Army praises AFMC units for future battlefield improvements
November 2, 2006
By John Schutte
11/2/2006 - WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFPN) -- Two Air Force Materiel Command units -- the Air Force Research Laboratory's Human Effectiveness Directorate and the Aeronautical Systems Center Special Operations Forces Systems Group -- recently teamed with the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Center's Future Force Warrior Advanced Technology Demonstration program office to experiment with bridging the communications gap between ground-based Army troops and tactical air control party, or TACP, Airmen.
In front-line ground combat situations, specially trained Air Force warfighters must peer into the fog of war, collect target data from Army spotters, clearly grasp complex facts under high-stress chaotic conditions, and render a decision that will bring lethal air strikes against nearby enemy targets.
On such joint combat missions, TACPs need high situational awareness and fast, accurate communications to direct firepower onto targeted enemies. Poor information or communications can translate into tragic friendly-fire casualties.
To improve the targeting process, the Human Effectiveness Directorate's Warfighter Interface Division worked with the Future Force Warrior team this summer and fall to demonstrate the feasibility of using Cursor on Target, an open system architecture for sending target-specific digital images and location coordinates over wireless networks.
Army squad- or platoon-leader computers transfer information directly to computers used by TACPs who direct the close-air-support firepower. Targeting and friendly location information appears as an icon on a digital map on the transmitting and the receiving computers' displays.
Air Force specialists also showcased the Windows-based FalconView™ information management system. The Army light infantry squad leaders and fire team leaders experimented with this system, which displays various types of maps and geographically referenced overlays, and speech recognition software for hands-free computer control and goggle-mounted "look down" displays.
According to David Darkow, senior technical advisor with ASC's Battlefield Airmen Squadron, the use of voice commands to enter coordinate changes was important for enabling heads-up operation of the computer systems in the field.
"Data entry tasks that took 15 minutes were reduced to about 90 seconds," Mr. Darkow said. "The time and workload reduction when using speech recognition were just tremendous from the Soldiers' points of view."
Rob Snyder and David Williamson from the lab's Collaborative Interfaces Branch tailored an existing speech recognition system to meet squad leaders' software interface needs. This allowed voice entry of location coordinates and other information.
With Cursor-on-Target protocol, Soldiers can pass key targeting information -- what, where, when -- directly between computers, such as between Army light infantry troops and TACPs. When a field commander moves his cursor over a target and clicks, the cursor sends target data to ground and airborne commanders to initiate firepower.
Currently, Air Force and Army field-level personnel pass information verbally using radios, but electronic target data is communicated only at higher command levels.
Philip Brandler, director of the U. S. Army Natick Soldier Center, praised AFRL researchers for their role in significantly enhancing Army SCU capabilities and in pushing forward the distributed mission, network-centric piece of the Army's Future Force Warrior Advanced Technology Demonstration project.
"The level of cooperation and strategic partnering between our organizations has exceeded my expectations," Mr. Brandler said. "With additional time and resources over the next 15 months, I am eagerly looking forward to even more impressive innovations and successes stemming from our collective efforts."
The Advanced Technology Demonstration will culminate by the end of 2007. Experimentation will continue to leverage and include key capabilities brought forth by AFRL, Mr. Brandler said.
(Courtesy of Air Force Materiel Command Public Affairs)