Magazine article National Defense

Air Warfare's Holy Grail: A 'Single Integrated Picture'

Magazine article National Defense

Air Warfare's Holy Grail: A 'Single Integrated Picture'

Article excerpt

The Defense Department is spending several hundred million dollars yearly on programs designed to produce a so-called "single integrated air picture." The elusive SlAP would make it possible for all U.S. military services and allies to share a graphic representation of the airspace around the theater of war.

A SIAP would provide a single track for each enemy target using data generated by multiple surface and air sensors and broadcast via Link 16 - an information distribution system for communication, navigation, and identification data.

A common air picture for all the services is not difficult to realize, experts said. One problem, however, is that the services have yet to agree on what SIAP-related technologies best meet their needs.

These experts agreed that, in the SIAP world, things are improving, thanks to the increased use of Link 16.

To gather raw data about the quality and the "jointness" of the air picture, the Defense Department conducts an annual exercise called the Joint Combat Identification Evaluation Team (JCIET).

At JCIET, commanders see a variety of air pictures. One may be from the Army's Patriot air-defense system. Another may be the air picture from the Air Force AWACS air-traffic control aircraft At the 2002 exercise, two Navy cruisers, a Marine Corps radar and a Navy reconnaissance aircraft relied on the air picture generated by the Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC), a sensor-netting system.

Each platform participating in JCIET tracks and identifies friendly and enemy aircraft, as well as incoming cruise missiles. Ballistic missile defense is not part of the drill.

During the exercise, analysts figure out when an incorrect ID is made and determine whether that led to friendly fire. During the past decade, eight large-scale JCIET events were held to assess how well combat ID and air picture information are shared among the services.

There are two parts to achieving a SLAP, explained Bruce Behrens, a JCIET analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses. "First aircraft must be detected and identified. Then that information must be shared with the rest of the service and coalition participants.

"One reason the air picture has improved over the years is the increasing proportion of PPLI-- equipped aircraft," Behrens said. PPLI stands for precise participant location and identification. …

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