Navy's Digital Horizon: Building blocks for JADC2
January 11, 2023
As regional Naval Joint Forces build a stronger, more unified operational stance, innovative and nimble approaches to data integration will be required to rapidly adopt and scale cutting-edge technology, enable greater visibility, and ultimately stay ahead of adversaries.
Yet, hurdles to this unified vision loom large. Legacy systems and individual vendors with diverse data formats complicate integration.
Recently, though, the U.S. Navy demonstrated their ability to collect data from multiple platforms and centralize it in a single pane of glass – offering improved visibility and greater command and control of the operations of unmanned surface vehicles (USVs). The exercises, conducted by Task Force 59 at its three-week Digital Horizon event in Bahrain, materially show the potential that new tools and approaches offer for more seamless operations of unmanned systems. We are grateful to have played a central part in quickly evolving the Navy’s capabilities in this area.
Task Force 59 focuses on “rapidly [integrating] unmanned systems and artificial intelligence with maritime operations.”
USVs are a force multiplier for the Navy. The ocean is vast, and USVs offer a low-cost means to situational awareness. But Navy operators must parse through masses of data generated by USVs, and individual vendor solutions collect and share that data in varied, often incompatible data formats.
At Digital Horizon, the Navy used the building blocks of Accenture Federal Services’ Platform for Integrated C3 and Responsive Defense (PICARD) to ingest data from 15 unmanned platforms of varying maturity and translate it into a common format. Once aggregated, the data was then able to be displayed in GeoSpera, our single pane of glass web-based visualization application.
Data aggregation through an architecture like PICARD’s upends conventional thinking on how sensors talk to each other; data doesn’t need to be standardized for systems to be interoperable.
In an environment with more flexible standards, commands up and down the echelons can more rapidly integrate data with legacy systems to support decision-making, as well as add next-generation technology.
Digital Horizon demonstrated a more complete operational picture of USVs than previously available. With our PICARD/GeoSpera solution, operators had more holistic insight across four key layers of visibility, to help them better understand:
For example, in the Digital Horizon exercises, PICARD aggregated 40 video streams, nine sources of Automatic Identification System (AIS) data, four sources of entity detections/tracks, and analytic alerting through ingestion of standard and non-standard data interfaces.
Notably, at the Digital Horizon event, outcomes extended from situational awareness to actual command and control. An important objective of the exercise was to demonstrate the ability to command and control a USV through the single pane of glass. This is important because currently, naval operators must often interface with multiple software packages and industry partners to task a vessel, which can impact the flexibility, agility, and speed of operations.
At Digital Horizon, though, naval operators were able to directly control five different unmanned vehicles from a single user interface – GeoSpera – without any intervention from the USV industry partners. At scale, this capability significantly increases speed-to-mission for the vehicles by shortening communications paths and taking advantage of their autonomous navigation.
The Navy’s successful operation of USVs faces two key obstacles: adequate resources to support scale and available network bandwidth. The tools at Digital Horizon demonstrated ways to overcoming these challenges, though.
To optimize resources, the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning can help reduce the burden of data analysis on human operators. At Digital Horizon, AI capabilities provided by BigBear.ai automatically parsed through video feeds – monitoring for anomalies or notable changes and only passing along what required further human analysis. Automatic detections free up operators’ time and attention, allowing them to focus more on higher-value tasks.
Second, more strategic approaches to storing and transferring data can help maximize the use of available wireless network bandwidth while minimizing the need to integrate a spiderweb of disparate systems. This is important because out on the ocean, reliable bandwidth can be a rare commodity.
At Digital Horizon, PICARD pulled data into a central repository, which multiple systems could then query as needed, rather than all of them querying each other all the time. This has the greatest impact when acquiring video from the USV platforms – even pulling a single feed more than once can have significant impacts on the network performance. With this approach, operators can improve interoperability and performance between their suite of sensors and suite of applications.
Despite this successful demonstration, sending quality video data from USVs in remote locations back to a central source for data processing remains a significant constraint. The next phase could involve putting a small-scale version of a data aggregator like PICARD and analytic tools out on a USV itself, to enable truly real-time edge analysis.
Overall, Task Force 59’s exercises at Digital Horizon are notable not just for the advancement of USV operations, but for how they underscore a broader imperative – that the flexibility of data platforms will be key to maintaining an agile, forward-looking operational stance. As the armed forces work toward a new era of defense with JADC2, novel approaches to data integration, analytics, edge computing and more will help ensure we stay ahead of both the curve of technological advancement, and our adversaries.