Force Modernization and Intelligence Connectivity in One Fell Swoop

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by Captain Nelton Gaertner and Second Lieutenant Harry A. Janiski, Jr.

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The AH-64 Apache helicopter is the most lethal killing platform on the modern battlefield. With a forward-looking infrared (FLIR) radar sighting system, the Apache can find almost any target in almost any light condition. Seeing targets is also a way of gathering information which, when transmitted to intelligence cells, can be converted into useful intelligence. Equipment upgrades and improvements in connectivity to intelligence cells are helping the Apache to become a leading information collector on the battlefield.

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Figure 1: AH-64 FLIR image transmitted over 40 km through PhotoTelesis.

The PhotoTelesis System

The current on-board gun-camera recording device, manufactured by TEAC, uses a special format tape that plays on a special format player and a special format monitor. This system, although innovative in the late 1970s when it was developed, seriously limits the capabilities of an otherwise powerful combat system.

PhotoTelesis, a division of Raytheon, has developed a new system to replace the antiquated TEAC recorder system. The new system has an integrated recorder, transmitter, and receiver capable of "freeze-framing" gun-camera imagery, transmitting the image over the aircraft’s on-board secure radio systems, and receiving images from other aircraft or from ground stations. This system uses a standard 8-mm videocassette playable on any commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) 8-mm video player or camcorder. The system also interfaces with the Army’s new Lightweight Video Reconnaissance System (LVRS) allowing scouts or "pathfinders" on the ground to send near-real-time images of an engagement area or landing zone to aircraft already enroute.

The PhotoTelesis system is composed of four separate components:

The 8-mm tape recorder records the images viewed through the gun-camera and all cockpit conversation. The scan converter modifies the signal received by the recorder and changes it into a digital signal used by a Windows™ -based software program. The digital signal then passes into the transmitter/receiver where it is sent via FM (single channel or frequency hopping, secure or unsecure) ultra-high frequency, high frequency, or satellite communications to any of three consumers: the ground station (a ruggedized laptop computer loaded with special software), the LVRS outstation, or another PhotoTelesis-equipped aircraft. The image can then be manipulated like any other image file.

 

Use by the 101st Aviation Brigade

This system has been used by the 101st Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), on several exercises. It has proven to be a useful tool and an excellent replacement for the Apache’s standard TEAC recorder system. The system has also worked well in OH-58D Kiowa helicopters.

With a ground station in each battalion tactical operations center, the brigade S2 has instant connectivity for voice and data transmission through FM communications down to battalion level. Ground stations have passed text and graphic reports (such as intelligence reports and summaries), requests for information and requests for intelligence information, and even Word™ and PowerPoint™ files among the brigade and battalions. In this capacity, alone, the PhotoTelesis system has greatly increased the capability of the Intelligence battlefield operating system.

PhotoTelesis imagery (gun-camera imagery) also has greatly improved battle damage assessment (BDA) tracking and has increased the commander’s situational awareness. Images such as those in Figures 1 and 2 can now be transmitted during or after an engagement and assessed by the S2 to determine whether the mission’s success criteria have been met, or whether a reengagement is required. The ability to make this decision while the aircraft are still in the air significantly saves time, logistics efforts, and initiative, keeping a minimum number of crews and aircraft at risk.

 

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Figure 2: OH-58D Day TV image transmitted over 70 km with digital retransmission through PhotoTelesis.

PhotoTelesis Connectivity Enhancement

Currently, the 101st Airborne Division G2 is working with the manufacturer of the PhotoTelesis system to develop a protocol to allow the Linux-based Warlord software to transmit over FM secure communications, thereby eliminating the need for Mobile Subscriber Equipment (MSE) support down to battalion level. Figure 3 illustrates the connectivity and information flow among the aircraft, to the ground stations, and from PhotoTelesis-equipped aircraft and LVRS-equipped pathfinders and scouts.

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Figure 3.   PhotoTelesis Connnectivity (Bi-directional

As Figure 3 illustrates, the images and data can be transmitted in any direction to any other system in the air or on the ground. Images can be downloaded onto a floppy diskette and imported into the Warlord system for assimilation into the All-Source Analysis System (ASAS). Similarly, data can be extracted from the ASAS/Warlord and can be inputted into the PhotoTelesis system for transmission to any of the systems. This provides equipped units with a workaround for the lack of Warlord connectivity down to battalion level.

 

The System’s Shortcoming

Currently, only one serious shortcoming exists with the PhotoTelesis system: its range is limited by the radio system over which it transmits. In a deep attack role, this becomes a serious problem as distances covered often exceed 100 kilometers (km) and standard FM range with current systems is only about 45 km. Retransmission efforts have experienced some success; they work best when using a digital retransmission system like that on the OH-58D. To date, analog retransmission systems have not worked well with PhotoTelesis.

Aircraft and vehicles equipped with new modes Single-Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS) radio sets can retransmit digital data easily, but efforts with older-model SINCGARS have failed. According to the manufacturer of the SINCGARS radios, data transmission is possible over the older-generation radios, but the operators have been unable to make it work. An LVRS outstation (a handheld, integrated 486 computer and liquid crystal display screen), connected to a SINCGARS radio through the troop antenna on a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter, has served as a relay system and provides an excellent workaround for the range problem and digital retransmission requirement. However, it does slow the information flow.

NTC rotation 98-02 will be a specially tailored rotation designed to experiment with the communications architecture. The participants will include the 2d Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), and the 101st Aviation Brigade. Our goals for the rotation include long-range FM (frequency-hopping secure) transmissions with ground retransmission and the use of tactical satellite and HF radios.

 

Conclusion

The Marine Corps is experimenting with PhotoTelesis on Cobras and Harriers, and Force Reconnaissance units currently use LVRS, although under a different name. The Air Force has used it in A-10s and the Navy has mounted it in F-14s. All Special Operations Forces use LVRS. The connectivity with other systems in our sister Services provides a new degree of joint-level interoperability and connectivity------a capability that the Army desperately needs in our JTF-oriented environment.

The PhotoTelesis system for the Apache helicopter will keep Army aviation at the cutting edge of technology and modern warfare, providing a much-needed upgrade to an already formidable system. Integration of PhotoTelesis with the newly acquired LVRS system will provide the aviation commander a level of situational awareness never before seen on the battlefield, while simultaneously providing mission planning staffs a valuable tool for reconnaissance and airflow coordination.

Captain Gaertner is currently the S2, 101st Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). He has served as the G2 Plans Officer, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), and the S2 of 2nd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, Wheeler Army Airfield, Hawaii. Captain Gaertner has a bachelor of arts degree in Speech Communication from the University of South Florida. Readers can contact him via E-mail at [email protected] and telephonically at (502) 956-3526 or DSN 363-3526.

Second Lieutenant Janiski is currently the Assistant S2, 101st Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). He has a bachelor of science degree in Political Science from the United States Military Academy. Readers can contact him via E-mail at [email protected] and telephonically at (502) 956-3527 or DSN 363-3527.