Since time immemorial, developers of military technology have sought ways to enhance the interoperability of fighting forces. Joint interoperability has never been an easy task for military research, development, testing and evaluation (RDT&E) organizations, but the advent of modern, complex combat systems has made the task all the more challenging. Secure, information-driven networks do not easily communicate with other secure networks, a state of affairs that can adversely affect operations and necessitate costly fixes to acquisitions.
The scientists and engineers of the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) took a small but vital step forward Aug. 24 when they demonstrated the first phase of a Cross Domain Solution (CDS) that allowed the Aegis Combat System to remotely fire a Mk 45 Mod 4 gun via a secure but separate network, successfully engaging a target pontoon at more than 8,000 yards on the Potomac River Test Range (PTRC) at Naval Support Facility Dahlgren, Va.
The successful test was the result of intensive collaboration across several NSWCDD departments working on a tight project timeline with a plume of smoke from the gun mount and a splash downrange, the focused attitude of the observers on the PTRC catwalk transformed into one of back-slapping congratulations.
Neil Baron, distinguished scientist and engineer for combat control for NSWCDD, described the technical significance of the test.
"This test is the first example of a Cross Domain Solution being applied between a combat system control element and an operational gun engagement element co-located at Dahlgren but dispersed across geographically different locations at the laboratory" he said.
"This is a first experimental step toward being able to safely control a maritime combat system and a weapon system from remote locations. Successful results will advance the state-of-the art in Cross Domain Solution technologies and promote development of applications for potential future use outside the boundaries of the laboratory to enable joint experimentation and operations across the nation."
NSWCDD has a well-regarded reputation for combat systems integration; the CDS test, however, may be described as a first step to combat systems integration on a mass scale. And with it a responsibility for engineering integration due diligence across the 'Interstitials'; the gap between systems where the science of integration resides and complex system-of-systems behaviors are realized.
"Cross Domain Solutions will be critical for large, complex system-of-systems development and evaluation with and within a systems development laboratory environment such as the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division," said Baron.
Minimizing interoperability, Interconnectivity challenges
"Many different buildings (housing individual systems under
development) and test stands must be integrated together to operate as a warfighting whole. The mission kill chain described through the sequential terms of Plan, Detect, Control, Engage, and Assess require many systems, across many buildings, across many locations to be digitally connected and operating as a single warfighting system of systems. This sequence can be used to describe the operational warfighting threads of an individual ship, of a group of ships (battle
group) or of an integrated joint force."
CDS holds promise in both the RDT&E and operational environments. "Having a Cross Domain Solution for the laboratory development environment, as well as for the final tactical systems, will enable safe and controlled passing of critical information between elements of a large system-of systems, regardless of their classification level or physical location," said Baron. "Having a Cross Domain Solution is a critical integration element in the Digital Age."
Critical because the secure and complex combat systems the operating forces depend on, when operating without CDS capability, can adversely limit joint interoperability. Yet, the operating forces' need for interconnectivity of secure combat systems shows no sign of abating.
"As the power and value of information technologies proliferate across the commercial marketplace, so too have they become a valued and dependent element of modern military capabilities," said Baron.
"Establishing, maintaining and operating across a common operational picture, whether air, sea, land or undersea, is a modern warfighting challenge that information technology has both helped create and helped resolve as our systems continue to advance in the Information Age.
"The term 'interoperability' has been used extensively to characterizes this condition. It is only through sound systems engineering within and between the different operational elements of a warfighting capability that successful integration is realized, mission capability is safely and effectively exercised and interoperability problems are minimized," Baron added.
Information assurance will continue to be the key feature as CDS evolves. "Establishing and maintaining information assurance across the domain interface is a critical technological and engineering challenge in an ever growing cyber-dependent world," said Baron.
Though much work remains, the successful test gave the scientists and engineers in the CDS trenches a reason to celebrate. Said Saadi, the CDS project manager at NSWCDD, summed up the moment. "It's like the graduation ceremony for a tough degree program," he said. "I feel like a burden has been lifted... there's elation and great sense of accomplishment.
"Looking back I feel blessed for coming to Dahlgren 24 years ago. I feel truly indebted to this outstanding team of people in the Engagement Systems (G) and Warfare Systems (W) Departments who have made this happen."