The fate of the Defense Department's daring Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) research program will be determined in great measure by USAF's Electronic Systems Division at Hanscom AFB, Mass.
ESD has become pivotal to the accomplishment of the SDI program's toughest task, that of demonstrating that a nonnuclear, layered system of weapons and sensors for defending against ballistic missiles can really work. All along, ESD has been in charge of USAF's major share of SDI research on battle-management command control and communications (C3), the segment of the many-sided SDI program that is central to all others.
Now ESD's role in the SDI program has been greatly expanded. The Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO) and the Air Force have put ESD in charge of designing and building the geographically dispersed, electronically coordinated SDI National Test-Bed to simulate and validate SDI system concepts and technologies in "engagement" scenarios.
The National Test-Bed will be the means of determining how well those concepts and technologies work without actually developing or deploying an SDI system in space or on earth. It is also expected to disarm critics who charge that SDI is fatally flawed for the lack of any means of testing it, short of building and deploying systems in contradiction of the ABM treaty.
ESD is also moving out smartly on a newly organized Air Force program that is intended to supplement SDI. Called Air Defense Initiative (ADI), it has been set up to develop surveillance, battle-management, and weapons technologies for in-depth defense of North America against the growing threats of bombers and air-launched and submarine-launched cruise missiles.
As ESD's arm for advanced research and technology development and transition, Rome Air Development Center (RADC) at Griffiss AFB, N. Y., is the wellspring of the division's SDI and ADI programs.
Eye-catching as they are, those endeavors are matched in importance by many others in ESD's kit bag of programs to enhance the C3I capabilities of USAF's strategic, tactical, and security forces.
Notable among these on the tactical side are the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) program now in full-scale development, the AWACS upgrading program, and the Joint Tactical Information Distribution System (JTIDS) program now settling into stride.
On the strategic side, ESD has begun installing the Ground Wave Emergency Network (GWEN), which will communicate low-frequency emergency action messages to Strategic Air Command bases and launch control centers.
ESD is also well along in its work on new antijam (AJ) radio receivers for bombers and on high-power transmitters for the World-Wide Airborne National Command Post (WWANCP) fleet of EC-135 aircraft.
ESD's development of terminals for military aircraft and for some USAF ground stations to receive signals from vital Milstar communications satellites had fallen behind schedule. It now seems to be back on track, however, in anticipation of initial Milstar deployment scheduled for 1988.
The SAC Digital Information Network (SACDIN) is being installed, the World-Wide Military Command and Control Information System (WIS) is taking shape, the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) is being refurbished, and the North Warning System—a US/Canada project to replace the technologically outdated Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line in North America—is heading for completion in 1992.
Meanwhile, the east coast segment of ESD's Over-the-Horizon Backscatter (0TH-B) radar system is in production, and the west coast segment is scheduled to be put under contract about the time this issue goes to press.
In a time of terrorism, ESD's development of sensors and automated communications and alarm systems for safeguarding Air Force bases and deployed weapon systems assumes all the more importance.
This work is directed by Thomas O'Mahony, ESD's Deputy Commander for Intelligence, C3 Countermeasures, and Support Systems. His shop also handles such programs as C3 upgrades for Military Airlift Command and automated management systems for Air Force Logistics Command and ESD's parent Air Force Systems Command.
The order of the day at ESD is to push all programs through development and into production in strict adherence to stringent timetables.
A Trimmer, Tighter Look
Lt. Gen. Melvin F Chubb, Jr., ESD's Commander, is a stickler for getting things done on time and at or under cost. General Chubb also assigns high priority to a variety of ESD programs to induce contractors to increase productivity and improve the reliability and cut the costs of hardware and software.
Consequently, ESD's programs have a trimmer look these days. There is also a sense of ESD reasserting its role in the company of other AFSC product divisions that deal in aeronautical, weapons, and space systems of seemingly greater glamor but of no greater importance than ESD's "silent" systems for C3I.
ESD's leadership in establishing and running the SDI National Test-Bed joint program office adds to its luster and confronts it with a difficult challenge.
As presently envisioned, the National Test-Bed will be made up of several simulation sites electronically linked to a central test facility where SDI battle-management simulations and weapons-engagement simulations will be run.
The central test facility may take up as much as 300,000 square feet and employ up to 1,000 people. At this writing, its location had not been chosen, but Colorado Springs is considered a likely prospect.
