Defence Projects: Is Land 17's C2 system in the bag? | ADM Dec 06/Jan 07

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By Tom Muir

There seems little doubt that Defence will choose the US Army's artillery command and control system under Project Land 17.

And there's a growing possibility that Army will acquire surplus PzH 2000 guns from the Netherlands.

Interestingly, in November the Land 17 Integrated Project Team (IPT) had been involved in information gathering discussions with two countries.

While these are not named we understand they are the United States and the Netherlands, and that the discussions are central to the points made in our introduction.

While the IPT was quick to assure industry that the discussions did not represent any decision or commitment on behalf of the Commonwealth and thus did not negate the requirement to release an RFT to the newly deferred date of May 2007.

Defence says the aim of the discussions was to ensure the government was able to consider the full range of capability solutions for Land 17.

However the possibility of acquiring 14 virtually unused PzH 2000 tracked SP artillery systems at a world beating price would be very difficult to ignore even to those in LTGEN Hurley's Capability Development Executive who may have had a preference for wheeled over tracked SP artillery systems.

And while Defence will almost certainly acquire the US Army's artillery command and control system as the BMS-Fires when it acquires new towed and self- propelled field guns under Land 17 this means that a proviso in the requirements will have to be changed.

Under current planning, when the L17 RFT is released, by May next year if not later, the capabilities sought will be defined in separate packages. Thus:

* Package A: BMS-Fires plus Weapons Management System

* Package B: 155mm SP Artillery Platform

* Package C: 155mm Lightweight Towed Platform, and

* Package D: Cost option, upgraded M198s vs new Lightweight Platforms.

There are a number of provisos.

The Lightweight gun must be air transportable slung under a CH-47D, both 155mm types must be compatible with Excalibur extended range munitions, weapons offered must have MOTS provenance, and so on.

But one appears to be especially problematic: those bidding for Package C may do so either as part of an omnibus proposal or as a standalone bid, but those bidding for Package B must also offer a compliant bid for Package A.

Does this mean that the SP platform and C2 system are paired?

On the face of it such an arrangement could preclude Defence from matching the best BMS-Fires solution with the preferred SP gun system.

Some observers suspect it is more likely Defence will acquire the US Army's Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System (AFATDS) as the preferred BMS-Fires, either as an FMS case or though Raytheon, and provide it as GFE.

The issue will then be for those bidding self-propelled and or towed gun systems under Packages B and C, will need to demonstrate that their weapon management systems are readily integrated with AFATDS and that their systems have been proofed for Excalibur rounds.

Harking back awhile, the Land 17 Market Survey noted that in general C2 systems are the basis for integrating the effects of joint fires and land based indirect fire weapons with ground and air operations.

The C2 system comprises personnel, procedures required to plan and execute fires and the communications network.

Personnel exercise command, select targets, plan, execute and assess the results of fires from joint and indirect fires, and administer the field artillery system.

Procedures address the tactics and techniques used to employ the field artillery system.

The communications network distributes orders and reports, in accordance with the tactics, techniques and procedures, throughout the field artillery system.

As we know, the communications requirement for Land 17 should use the bearers determined by JP 2072 Battlefield Communications System (Land) although there are suggestions that that project's ISD timings may not suit Land 17's timescales.

Artillery C2 systems are expected to provide a comprehensive range of outputs, from calculating firing solutions (part of the raison d'etre for ENIAC, the US Army's first computer, was to calculate the trajectories of shot, a task until then undertaken by women employed as 'computers' who spent an enormous amount of time on each calculation) to controlling howitzer movement, fire control and logistics, and the control and coordination of joint fires, such as naval surface fires, close air support, battalion mortars, attack helicopters, and so on.

The ADF currently has very limited C2 capability for artillery fire control and management and the introduction of new C2 systems providing very comprehensive capabilities are not without their own challenges as the ADF comes to grips with the cultural impact of NCW and its ramifications.

A good example of such challenges in the ADF's experience was where an artillery regiment was provided with a new target designation system (TDS).

TDS uses position and navigation subsystems to combine inputs from a laser rangefinder, inertial navigation unit, GPS receiver and a motion sensor to provide self-location, navigation and far target location data.

The TDS enables the data to be automatically formatted within a fire support tactical data system and sent directly to a gun resulting in automated gun laying.

