Over the past few years, the U.S. Army has increasingly focused on bringing together what were once disparate tests of its various network systems into holistic and realistic semi-annual exercises. Two such exercises are the Empire Challenge (EC) (held annually at test facilities) and the Army's newest entry this year, the Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) held semi-annually at test facilities. Attended by more than 2,000 participants representing the U.S. and several other countries, the EC11 demonstration enabled participants to "flex their system interoperability muscles" in a very realistic operating environment. In a similar fashion, the NIE's purpose is to conduct required evaluations in support of Program of Record (POR) milestones and to advance integration and understanding of the objective to bridge Army network architectures. The common thread between the two events is the concept of system interoperability and networking; in simple terms, through these events, the Army seeks the answer to a very basic, yet critical question - - can we get these systems to communicate with, and across each other in a way that is meaningful to the Soldier and ultimately enables success in the fight?

When it comes to system interoperability and networking, the Project Manager, Night Vision/Reconnaissance, Surveillance, and Target Acquisition (PM NV/RSTA) is right at home. "As a center of excellence for tactical sensor systems, we have played a key strategic and tactical role in these critical exercises, demonstrating system interoperability and networking that spans both ground-based and aerial-based sensors and sensor systems," said Col. Edward Stawowczyk, project manager, NV/RSTA.

Throughout the extensive demonstrations, several NV/RSTA systems, including the Base Expeditionary Targeting and Surveillance Systems -- Combined (BETSS-C) (winner of the 2009 DoD Top 5 Program Award for Systems Engineering Excellence and a CENTCOM top-five priority), showcased system interoperability and networking during varied and realistic vignettes. BETSS-C is a family of systems (FoS). It comprises a combination of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); battle command; and force protection (FP) sensor systems, including the Rapid Aerostat Initial Deployment (RAID) Towers, the Cerberus Towers, the FP Suite, and the Rapid Deployment Surveillance Security System. Together, these sensor systems provide specific targeting, persistent surveillance, and overall FP capabilities in theater. Leveraging a standard ground station (SGS) with a common graphical user interface (CGUI), BETSS-C provides tactical commanders with video, images, and other data from towers, unattended air vehicles (UAVs), and ground sensors. Overall, BETSS-C has proven critical for the defense of forward operating bases in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Both the EC11 and initial NIE provided us with a realistic operating environment to demonstrate BETSS-C's capabilities," said Robin Whitworth, deputy PM, NV/RSTA. As such, BETSS-C is providing a baseline for the future of the Army's integrated base defense and NV/RSTA is now moving in the direction of full integration and networking of sensor systems with weapon systems through common mission command networks, including expanded full motion video capability. Moreover, NV/RSTA's demonstrations included networking BETSS-C with other key systems within its portfolio, such as the Lightweight Counter-Mortar Radar (LCMR) from the Product Manager, Radars; the Expendable Unattended Ground Sensor (EUGS), the Persistent Threat Detection System (PTDS), and the Persistent Surveillance and Dissemination System of Systems (PSDS2; an architecture) from the Product Manager, Robotic and Unmanned Sensors (PM RUS); the Rapid Aerostat Initial Deployment (RAID) Aerostat from the Product Manager, Integrated Tactical Systems (PM ITS); and the Boomerang (gunshot detection system) from the Product Manager, Forward-Looking Infrared (PM FLIR). Together, output from these differing systems provides the Soldier and combatant commanders with an immediate, fused, tactical picture. When processed, this information enables increased situational awareness, resulting in more time to react and the ability to do so with the best response possible.

During the demonstrations, output from the systems is displayed on the SGS on a Common GUI and is sent to various architectures, including the PSDS2, the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System (AFATDS), the Distributed Common Ground Sensor -- Army (DCGS-A), and the Force XXI Battle Command, Brigade-and-Below (FBCB2). These architectures are capable of timely dissemination, cross-cueing of weapon systems and other sensors, and managing fires against targets reported by sensor systems.

"In simple terms, what our systems do is much like what you see when watching a football game on television," explained Stawowczyk. "During a football game, various camera views and angles are depicted to provide the viewer with comprehensive views of all of the action. There are ground-based and aerial-based cameras that are networked to gather and process information for the viewer. At any given point, you feel like you know exactly what is going on in the game. It's the same for NV/RSTA's sensors and systems. We provide the Soldier and combatant commander with a comprehensive view of the battle space - - a comprehensive view of the action," Stawowczyk concluded.

With the inaugural NIE completed, PM NV/RSTA is now participating in NIE 12.1. In addition to continuing to evaluate systems demonstrated in EC11 and later, at the first NIE, the PM has added the Netted Long Range Advanced Scout Surveillance System (LRAS3) as part of the overall 12.1 evaluation. The LRAS3 provides long range target acquisition capabilities to armor and infantry scouts. This capability enables them to conduct reconnaissance and surveillance operations while remaining outside of threat acquisition and engagement ranges. The LRAS3 operates in both a stationary vehicle mounted configuration and in an autonomous dismounted configuration. By networking one LRAS3 with another, operators will be able to share information across each netted LRAS3. Also, in the future, the LRAS3 will be netted with the Gunshot Detection System (GDS) to provide the Soldier with a more robust counter-sniper capability. The GDS will provide bearing and elevation cues to the netted LRAS3, thereby enabling the operator to identify and locate a sniper and send target location and images to end-users for action.

The PM is also leveraging its state-of-the-art mobile training trailers (retrofitted tractor trailers that bring self-contained training to the Soldier) at Fort Bliss, Texas to provide Soldier training on NV/RSTA systems prior to the event. "In preparation for NIE 12.1, we conducted training for the Soldiers who are members of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division," said Stawowczyk. "These Soldiers are running the evaluation, so it was especially important that we provide them with the necessary knowledge and skills to conduct a thorough evaluation and provide helpful feedback on how we can improve the systems," Stawowczyk added.

At both EC11 and the very first NIE, PM NV/RSTA clearly demonstrated, under conditions that replicate the current operating environment in Afghanistan, that its systems are capable of interoperability not only among U.S. services, but also with coalition partners. "This kind of sharing of key ISR data is critical to our success in the fight, "said Stawowczyk. "Events like EC11 and the NIE provide us with a pivotal opportunity to test and improve our systems so that we continue to deliver the very best capabilities to our Soldiers," Stawowczyk concluded.