Monday, January 21, 2013

More Than a Better Mousetrap: The Data Core Behind Integrated Air Defense, Part I

In this three part series, I will be discussing the operational problem of integrated air defense from the perspective of its inherent cognitive, data and knowledge management processes, and the middleware tools that support and automate those processes.  

Part One, published below, discusses the nature of the integrated air defense problem, introduces the associated cognitive processes and collates them within the knowledge management process.  

Part Two, which will be published on Wednesday, 23 January 2013, discusses middleware tools applicable to integrated air defense systems and sets out a notional architecture for a middleware powered integrated air defense system.

Part Three, which will be published on Friday, 25 January 2013, discusses available middleware options, provides illustrations of real world integrated air defense systems and offers some concluding thoughts. 

Recently, the  BBC published this article discussing Rheinmetall's 50kW anti-aircraft laser.  Fascinating, Star Wars kind of stuff.  However, what's more interesting is what the article DIDN'T say:  Given the capabilities of modern anti-aircraft gun and missile systems, the core of anti-air warfare (AAW) is all about data, and the ability to rapidly and efficiently process and derive meaning from that data.

I don't BLAME the BBC.  Laser technology captures the imagination.  We can all imagine a death ray burning through the air and downing a threatening aircraft.  Imagining the magic taking place inside a RAM chip is a bit more difficult.  That being said, the article's implied sensationalism is a bit misleading.  The ability to field an anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) system that uses light to blast things is, while fascinating, not the core of the modern air defense problem. The key challenge is (and always has been) the rapid identification and classification of hostile aircraft and the timely generation and execution of an appropriate air defense engagement solution.  

Integrated Air Defense

Since the early 1970s, AAA guns and missiles have been both accurate and lethal – just take a look at the losses suffered by the Americans in Vietnam and the Israelis during the Yom Kippur War in 1973.  Not a lot has changed in the basic concepts or technologies since then (although some of my missile friends might take exception here).  Improvements in weapon effectiveness over the last forty years have really been in the realm of building a better mousetrap.

The real action is in the realm of what is called “Integrated Air Defense Systems” or IADS.  IADS take real-time inputs -  on a scale ranging from a few hundred square meters to a national level - from a large number of distributed sensors and correlate them against known AAA assets to arrive at tasking and engagement decisions.  These decisions are sent in real time to the relevant shooters, who engage the targets, and report.  At that point, the process begins anew, with the IADS using the reporting data to assess and retask.  IADS is, for AAW, THE transformative technology.

Think about the fact that a Flanker-G (Su-30MKK) strike fighter has a maximum speed in excess of 1,300 mph (2,100 kph).  Now think about a dozen of them moving that fast, coming in at different altitudes, from different directions over a front spanning hundreds of miles or kilometers, going after different targets.  How do you determine which is the greatest threat, which one to engage first or where to employ scarce AAW assets?

Conceptually, the answer is simple:  One or more sensors acquires the incoming aircraft, a determination is made that the aircraft are hostile, information about the expected route is calculated and passed to the shooters, who then engage and destroy the hostile aircraft.

The problem is that the simplicity is deceptive.  There are multiple sensors, of multiple types.  They are sending huge volumes of data, constantly.  The data has a temporal dimension, and while it goes stale very rapidly, historical data points are vitally important.  The data must be acted upon according to predefined rules governing the prioritization of targets by threat, engagement permissions, which shooters engage which targets at which times with what weapons, which command nodes receive what updates - and it must be processed and acted upon RAPIDLY.  The cognitive and computational requirements are significant, requiring specialized software dedicated to processing these tactical events in a manner reflective of complex cognitive activities. 

The IADS Cognitive Puzzle

The exercise of command and control requires interactions between three discrete cognitive activities:  Identifying the relevant information from a deluge of sensory data, making sense of the information within a given operational context and the application of organizational wisdom (i.e., given a series of events, identify an optimal course of action). 

 In the IADS context, each information object represents a real world event, and these events trigger the series of cognitive activities.  The first cognitive activity, identifying relevant information, revolves around deriving situational awareness (SA) from a constantly, and rapidly, evolving environment.  Rapid environmental evolutions comprise huge numbers of discrete events.  SA derivation requires that each event be vetted against predefined filtering rules that reflect organizational priorities in order to identify those that are of interest.  Due to the rapidity with which SA information becomes stale, vetting and filtering activities must be conducted in as close to real-time as possible.   The vetting process creates a subset of events that, collectively, yield SA.

 Taken individually, each event lacks context and meaning.  For example, the fact that a Flanker-G was at a given latitude, longitude and elevation at a given point in time may be interesting, but it is also essentially meaningless.  However, when taken in combination with other events such as a number of positions/locations/altitudes over time and a negative response to an identification friend or foe (IFF) interrogation, an operationally relevant meaning is derived – in this case that a hostile aircraft is approaching your command and control facility at 18,000 feet at a speed of 956 knots.   

The cognitive process of deriving useful contextual meaning from SA is referred to as “sensemaking” by the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Combat Systems and Intelligence (C5I) community.  While SA informs about relevant events that are taking place, sensemaking attaches an operational context and value to the events through the use of operational business rules (e.g., “more than ten aircraft of type A, moving at speed B, in direction C, at altitude D means equates to a hostile penetration of national airspace”). The final piece of the cognitive puzzle, the application of organizational wisdom, naturally follows from sensemaking activities.  Once we know what’s going on and why it matters, we use collective experience to determine an optimal course of action.  A simple example may be useful here:
a.      Situational Awareness:  There is an accident on the highway.
b.      Sensemaking:  Because there is an accident on the highway, traffic will be slow, and I may be late to my meeting.
c.      Wisdom Application:  In order not to be late for my meeting, I will leave earlier and use local streets.

Collectively, this process is known as knowledge management.  Knowledge management describes a sequence chain by which:

·        DATA is collated to yield information;
·        INFORMATION is contextualized to yield knowledge;
·        KNOWLEDGE is used to inform wisdom; and
·        WISDOM is used to guide and optimize behavior and courses of action.
Knowledge Management Pyramid

The knowledge management process can also be readily applied to the IADS context: 

a.      Situational Awareness:  There are ten Flanker-G aircraft heading toward a point on my coastline that have failed IFF interrogation.
b.      Sensemaking:  Because these aircraft have failed IFF interrogation,  they are likely hostile, and point on the coastline that they are approaching contains two high value installations, my regional air defense command and the airfield where most of my interceptors are based.
c.      Wisdom Application:  The hostile aircraft are likely conducting a Suppression of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD) mission.  I will therefore issue instructions to:
                                               I.          Scramble my interceptor aircraft;
                                             II.          Alert Surface to Air Missile (SAM) and Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA) batteries within the incursion zone;
                                            III.          Alert tracking and acquisition radar units; and
                               IV.       Notify my national command authority (NCA).

 I hope you enjoyed Part I of this series, and found it informative.  Please come back for Part II on Wednesday, 23 January 2013, in which I will be discussing middleware tools applicable to integrated air defense systems and setting out a notional architecture for a middleware powered integrated air defense system.

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