The TDS is typical of the sensor-shooter network that characterises the NCW environment but a study by Brigadier Gerard Fogarty, Progressing the Human Dimension of NCW in the ADF, found that the technology challenged a number of paradigms within the artillery unit.

"First, most obviously, the unit must develop new individual training, education and development packages to introduce the system.

"It will also need to prepare its members to operate at higher levels of tempo.

"Second, it challenges the unit's relationships.

"The automated sensor-shooter link bypasses command posts within the unit and enables the integration of a broader range of sensors to that which the unit has previously utilised for target data.

"Third, it challenges the unit's fire control mechanisms with options now being presented to remove layers within the organisation.

"Finally, the organisational structure itself is challenged, with the identification of redundant fire control and data computation elements, and with the realisation that TDS enables greater options for task organising individual guns."

However Brigadier Fogarty could be upstaged by even newer developments such as StrikeLink, a target acquisition and hand-off system, that was developed for the Marine Corps by Stauder Technologies.

StrikeLink is a system that has the ability to quickly acquire targets in the day, at night and in nearly all weather conditions.

It can determine operator location as well as the location of the targets and then digitally transmit secure data to multiple supporting arms elements.

The system is used by forward observers and forward air controllers in their execution of artillery and close air support missions respectfully.

And it is not only the Marines that will benefit from this development.

The Naval Surface Warfare Center recently indicated its intention to purchase (sole source) the support required for the conversion of StrikeLink into a communication module integration tool to facilitate testing of Close Air Support mission threads among fleet laboratories and assets located across large geographical areas.

According to the Center StrikeLink represents an 85-90 percent material solution to the requirement for a communications module that can take VMF data packets off of a network and communicate them to the F/A-18, F-16 and AV-8B.

There is no other software that meets this requirement, it added.

We understand that Defence is particularly interested in this development and may approach the USMC with a view to its introduction as part of the BMS-Fires and more broadly the tactical, digital C2 capabilities that are being developed through L17, L75 and L125.

While there are a number of in-service artillery C2 systems that may be wondering whether they are up for consideration as part of the Land 17 requirement, we have already indicated our view that a sole source, FMS-based solution is likely for this project.

Nevertheless we thought it worth reviewing one of the systems that would be a candidate if the sole source solution we have in mind was rejected.

This is ComBatt, the fire support system developed by Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace.

Another would have been the ATLAS system offered by Thales Australia as part of the Caesar SP 155mm howitzer package which was withdrawn following this year's changes to the Land 17 requirement.

ComBatt is a Command and Control Information System for tactical army operations, covering all system levels, from communication to user applications and organisational levels from Division to Battalion.

The system has been developed in close cooperation with the Norwegian Armed Forces and is fielded within the Norwegian Army and has been extensively evaluated through deployment in large multinational exercises.

Artillery Fire Support is a subset of ComBatt C2IS that is proposed for the Land 17 C2 requirement and as such offers a system that has immediate growth potential to an Army-wide tactical C2 system beyond the needs of an artillery fire support system.

Kongsberg says that the objective of the Artillery Fire Support application is to provide the right amount of firepower at the right place at the right time.

The system supports multiple simultaneously on-going fire missions as well as multiple weapon platforms including tube artillery, rocket artillery and mortar.

The Fire Support system has the following components:

The US Advanced Field Artillery Data System (AFATDS) is the system we believe will be acquired for the ADF.

It is an automated Fire Support Command and Control (C2) system that interoperates with coalition fire support systems.

Raytheon fields and supports AFATDS in US Army and USMC fire support units with the system's operational capability and supportability proven in Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to Raytheon AFATDS development closely resembles the US Army's transformation from its Cold War posture to NCW and the Future Force.

The system began as a traditional 'stove pipe' system, designed to perform command and control functions for field artillery units in a high intensity European (Cold War) scenario.

It has since evolved into a networked joint/coalition system with a service oriented architecture for the integrated command and control of all fire support means (howitzers, mortars, air strike, naval guns and missiles).

It is capable of inter-operating with a large number of systems using a variety of communications devices, protocols and message interfaces.

A particular advantage is its ability to bridge the gap between tactical, low-bandwidth, message-based communications and modern IP based networks.

