. Col. Brian E. Watson, chief of platform integration for program executive office combat support and combat service support. Watson is leading the Army’s efforts to integrate the new architecture on tactical vehicles for upcoming demonstrations.
Over the past decade of war, the Army has sometimes struggled to define its desired network capabilities, said Mark Signorelli, BAE Systems’ vice president and general manager of combat vehicles.
“Historically, you have a unique configuration of a network for a Bradley, for an M113, for an M1 [Abrams tank],” he said. “None of those internal platform capabilities were — I wouldn’t say they weren’t compatible, because you could talk across them — but the components were very different and in some cases very unique and proprietary because they were developed in a stovepipe.”
This has improved in recent years as the service moves toward a more cohesive C4ISR approach, Signorelli said. As commonality increases, it will be easier to integrate and subsequently upgrade subsystems in a vehicle, which will in turn reap cost savings.
The Oshkosh-built MAT-V is slated to be the first tactical wheeled vehicle to integrate a VICTORY-compliant backbone. If all goes well at the NIE, the fleet will begin transitioning to this configuration in fiscal year 2017, Watson said. The Army fleet of Humvees and family of medium tactical vehicles will follow, with demonstrations slated for 2016 and integration beginning in 2018.
Bradley, Abrams and Stryker will also incorporate “selected VICTORY requirements” as part of planned upgrades, Ashley Givens, spokeswoman for PEO ground combat systems, said in an emailed statement. “Once approved, additional requirements will be implemented as part of future efforts.”
New vehicles coming online in the next few years will also leverage the architecture. The Army and Marine Corps’ joint light tactical vehicle will roll off the assembly line with a minimum set of VICTORY components, Watson said.
The armored multi-purpose vehicle also contains some VICTORY requirements, Signorelli said. BAE is competing for the AMPV contract.
VICTORY uses a data bus-centric design. “That’s a fancy way of saying everyone is on one network together, and that network is ethernet,” said David Jedynak, chief technology officer at Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions, a Charlotte, North Carolina-based electronics manufacturer. The design permits the information from each piece of hardware plugged into the data bus to be shared across the network. It also consolidates the number of interfaces, allowing users to do more without having to move to a different device.
Among the systems that will be connected to the VICTORY data bus for the NIE demonstrations are: the common remotely operated weapons system, mounted family of computing systems, warfighter information network-tactical, VIK-5 enhanced vehicular intercom system, precision timing and navigation devices and the current collection of Army radios. All will be off-the-shelf and furnished by the government, Watson said.
One of the objectives of VICTORY is decreasing the size, weight and power consumption of the myriad C4ISR subsystems inside a vehicle, Watson said. Today, when the Army wants to put a new device into a vehicle, it comes with its own cables, keyboards and other components. The result is a lot of duplicative hardware and software, which in turn increases cost and maintenance, he added.
Some vehicles, for instance, have multiple systems that all have a built-in GPS, he said. All of them draw from the same signal, but aren’t integrated together. With VICTORY, every device plugged into the backbone will be able to use a single GPS system, and future acquisitions can be structured so that there is only one such device in a vehicle.
Integration will also increase situational awareness and reduce users’ operational burden, Watson said.
For example, the three major pieces of gear in a vehicle — the gun station on top of the vehicle, threat detection system and battle command system that tracks allies and adversaries — are currently independent from each other, Jedynak said. When the threat detection system alerts troops that someone is shooting at the vehicle, the person at the battle command system must manually input the information.
With VICTORY, all of that information will be published on the data bus and immediately pushed out to the vehicle’s subsystems, he said. That means someone sitting at the battle command system will automatically see the coordinates of where a threat was detected.
VICTORY would also be an advantage for the gunner, Jedynak said. “If the remote weapons system has already been set up in a slew-to-cue mode, where it essentially will automatically spin around and point at a threat, then the open standard interface at the remote weapons system will pick up those threat detection messages and will go ahead and ... point at the target.”
The new network architecture will also make it easier to share information between personnel in a vehicle or in a formation, Watson said. If a gunner at a remote weapons station isn’t sure whether to shoot a target, he will be able to send still imagery to his commander.
