Magazine article National Defense

Navy, Air Force Team Up in 'Joint Fires Network'

Magazine article National Defense

Navy, Air Force Team Up in 'Joint Fires Network'

Article excerpt

Current technologies not flexible enough for fast-paced strike warfare

An experimental U.S. Navy technology that links "black boxes"-used to collect and process intelligence aboard ships and aircraft-is helping fill the gaps that have made it difficult for the military services to share and distribute information about enemy targets in real time.

The technology does not come nearly packaged in a single box, but is rather an intricate architecture that connects elements from three other programs that the Navy, Air Force, Army and Marines use today to collect, analyze and distribute tactical intelligence.

The project-known as Joint Fires Network-started out as a Navy-only effort to compress the target engagement cycle, from hours to minutes. In Pentagon-speak, the JFN is about "time-critical strike."

In August, the Air Force unofficially signed on to the program, which also has limited Army and Marine Corps participation. That was when the Navy changed the name of the program from Naval Fires Network to Joint Fires Network.

The different pieces of the Joint Fires Network collectively help expedite the gathering, processing and fusing of imagery and other intelligence from national and tactical sensors, so the operators aboard a ship or aircraft, for example, can quickly analyze the information and translate it into targeting data that can be delivered to fighter pilots or naval gunners, all within a 10minute cycle.

One way to understand JFN is to view this technology as "everything that has to take place, before you pull the trigger," said Capt. James Phillips, head of the Navy's surface warfare division warfare systems branch.

Another way to look at JFN is as the hardware and software that help eliminate "all that eats up time, causes confusion and makes the entire [target engagement] process take longer," said Phillips in a speech last fall at the Navy-- Marine Expeditionary Warfare conference.

A deluge of information available to commanders is not necessarily helpful, unless the data are digested and packaged into a usable format, he explained. In other words, JFN is a much-needed tool in the age of "chat-room decision making," Phillips said. "I don't know whether it's good, bad or different, [but] we are making chat-room decisions across these networks. ... We need decision tools to help us out."

Until the Navy and the other services can come up with common standards for JFN, the system will remain a mix of disparate technologies that have been forced to talk to each other via "middleware," or software interfaces.

Three basic systems, all of which have existed for many years, make up the basic JFN setup: the JSIPS (joint service imager processing system), the GCCS (global command and control system) and the TES (tactical exploitation system).

JSIPS is a shipboard system that can receive, process, exploit, store and disseminate digital imagery fed from national (spy satellites) and tactical sensors aboard aircraft, for example. The Global Command and Control System is a multi-service network mandated by the Defense Department. TES, developed by the Army, is a ground station that receives, processes and disseminates intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information.

Responsible for the overall management and development of JFN is Navy Capt. Kenneth W Deutsch, recently nominated to rear admiral. A naval aviator, Deutsch previously ran the communications and computer networks division at the Joint Staff.

For the Navy and the other services to be able to execute "network centric warfare," they need the Joint Fires Network, Deutsch said in an interview. "We are trying to take those things critical to time-sensitive strike and network centric warfare, and putting them under one hat," he said. "The JFN is a promise to the war fighter that we are going to get the data you need, when you need it, now.

Responding to a call for fire within minutes would mark a vast improvement over the technology available just four years ago, in Operation Allied Force. …

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