Friday, January 25, 2013

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

In Part One of this this three part series, I discussed the nature of the integrated air defense problem, introduced the associated cognitive processes and collates them within the knowledge management process.

In Part Two,  I talked about middleware tools applicable to integrated air defense systems and set out a notional architecture for a middleware powered integrated air defense system.

Part Three, below, discusses  available middleware options, provide illustrations of real world integrated air defense systems and offer some concluding thoughts.

One More Consideration

Now that we’ve seen what middleware tools can do, and how they might be employed in an IADS scenario, it’s worth discussing WHY middleware and WHICH middleware.  The “why” has been known for years.  Service oriented middleware allows the creation of loosely coupled systems with a separation of concerns between operational (i.e., warfighting) capabilities, system infrastructure and management capabilities and data.  This simplifies and allows for considerable economies with respect to system creation, maintenance and sustainment over time.  Middleware allows systems in general, and IADS’ in particular to be created more economically, managed more effectively and, when necessary, modified more efficiently.  As importantly, it creates a transition path by which monolithic legacy systems can be evolved toward modular, composable and reusable architectures.

Which middleware is a slightly more tricky question – but one that the US Department of Defense (DoD) may be answering for itself.  In 2009, the DoD CIO issued landmark guidance with respect to the use of open source software, declaring it to be equivalent in kind and type to the proprietary offerings previously favored.  Open source software, because of its reliance upon and adherence to open standards,  generally provides significant advantages in terms of extensibility, interoperability and adaptability.  This is in marked contrast to proprietary software which often derives a business advantage from non-standard, proprietary implementations which create a vendor lock-in situation.

Between the drawdown following the war in Iraq and the gradual withdrawal from Afghanistan and the nearly realized threat of sequestration contained in the Budget Control Act of 2011, defense budgets are shrinking across the board.  While modernization of legacy systems along service oriented lines reduces the total cost of ownership, savings are often offset by the prodigious acquisition costs of proprietary software.  Affordability and guidance from the top unequivocally militate toward the adoption and use of open source middleware.

Real World IADS

In November 2012, Palestinian militants fired more than 1,500 surface to surface missiles against civilian targets in Israel.  The missiles’ sophistication ranged from 240mm mortar shells and homemade Qassam rockets to former Soviet 122mm Grad and Iranian 333mm Fajr-5 artillery rockets.  In response to the attacks, the Israelis employed their Iron Dome system.  Iron Dome is a mobile all-weather counter-rocket, artillery and mortar (C-RAM)/short-range air defense (SHORAD) system intended to defeat rockets and artillery shells out to a range of 45 miles.   It is an integrated sensor/C5I/weapon system consisting of a combination detection and tracking radar, a battle management and weapon control system and a launcher for the Tamir interceptor missile.  During the Israel Defense Force(IDF) Operation Pillar of Defense (14 – 21 November 2012), Iron Dome made 421interceptions, achieving an estimated success rate in excess of 85%.

Iron Dome is only one component of the Israeli IADS.  On 25 November 2012, the IDF announced the successful test of the advanced David’s Sling SAM system.  David’s Sling is intended to operate at ranges between 45 and 150 miles to counter the threat posed by medium and long-range and thus to bridge the gap between Iron Dome and the Arrow 2, Block4 anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system, which is designed to intercept long range ballistic missiles outside the Earth’s atmosphere.  David’s Sling will replace older Hawk and Patriot SAM systems currently in Israeli service.

Together with the manned aircraft of the Israeli Air Force (IAF), Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow make up the sensor and shooter components of the Israeli IADS.  Interestingly, each system has its own sensors, weapons and C5I components.  The C5I components are, concurrently,  data consumers, receiving inputs from each system’s organic sensors, data providers to the national level C5I systems at IAF headquarters and dispensers of wisdom to the launchers and weapons. 

If we apply the technology stack for the notional middleware-powered IADS discussed in part II of this series to the Israeli context, we can see application not only at the national level, but also within each system deployment and at regional level headquarters as well.  The benefits of software re-use are obvious.  What is less obvious, but no less critical, are the benefits of using open source software to drive down acquisition costs.  Put another way, licensing fees for proprietary software components could easily equate to the cost of dozens of interceptor missiles.  It’s pretty obvious where the money is better spent.

At the risk of dating myself, I saw Star Wars when it first hit theaters – which is probably why the idea of the bad guys being plucked from the air by beams of light resonates with me.  As a result, I’d really like to believe that directed energy is the key to protecting home and hearth against aerial incursion.  Unfortunately, I just don’t think it’s the case.  As has been proven in many other battlefield domains (Blue Force Tracker, anyone?) it’s the brilliance of bits and bytes that wins battles.  Air defense is no different; it is the ability to identify meaningful patterns in a sea of data, apply operational logic and execute command and control in an efficient manner that will determine success or failure in the field.   That being said, it is the ability of the acquisitions community to deliver and sustain affordable and readily adaptable systems to men and women in uniform that will determine ultimate victory.

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