Some officials predict that the SDI National Test-Bed program will become a multibillion-dollar operation.
ESD officials involved in the program say that it is too early to get specific about such matters. National Test-Bed contractors have only begun investigating concepts.
Selected late fast March by SDIO, those contractors are TRW, Rockwell, Martin Marietta, and Boeing. Each heads a large team of subsidiary contractors. All are competing for National Test-Bed design and implementation contracts.
SDIO has budgeted $462 million for the test-bed program in FY '87, which will begin October 1. It plans to have the central test facility in operation no later than 1989.
Col. William F. Flanagan, ESD's Deputy for Development Plans, describes the National Test-Bed as "the wind tunnel for SDI."
Colonel Flanagan explains that the military, services and other agencies in the SDI program will fashion the software and the simulations for their individual concepts and systems.
"They'll debug the simulations," he says, "and then submit them, in data form, to the central test-bed, which will be the vehicle for testing them all together."
ESD was not tapped out of the blue to take the lead in the National Test-Bed program. It came naturally to the task by virtue of its work, much of which has been done at RADC, on battle-management C3—described by Colonel Flanagan as "the glue that holds everything together"—for the Air Force's space-oriented role in SDI.
Such work has involved the simulation of the C3 that would be necessary should US kinetic energy weapons in space be called on to intercept incoming Soviet ICBMs.
"We put the formulas and the scenarios into a computer and did runup exercises," Colonel Flanagan explains. "The process involved some unique software that we developed fairly cheaply, with three to four people working nine months to a year."
The National Test-Bed will size up SDI technologies and concepts with a view to trade-offs among them, measure the "leakage" of reentry vehicles into US airspace in various scenarios, and test defensive systems concepts, via simulation, for their survivability as well as for their lethality.
"In our own in-house [ESD] simulations, we're starting small," Colonel Flanagan says. "We don't know yet what computing power we would need to simulate a full-up [SDI] system. It's going to be a gradual learning process for us while we increase the number of scenarios and vehicles involved."
"Our first cut," he explains, "was with six [Soviet] missile fields and one [US] 'kill' satellite interacting. We've come a long way. We're getting better now at answering such questions as how long would it take after a missile comes out of a silo for a [space-based] kinetic energy weapon to fire at it and kill it before [its] burnout."
ESD has also simulated warheads impacting on the US, singly at first and then in multiples. Moving up to multiple reentry vehicles in the simulations taxed computers and software but was manageable.
"We can ask [the computer] questions," Colonel Flanagan explains, "such as, 'What happens if the velocity of the [SDI] kill vehicles is increased? What difference would that make?'
Man in the Loop
ESD's research on SDI battle-management C3 has been done "with man in the loop," Colonel Flanagan emphasizes. This should allay the fear expressed by some SDI critics that a deployed SDI system would be wholly automated and that a decision to open fire would be left to computers, not to people.
The decision-making role of humans in SDI battle management (ESD calls this "the SDI man-machine interface") is being analyzed by an ESD contractor, Bolt, Beranek & Newman.
Other ESD battle-management C3 contracts involve architecture studies by IBM, Ford Aerospace, and McDonnell Douglas; a study by GTE of "intelligence impacts" on such battle-management architectures, with funding shared by the Army; and "software simulation support" by H. H. Aerospace Design Co. MITRE Corp., ESD's allied Federal Contract Research Center, has a hand in all such work, with emphasis on the sometimes daunting problems of software quality and quantity.
"We believe battle management is one of the toughest parts of SDI," says Colonel Flanagan. "All other parts—weapons and sensors—are influenced by battle-management C3."
ESD's battle-management C3 work has primed it for its leadership role in the SDI National Test-Bed program. The test-bed will be a creature of the computers and the communications that ESD is all about. Interconnecting the central test facility with others run by the services and by other DOD agencies and integrating the simulations of all of them will be a sophisticated sort of "battle management" in itself.
The SDI National Test-Bed could well be the means of deciding a major question that ESD is pondering: Should a deployed SDI system embody satellites that are dedicated to battle management, or should each sensory satellite and each weapon satellite have its own battle-management microprocessors and software?
"Those are the options," Colonel Flanagan asserts.
The National Test-Bed will have to tackle a great many such crucial questions.
