U.S. Army partners with U.K. to automate sensor data and information processing
A Soldier holds a Black Hornet Unmanned Aerial System in one hand and a controller for the system and a display screen in the other hand. The display screen, which is slightly larger than a smart phone, is attached to his vest and provides situational awareness. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- Sensors give military forces the ability to see, hear, and understand their environment as they execute the basics of move, shoot and communicate. The data from sensors often conveys important information about an enemy’s activities, capabilities, location, and intent. This information, also known as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, provides a clear, current picture of the operational environment, which helps military personnel make informed decisions. One of the challenges is effectively and rapidly using the massive amount of data collected by sensors to quickly determine which information military forces need.

The United States and United Kingdom governments recently announced a jointly-funded project to rapidly and automatically process data obtained from sensors and optimize that information for mission success. The project is led by the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Army Research Laboratory, CCDC-Atlantic, and the U.K. Defence Science and Technology Laboratory and represents a new concept for jointly announced and funded basic research projects between the two nations. Both CCDC ARL and CCDC-Atlantic are part of the Army Future’s Command. Dstl is an executive agency, sponsored by the U.K. Ministry of Defence.

The focus of this research project on sensor signal processing in complex environments is particularly important to both governments. The project will include various aspects of processing data and information from networks of heterogeneous sensors, particularly autonomous sensors, operating without any centralized computing node. The research will address three complementary and distinct research questions: how to manage task and resource allocation for autonomous sensors; how to maintain computational effectiveness of the network of sensors in an environment with many simultaneous targets; and how to characterize and quantify uncertainties in sensor-derived estimates.

In response to a joint U.S. and U.K. Special Notice call for proposals on the topic "Signal and Information Processing for Decentralized Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance,” multiple proposals from a variety of universities were submitted. A team of subject matter experts from the U.S. and the U.K. evaluated these proposals. The selected proposal, “SIGNets – Signal and Information Gathering for Networked Surveillance,” is led by Professor Simon Godsill from the University of Cambridge. Godsill is working with Professors Wenwu Wang and Pei Xiao from the University of Surrey and Professor Lyudmila Mihaylova from the University of Sheffield on the project.

“We were impressed with the overall quantity and quality of the submitted proposals. The winning proposal has an outstanding multi-disciplinary research team with highly innovative and integrated technical approaches,” said Dr. Tien Pham, U.S. project lead from CCDC ARL.

U.S. and U.K. government teams have been working on networked sensing and ISR projects within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Technical Cooperation Program, and the Coalition Warfare Program. The new CCDC and U.K. Dstl basic research project will support collaboration on research and development efforts in the U.S. and U.K. respectively, as well as efforts with coalition partners in NATO and TTCP.

The research grant awarded to the team led by Godsill is for $1.2 million (£1 million) over three years. The science and technology workforce from both governments were involved with the call for proposals, which encouraged “development of mathematical analysis and algorithms, rather than hardware.” The research grant will begin on Sept. 30, 2020.

“Emerging technologies such as cheap, lightweight uncrewed aerial vehicles provoke a need for research into information processing of data derived from multiple autonomous sensors. In the military context, sensors have to work in a potentially contested environment, so networks of sensors are required to be resilient against attack and failure of individual sensors and communication links. This project addresses the challenges arising from the design of resilient networks by developing novel, fundamental information processing algorithms,” said Alasdair Hunter, the U.K. lead from Dstl.
“We were fortunate to be able to use an existing agreement via the Distributed Analytics and Information Sciences – International Technology Alliance to enable this collaboration. We hope to follow this mold in the future – not only on this topic, but also to establish bi-lateral agreements to continue collaboration between the U.S. and the U.K. to enhance basic research internationally,” Pham said.

For the U.K. Dstl, this project is the fourth in a series of application themes from the University Defence Research Collaboration in Signal Processing. The UDRC, which began in 2009, is a diverse academia-led partnership between industry and government that uses cutting-edge research in defense signal and information processing. The Cambridge, Sheffield and Surrey teams join ten other U.K. universities and research institutes working on the third phase of this research project, which will last until 2024.

The project also reinforces a Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. and British Armies that was recently signed by the U.K. Minister for the Armed Forces, James Heappey, and the U.S. Secretary of the Army, Ryan D. McCarthy. The MOU formally establishes bilateral modernization collaboration between the two Armies, and it aims to increase U.S.-U.K. technical interoperability from 2023 to 2027, and create a U.S.-U.K. design for the Multi-Domain Operations Aimpoint Force from 2028 to 2035.