Surveillance: What is going on with JP1770 - Rapid Environmental Assessment (REA)? | ADM June 2009

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The 2006-2016 Defence Capability Plan (DCP) outlines the need for an REA capability as the "knowledge of the environment is a crucial factor in the conduct of successful joint military operations".

But where is it?

Katherine Ziesing | Canberra

That same DCP lists year of decision as 2008/2009 and 2010/2011 with an in service date of 2010 and 2012.

No doubt this timeline will be revised in the new DCP, due out at D+I.

But what has happened to the project in the meantime?

The provision of reliable and relevant geospatial and environmental data is a key enabler in gaining comprehensive situational awareness and decision superiority in the battle-space environment, because it allows the effectiveness of platforms, weapons systems and sensors to be optimised.

And this need has not lessened with time.

Given the array of naval platforms that will come into service over the coming decade, this capability will no doubt become a higher priority.

Interestingly, a Defence spokesperson confirmed that "the delivery schedule for capability to be provided by JP 1770 continues to parallel the delivery of the Landing Helicopter Dock's and will be further defined when the new Defence Capability Plan is released."

Upon reading, one could assume that the capability will be tailored for the LHD but since other naval platforms would benefit from the system, it would make sense for JP1770 to make use of numerous hull classes and inputs from other services.

The collection of relevant data comes from numerous sources as seen in the graphic pictured above.

The picture generated by a capable REA system would by a synthesis of information from numerous information collection sources.

These could range from AEW&C platforms and submarines to ASW elements above and below the water in the form of helicopters and unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs).

These unmanned elements, tethered or untethered, can be used for data collection from a range of payloads, mine hunting, weapons platform and communication relays.

BAE Systems' Talisman and Archerfish UUVs have completed trials where they acted in tandem (Archerfish was launched from Talisman) as mine hunting and fire control stations off the south coast of England.

Saab's AUV 62 and Kongsberg HUGIN UUV and AUV (autonomous underwater vehicle) would also be able to act as information collection points as does the REMUS 100, a Semi-Autonomous Hydrographic Reconnaissance Vehicle configuration (SAHRV) manufactured by Hydroid, currently in service with the US.

DSTO has also been involved in UUV/AUV development in terms of the human interface of remote control of these systems plus the platforms themselves.

The selection of COTS and MOTS systems that can be launched from the surface fleet or submarines grows steadily as technology improves and demand increases from militaries around the world.

But this is just one element that could help form the inputs to REA.

Work in progress
Booz and Co (formerly Booz Allen Hamilton) completed the Initial Option Scoping document in 2006 which included Preliminary Operational Concept Document (POCD) - detailing the existing system, the capability requirements and the capability gaps and the Option Set Paper - detailing the need for REA capability and initial system solutions that could meet the most pressing needs.

Obviously, the exact nature of the options put forward in that study are classified.

However, each option comprised a grouping of potential improvements to existing REA capability.

The improvements covered REA training, processing, storage and communication systems and sensors.

The intent of the recommended options was to improve joint REA coordination, production and awareness.

There is however an REA capability in place at HQJOC in the Joint Environment Centre (JEC) that operates WebREP, a tool that started life as a RPDE quick look.

Developed by ESRI Australia, DSTO and the RPDE team, WebREP is now in service with JEC and is currently being expanded in terms of users and capability.

This expansion is due to be complete in September of this year but since the system operates on a classified network, the nature of this expansion was not open to discussion.

In the past, a lack of accurate and timely environmental information has constrained amphibious and littoral operations.

Recent developments, including the formation of the JEC, aim to address this issue as the JEC is serving as a focal point for Joint REA within the ADF.

Broadly speaking, Phase 1 of JP 1770 is scoped to address the maritime aspects of REA.

JP 1770 Phase 1 aims to improve collection sensors and develop improved information management and dissemination systems within the ADF and ADO through the establishment/enhancement of:

1) the Military Geospatial Information (MGI) Cell, based at the Australian Hydrographic Office (AHO) in Wollongong and Directorate of Oceanography and Meteorology (DOM) in Sydney, which will provide hydrographic, oceanographic and meteorological MGI to the warfighter, as a part of the ADF Joint REA process, and

2) deployable teams, including Deployable Geospatial Support Teams (DGST) from the Australian Hydrographic Service (AHS) and Mobile METOC (Meteorological and Oceanographic) Teams (MMT) from the DOM.

Data gathered in theatre by deployed geospatial units such as the DGST and the MMT will be used to update WebREP, which can subsequently be used by warfighters at the operational and tactical levels.

The updating of the Recognised Environmental Picture (REP) within WebREP is coordinated by the JEC.

Locally-derived information can also be used to generate a local REP within WebREP for use within a particular area of operations.

System of systems
Given that Phase 1 aims to improve collection sensors and develop improved information management and dissemination systems, this points towards the better networking of current capabilities rather than the acquisition of new ones but this has not been ruled out.

In terms of collection capabilities, most platforms are equipped with a variety of highly capable sensors that generally cannot be deployed to an area of operations because of their low speed or self-protection capabilities.

Platforms that have the self protection and speed to be deployed generally do not have sufficiently capable sensors, sufficient storage, or do not disseminate their environmental data for use.

This trade off between data integrity and speed is a recurrent theme in many capability acquisitions.

Consequently, to improve the capability, you need to provide better sensors to deployable platforms, and then improve the manner in which those platforms can store and share the data that is collected.

If a dedicated system is acquired, consisting of a dedicated platform and sensors to collect specific environmental data, significant support costs are incurred, and the platform may not collect all the data needed to meet the capability requirement in many situations.

In terms of processing and dissemination systems, greater integration of existing capabilities definitely has advantages, because there are significant existing capabilities throughout Defence that would benefit from improved coordination.

Making better use of systems already in place would have great benefits across the board.

The information gathered from numerous sources has applications both at the tactical and strategic levels for all services on joint operations.

A Defence spokesperson confirmed that "overarching doctrine is being developed in parallel with the project".

Flow on effects
Obviously, Maritime REA is a key enabler of deployed maritime task group operations in the littoral environment.

Principally, Australia's amphibious capability, which spans all three services to varying degrees, will benefit from JP 1770 Ph 1.

There are also synergies with deployable organic mine counter measures capabilities to be delivered under SEA 1778 Ph 1.

There is significant potential for both projects to employ similar technologies to generate a clearer understanding of the REP and underwater picture.

When Defence was questioned on how JP 1770 would flow into JP2064 Phase 2, which is already underway, the response was clear if littered with the appropriate TLAs (three letter acronyms).

"JP 2064 Phase 2 will provide an MGI server node within the AHO and DOM to support the dissemination of MGI to

"The JP 2064 architecture will provide the means for registration, discovery and dissemination of MGI data and will be critical to the functions of the JEC within HQJOC and, by association, the MGI Cell.

"JP 2064 will have significant impact on the REA process by facilitating the timely delivery of environmental information to the deployed warfighter.

"It provides a single picture of authorised MGI products through web-enabled access."

It will be interesting to see how JP1770 comes together in light of the other projects around it.

Whether the project will seek to better utilise system already in place, acquire new platforms or a combination of the two, REA is a capability that all three services will come to rely on in theatre.

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