"If we do our job right, we'll be able to handle the whole range of SD! battle-management concepts and technologies," Colonel Flanagan declares.
He emphasizes that the National Test-Bed, like all other SDI programs, comes under the heading of "research," not of "development." ABM treaty considerations make this distinction imperative.
Rome Air Development Center gets great credit for ESD's exemplary status in the SDI program.
Among other achievements, RADC's communications researchers have come up with a multinet "gateway" device that checks the security classification status of data coming out of computers and makes sure that it is routed only to authorized recipients. RADC has built a development model and will select a contractor to build an operational model roughly the size of a refrigerator and stuffed with electronics. The device is a godsend to SDI research operations and could play a key role in the functioning of the SDI test-bed.
RADC's participation in the SDI program goes well beyond battle-management C3 work. Its scientists and engineers are also involved in SDI's Surveillance, Acquisition, Tracking, and Kill Assessment (SATKA) research and directed-energy weapons (DEW) research, with emphasis on large optics, information and signal processing, surveillance radars, and software.
"Our work in SDI represents our emphasis in areas where RADC has been and will continue to be dominant," explains RADC Vice Commander Col. William E. O'Brien.
RADC has conducted several SDI experiments. Late last year, for example, it ran the show when the Air Force beamed a low-power laser at a Space Shuttle orbiting above a test range on Maui in the Hawaiian Islands. The laser hit the bull's-eye, illuminating a reflecting device on the Shuttle.
That test, says Colonel O'Brien, "gave us a better understanding of how to overcome the atmospheric effects on optical systems and enabled us to demonstrate advanced optical tracking technology." It also had great significance for SD! research on using mirrors in space to deflect the beams of big, powerful lasers on US soil to ICBMs booming skyward from the Soviet Union or anywhere else.
RADC's increasing involvement in SDI research is the major reason for the recently sharp upswing of its budget, from $300 million two years ago to $500 million this year.
Now RADC is applying its resources and its know-how to USAF's new Air Defense Initiative as well.
"I see our role increasing in ADI," says Colonel O'Brien, "because many of the technologies that apply to SDI ripple right into the ADI area. That's our main focus—the synergism of SDI and ADI in those areas where we have the technical expertise."
USAF reasons that the SDI program for defense against ballistic missiles must be augmented by the ADI program for defense against bombers and cruise missiles.
At the heart of the ADI endeavor is ESD's Atmospheric Surveillance Technology (AST) program. It seeks to develop new sensors to go along with ESD's 0TH-B radars and others in providing "wide-area surveillance" of all air approaches to North America. The AST program is considering the entire architecture of sensors and C3I that will be needed for such surveillance. It is in partnership with complementary work being carried out at AFSC's Space Division.
An example of such work is the Teal Ruby mosaic infrared sensor that had been scheduled for a Space Shuttle tryout this year. That test was delayed when the Challenger disaster put the Shuttle program on hold.
Air defense is clearly in the ascendance among DOD and USAF priorities. At this writing, discussions of how to improve C3 connectivity for the air defense mission were taking place at Hq. AFSC, Andrews AFB, Md., and in the Air Staff at the Pentagon.
Tactical Air Command is eyeing modern fighters for the air defense mission and is said to be increasingly interested in ESD's C3 and surveillance research programs of potential import for that mission.
Enthusiasm About Joint STARS
TAC does a lot of business with ESD and should be heartened by developments on the tactical front there.
The Joint STARS program is a prime example. It is a joint Air Force/Army program to provide real-time battle surveillance and attack management for air and land combat. It embodies air and ground segments, each with a weapons-targeting capability.
The heart of the airborne segment is the EC-18 (converted Boeing 707) aircraft with the Joint STARS radar, an operations and control system, and communications equipment aboard.
The EC-18's radar antenna, which will be twenty-four feet long and more than two feet top to bottom, will be carried inside a canoe-shaped radome slung underneath the forward section of the fuselage.
Boeing will produce the aircraft and build the radome. Grumman Melbourne Systems Division is the airborne system contractor. Norden will build the side-looking radar.
Grumman and Norden had teamed up in USAF's Pave Mover program, which led to Joint STARS.
The EC-18 will collect radar information on such moving targets as tanks, trucks, and personnel carriers over a deep, wide area behind enemy lines, all the while dispatching this data to air and ground commanders.