AFATDS is able to communicate with external systems, both current and future, its modular design having allowed Raytheon to add and modify communications interfaces with ease.

AFATDS is also able to process information received in one format, and automatically convert and distribute the information in other formats.

In this way, AFATDS can link 'stove pipe' devices together.

Once communications links and data distribution schemes are established, all of this happens automatically, with no need for operator action.

The data is also made available to users at all AFATDS nodes on an operational map display where symbols depict friendly and enemy units and battlefield geometry.

The user can interact with map icons to access and edit detailed information about units and tactical graphics.

With its ability to receive and correlate data from both ends of the tactical internet, AFATDS provides a comprehensive common operational picture (COP) to its users.

And with its ability to translate and distribute information, AFATDS can transform a number of disparate systems into a networked 'system of systems'.

Automated command and control requires linking a variety of sensors, which could include a forward observer, an unmanned drone or in Australia's case, the Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning & Control system.

When the observer identifies the target, it is sent to AFATDS over radio. AFATDS operates most of the Army's radios and communications systems, and works on mobile subscriber equipment.

Once the data is analysed and displayed, the information is digitally sent to the weapons systems.

AFADTS then computes the technical solution and notifies the observer that he has a mission on the way.

According to Raytheon the process takes about six minutes for firing rockets and four and a half for other munitions.

Raytheon claims that AFATDS already provides the chief capabilities needed in a network centric land force C2 system which we see as one of the many attractions for the ADF.

In respect to joint operations, AFATDS is installed on the USN's amphibious warfare ships, providing a link between the landing force and the amphibious task force and a direct link to naval fire support via the US Naval Fires Control System (NFCS).

It is also the primary link for air support requests between ground forces and the USAF's Theatre Battle Management Core System, providing the latter with ground situation and fires information.

AFATDS communicates with the automated systems of other nations using ASCA and other protocols including ADLER (Germany), ATLAS (France), BATES (UK) and SIR (Italy) systems.

Other countries have also acquired AFATDS, including Portugal, Turkey, and Bahrain.

A somewhat dated post-action-review of the US 3rd Infantry Division's mechanised artillery reported that AFATDS provided a stable and reliable fire control platform that allowed the delivery of fires in support of ground manoeuvre forces.

Units effectively used it to tactically and technically deliver field artillery fires, manage fire support coordination measures, and provide a common operational picture down to platoon level, the review said.

Nevertheless, soldiers suggested improvements to future versions of AFATDS.

To solve size, weight and contaminant problems, the report recommended repackaging AFATDS into a more durable laptop system (which we understand is now in place).

A durable laptop was also seen as the answer to a power demand problem because it would eliminate the need for a heavy-duty power supply.

Soldiers also were unable to override the automated AFATDS decision making.

The report recommended that the software be updated to allow battalion and platoon operators to make necessary manual adjustments.

In this case soldiers could not select the type and number of rounds they wanted to fire, because the system generated a certain fire order for a particular situation.

AFATDS needs to refine its guidance package, said the report, to allow the operator to 'force a specific fire order' when necessary.

A total of 600 AFATDS-split between the Army and the Marine Corps- were fielded during OIF. Raytheon is integrating 12 systems onto USN ships when it will eventually be able to operate with the Navy's Extended Range Guided Munition, as well as the Army's new GPS-guided round Excalibur and the Non-Line-of-Sight Launch System.

We have provided a lengthy description of AFATDS, not because we are particular protagonists for the system or for its developer, Raytheon, but because it is the only system available that comes near to meeting ADF requirements and will almost certainly be introduced into ADF service. And in this respect the more we know about the system, the better.

While the system has its drawbacks-complexity may be a problem-it nevertheless has the scope and growth potential not only to satisfy the artillery fire support requirement for Land 17 but also to provide the basis for a much broader ADF-wide network, with links to navy and air assets, and thus able to integrate and control joint fires in complex warfighting operations.

Interestingly the Land 17 IPT has reviewing the implications of the requirement for terminal control and tactical coordination of joint fires (ie Artillery, Naval Surface Fire Support and Offensive Air Support).

Additionally, the implications of the requirement to conduct detailed mission planning and execution for Excalibur missions was being considered.

Is there any other artillery C2 system (BMS-Fires) that offers these capabilities?

Copyright - Australian Defence Magazine, December 2006/January 2007

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