“At the same time, that commander could take the still image of that and give it back to his … headquarters or to other units within the formation,” he said.
Yet another objective is to prove that VICTORY can reduce the logistics footprint using conditions-based maintenance, whereby sensors located within the vehicle predict when a component is about to break, Watson said. Modern platforms publish diagnostic information on an interface inside the cabin, but cannot send it to other computers inside or outside the vehicle.
“We plug in the VICTORY data bus into that to pull that information off and to give it to maintainers and to people in the vehicle itself,” he said. “If you’re a commander of a truck and your left front tire is about to pop because it’s too hot, before it does so, that condition based maintenance routine will identify that as a concern to the commander and they’ll make it available onto his display at that moment.”
There is still much work to be done ahead of the NIE in spring 2015, Watson said. A team of engineers from PEO CS&CSS, other Army program offices and the Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center are currently working out how MAT-Vs can be configured with a VICTORY backbone and the subsystems that will plug into it. In August, they presented their proposal to the NIE gatekeepers.
The team will also develop training and support materials that teach soldiers how to use the new systems, he said.
“That’s getting the soldiers into a room for a couple days and telling them … how to drive the vehicle, how to operate the subsystems on it, how to operate the VICTORY compliant part of it, and then getting them spun up and turning them loose in the demonstrations,” Watson said.
Soldiers will then evaluate how the systems perform in an operational environment, whether the training prepared them to use the equipment and how easy it was to maintain, he said.
“If we do this right, VICTORY is transparent to the soldier,” Watson said. “They will see that the inside of their vehicle is quite a bit roomier because we’re taking a lot of the stuff away. Their task saturation is reduced.”
In part, how quickly the Army adopts the new architecture will depend on how quickly industry can certify and manufacture components that meet standards, Watson said.
For its part, Curtiss-Wright is already manufacturing VICTORY components, Jedynak said. One of its products, the Digital Beachhead, is a starter kit that allows the customer to put the main elements of the network on a vehicle. The unit costs about $5,000.
“It provides switching and shared processing and a number of interfaces to other things on the vehicle, such as automotive buses and GPS for time and position,” he said. “And then it hosts a lot of other software services that are needed by VICTORY.”
There has been interest in the product from both the government and vehicle manufacturers, Jedynak said. As the Army releases hard requirements for VICTORY-compliant systems, sales will accelerate, he predicted.
Curtiss-Wright has been awarded a contract for VICTORY components, Jedynak said, but he declined to comment on what platforms it would support.
Curtiss-Wright and BAE Systems are both members of the government-industry working group that regularly meets to develop the technical specifications. The group last met this August at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.
It will probably take another couple of years to fully establish all specifications, said Grace Qi Ping Xiang, of PEO ground combat systems’ VICTORY standards support office.
Full implementation of VICTORY standards will likely take even longer to accomplish, Jedynak said. The Army cannot afford to buy all new, VICTORY-compliant equipment during a time of fiscal constraint, meaning it may be a while before the Army’s vision is realized.
As various subsystems become obsolete and are modernized, they can be updated with compliant systems whenever the service deems it necessary, he said.
Until that time, the Army can use adapters to plug in legacy equipment to a VICTORY backbone, allowing soldiers to share information and become accustomed to the new network architecture and interfaces, he said.
It was the Defense Department’s stovepiped acquisition process that led to duplicative and proprietary C4ISR systems taking over the Army vehicles, Jedynak said. Ultimately, he believes fiscal pressures will motivate the department to fix those problems.
“VICTORY itself has visibility at very high levels in the acquisition community and is being driven through intent,” he said, citing Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall’s Better Buying Power initiative as evidence of the push toward improved practices. “You need to reduce your costs. VICTORY is a very strong path to doing that.”
When asked whether he believes the military’s acquisition community can overcome its stovepiped acquisition history, Jedynak responded, “It’s in everyone’s best interest to move forward on this.” The hope is that when program managers design a future C4ISR system, they will see that adding on a duplicative GPS receiver, for example, only increases the weight and price of that system, he said.