The purpose of the whole setup is accurate and timely air and artillery interdiction of enemy second-echelon ground targets wherever they move en route to reinforcing units at the battlefront.
Col. Charles E. Franklin, ESD's Deputy Commander for Joint STARS, is convinced that the system "will revolutionize battlefield management."
"With the ability to see in real time across the battlefield at the level of detail that the EC-18 provides, air commanders, corps commanders, and division commanders will get a far better picture of the whole scene than they've ever had before," Colonel Franklin declares. "Their ability to see the movements of enemy forces will be tremendous."
Colonel Franklin's enthusiasm seems well-founded. ESD has worked long and hard on Joint STARS technologies and knows what the system can do.
In the Joint STARS full-scale development program that began earlier this year, ESD will acquire two developmental aircraft. The first aircraft is scheduled for delivery to USAF in January 1989 and will be demonstrated in Europe later that year. Production of the Joint STARS operational EC-18 aircraft is scheduled to begin in 1990.
Inside each EC-18 will be as many as fifteen operations and control consoles. They will display terrain features and vehicles in a variety of colors.
They will also store their data as they go, thus enabling their operators to call up "historical replays" of enemy whereabouts and movements in time gone by. This will enable air and ground commanders to discern the patterns and speeds of such movements as well as their paths and intended points of confluence in attack-susceptible staging areas.
"Every EC-18 console will be 'smart,' with its own processor inside," Colonel Franklin explains. "Each will be able to store up to an hour's worth of data."
Joint STARS aircraft will also be capable of assessing damage caused by attacks against targets that they had spotted and tracked.
Presently, there are no plans to give the Joint STARS aircraft a lock-on linkup with air and ground weapon systems. Such a mode would be possible, however.
The Army's segment of the Joint STARS program is its Ground Station Module (GSM) now being developed by Motorola. The GSM is a truck-mounted operations and control system full of computers and communications gear. It will receive data from the EC-18s and distribute it to ground commanders.
A Joint STARS data hookup with a wide range of combat aircraft is in the offing through the Joint Tactical Information Distribution System (JTIDS) now in full swing at ESD. The Navy and the Marine Corps have joined the Air Force and the Army four-square in the JTIDS program, which will provide antijam digital communications for all.
At the same time, USAF has shelved its plan for an enhanced JTIDS (EJS), which would have provided substantial voice communications capability as well. TAC supported the EJS program, but the Navy's fighter force, primarily dependent on data communications, did not. With EJS no longer complicating the scene, "JTIDS is really in business here now," declares Brig. Gen. Charles P. Winters, ESD's Deputy Commander for Tactical Systems, JTIDS, and AWACS.
The contractor team of Singer Kearfott/Rockwell Collins is developing JTIDS Class II terminals to replace Class I varieties now in relatively limited usage. The team is evaluating Class II terminals for application to Navy-unique communications requirements.
The Class II terminals have been put through developmental flight testing at Eglin AFB, Fla., and are expected to be ready for operational test and evaluation this summer. Meanwhile, ESD is making preparations for their production.
The success of ESD's Have Quick II program for upgrading the original Have Quick ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) voice radios now aboard all USAF fighters had much to do with the Air Force's willingness to end the EJS program while continuing to develop EJS technology.
Have Quick II radios feature additional frequencies, software improvements, increased memory, more power, and faster frequency hopping, the better to escape jamming. Their software is also compatible with that of the E-3A AWACS aircraft.
USAF swears by its AWACS aircraft. It has no plans to add to its inventory of thirty-four E-3As. However, ESD is making them more capable of spotting and tracking airborne targets for the US fighter force.
The goal of ESD's AWACS upgrading program is to increase the sensitivity of the huge radar atop the aircraft.
The radar itself will remain unchanged. However, the computers that receive and correlate its sensory data will be made much faster and more reliable.
"This will significantly improve the ability of AWACS to see smaller targets," General Winters declares. Notable among such targets are cruise missiles, which are ever more abundant in Soviet bomber and submarine forces.
AWACS improvements could become all the more necessary if the Soviets turn to low-observable aircraft and cruise missiles in the US manner.
"The IBM computer in AWACS is a super one," says Col. John Colligan, ESD's Director for AWACS, "but it was designed more than twenty-five years ago. We can get a fair amount of advantage in radar sensitivity just by giving the computer more capability."
In remodeling the computer, ESD is giving thought to applying VHSIC (very-high-speed integrated circuits) chips that are coming into production. The computer's software is being enhanced as well.
Changes in the AWACS radar data correlator are being made by Westinghouse, which built it way back when. Most internal wiring is being eliminated, and computational capacity is being increased. Westinghouse is expected to finish validating its new model later this year.
Colonel Colligan expects that the new radar data correlator will have a mean time between failures of more than 400 hours and will be capable of conducting 2,000,000 operations per second. This will quadruple the MTBF of the existing correlator and double its speed.
In the meantime, ESD has asked Boeing to come up with a new antenna to augment the AWACS radar.
"We've felt for a long time that we need some ancillary sensors in case the radar gets jammed or isn't seeing as far as we'd like it to see under certain conditions," Colonel Colligan explains. "The new antenna won't be terribly precise, but it will signal that there's something out there, moving in this or that direction, that needs to be looked at. Having it will be comforting."
This is also true of the many systems being developed, acquired, and installed by the strategic side of the house at ESD.
With a billion-dollar-plus budget and thirty-five programs, ESD's Deputy Commander for Strategic Systems manages a great deal of the work in the top-priority C3 segment of President Reagan's strategic modernization program.
The going has been difficult in some instances, mainly because levels of funding have not always kept pace with levels of ambition. Even so, progress has been steady.
GWEN Thin Line
The Ground Wave Emergency Network (GWEN) is a prime example of this. A "thin line" of fifty-six GWEN antenna-tower sites will have been completed by RCA on federal, state, and leased private properties in the US by next April. Thirty-eight radio terminals will also have been installed at military facilities.
This is a solid start toward the construction of more than 200 sites, or nodes, that will make up the full-bodied GWEN system.
The GWEN program was begun five years ago as the means of assuring that the National Command Authorities (NCA) and SAC will be able to communicate with data via low-frequency ground waves should a nuclear attack disrupt other channels for emergency-action messages.
Each of the fenced-in GWEN sites around the country will feature a transmitter tower about 300 feet tall and three compact shelters containing communications equipment and a powerplant.
GWEN's equipment and broadcast signals would be unsullied by electromagnetic pulse (EMP) emanating from a high-altitude nuclear detonation, which could very well be the first thing to happen in a nuclear attack.
Anthony D. Salvucci, ESD's Assistant Deputy Commander for Strategic Systems, is convinced that GWEN's widely proliferated nodes and message-routing versatility will be enough to discourage a would-be attacker.
"We plan to have enough nodes in the system to make the enemy pay a significant penalty to cut enough of them to put the system out of action," Mr. Salvucci declares.
SAC has had the use of a nine-tower GWEN prototype that RDA Associates built for starters. Seven of the towers are part of the existing thin-line network and will be incorporated into the full-up network as well.
Many other ESD strategic programs also have to do with guaranteeing the connectivity of communications during a nuclear war.
High among such programs are those for a Miniature Receive Terminal (MRT) for B-1B and B-52 bombers. The MRTs will be nuclear-hardened and extremely difficult to jam. Their developmental testing is expected to begin next February. First production deliveries are scheduled for 1990.
ESD is also pushing ahead with development of high-power transmitters for the EC-135 aircraft making up the World-Wide Airborne National Command Post (WWABNCP) fleet.
At this writing, the Navy was moving to join the program. It needs to improve its capability for VLF/ LF transmission of emergency-action messages to ballistic missile submarines from the TACAMO (Take Charge and Move Out) aircraft over the oceans.
ESD expects to award a contract for full-scale development of the high-power transmitter next year and production early in 1990.
ESD's program for developing and acquiring all airborne Milstar terminals "is now settled and prioritized," Mr. Salvucci says, and will culminate in a production program that "will guarantee good competition."
Raytheon, the prime contractor for the terminals, is teamed with Bell Aerospace and Rockwell in a leader-follower arrangement. At least two of these contractors will be capable of building an entire Milstar terminal embodying fifteen black boxes and a variety of antenna systems. Production of the terminals is scheduled to begin in 1990.
Daily Report: Read the day's top news on the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
Daily Report: Read the day's top news on the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
Tweets by @AirForceMag