16 March 2002
from promotional video about battle software. (.ram)
Ushering In the Warfare
Combat: A Boeing unit is building a system to provide exhaustive data any time, anywhere.
Times Staff Writer
March 16 2002
Behind triple security doors in an obscure industrial complex, Boeing Co. engineers at the firm's little-known but pioneering Anaheim unit are quietly working on a system that could alter the future of warfare.
Resembling a war room that seems modeled after a "Star Wars" movie, a 10-foot-high screen displays a satellite image of a region, with moving squares and triangles identifying fighter jets, bombers and spy planes. A second screen shows detailed infrared images of a building targeted for possible attack. A third provides a live feed from a foot soldier wearing a small video camera on his helmet.
The images were part of a mock military operation in an unidentified Middle Eastern region but provided a rare glimpse at what Boeing officials believe represents the methods of war for the 21st century. What the Pentagon has in mind over the next decade represents a huge leap over even the seemingly sophisticated battle-management system it has used in the Afghan conflict.
Under the concept known as integrated battle space, U.S. military leaders will have unprecedented access to information from anyplace around the globe, tracking ships, planes, vehicles and individual soldiers from a command and control center that could be thousands of miles away. In essence, it would bring together disparate systems so they can talk to one another and provide a common picture of the battlefield.
Soldiers would carry hand-held computers linked to satellites that would provide not only their own precise location but also where the enemy might be. The command center also could transmit detailed maps and images of enemy compounds to soldiers anywhere in the world. Instead of radio commands, marching orders may come via e-mail.
"It represents a fundamental reversal of the way wars have been fought for the past 2½ centuries," said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a Web-based think tank in Virginia.
"Ten years ago, Norman Schwarzkopf had to pack up a small town and move it to Saudi Arabia to fight the Gulf War. You won't have to do that anymore. It'll be a lot like telecommuting."
And again, engineers in Anaheim are leading the way. A former Rockwell International Corp. operation that Boeing acquired in 1996, the unit has been a major technology center for decades, developing defense and aerospace systems that have reshaped aerospace history.
The guidance and control system for the Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile was developed in Anaheim, altering the course of the Cold War. The division also developed major components of the Apollo space program that put the first man on the moon. It did much of the pioneering work on night vision during the 1970s.
Now, it is the development center for the nation's multibillion-dollar missile defense program and is competing to reshape and modernize the Coast Guard.
Last week, the unit won one of its biggest trophies, a contract to develop combat systems for the Army that has a potential value of at least $4 billion over the next five years. As the lead system integrator, a Boeing team will draw up plans for a system of new weapons and technologies that the Army hopes will turn it into a lighter, faster and more lethal force.
The Army contract was a huge win because it validated a risky push by Boeing officials to focus its resources and engineering talent on a business that seemed more like a pie in the sky than a potential revenue-generating operation.
At a time when most defense contractors were focusing on developing next-generation weapons, Boeing two years ago began looking at producing a system of systems that would integrate disparate weapons and technologies to provide a coherent strategy for fighting a war. A major byproduct of the move was the creation of the Battlefield Integration Center, a $16-million, 11,000-square-foot compound in Anaheim where much of the integrated battle space is getting developed and tested.
The timing could not have been better. Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent military action in Afghanistan, scores of Pentagon officials have visited the Anaheim facility. Army officials cited Boeing's work on integrated battle space as one of the reasons for the company winning the contract against Lockheed Martin Corp. and General Dynamics Corp. Unlike the competitors, Boeing has had few Army contracts.
Quest for Battle Data
Military strategists have been after the Holy Grail of battlefield intelligence--the ability to constantly monitor all military activities--for decades in hopes of lifting the so-called fog of war, but with the recent convergence of advanced communication equipment, highly sensitive intelligence-gathering sensors and powerful computer chips, the dream is becoming a reality.
"Battles have been won or lost on incomplete information," said Loren Thompson, a longtime Pentagon consultant and lecturer of defense policy at Georgetown University. "This is one of the ways superior information is going to dictate victory."
Some elements of the integrated battle space already are taking shape, particularly with military operations in Afghanistan. For the first time, the commander of U.S. forces fighting overseas is running the operation from within the U.S. at the headquarters of the Central Command in Tampa, Fla.
Some military leaders have said Army Gen. Tommy R. Frank should be closer to action. Frank has defended the decision, saying he is getting all the information he needs, thanks to the advances in high-speed communications and information technology. The distant command center may represent the emergence of a new way of fighting, he said.
"We can view and we can access any battle space," Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper said at a recent defense conference. "When air and space combine together in the right ways . . . we can find, fix, track, target, engage and assess anything of significance on the face of Earth."
But Jumper added, "Right now, I would argue, these are capabilities that exists in bits and pieces. It is our job to pull it all together, to be able to think in terms of integration."
One vivid example was displayed last fall when, for the first time, the White House was able to watch a live video feed of an attack on Taliban forces in Afghanistan transmitted by a flying spy drone. The video transmission was relayed by satellite to the Florida command center, which then sent it on to Washington.
In another mission, an Army special operations soldier was able to call in an airstrike, communicating directly with an Air Force bomber. Previously, the Army would have had to request a strike through central command, which then would relay the information to Air Force command to carry out a strike, wasting invaluable time.
Many of the top defense contractors are scrambling to tap the growing market for integrated battle space, and all of the armed services are developing their own concepts for the technology, also known as network centric warfare, but Boeing engineers hope to field a system of systems that can be used and seen across all the services.
So far, Lockheed Martin Corp. has been a key player in creating such a system for the Navy, while Raytheon Corp. has been looking to fuse many of its weapons and systems for the Air Force. Meanwhile, Northrop Grumman Corp. is making a hostile bid for TRW Inc. so that it can tap the company's space and defense-electronics expertise and have the businesses it needs to field its own version of an integrated battle space.
Defense analysts said winning the Army contract was a major boost to Boeing's effort in what many believe is the growth business of the future.
Boeing officials said they began talking about bringing together various businesses that the aerospace firm operates to provide the integrated battle space concept in 2000. The company made it a major business initiative as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld began pushing for bringing the military into the digital age.
"We've had some of Rumsfeld's people in here and this has been music to their ears," said Roger Roberts, vice president of Boeing Integrated Defense Systems. "We believe the vision for [an integrated battle space] can be realized within the decade."
The work could be lucrative. Boeing believes that putting together various elements of the integrated battle space, including work in unmanned aerial reconnaissance aircraft and equipping an older generation of Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft, already represents a market of perhaps $7 billion to $8 billion a year. That could grow to more than $20 billion in the next decade, Boeing officials said.
"We believe this will be a major growth area for us," said James F. Albaugh, president of Boeing's Space and Communications unit. He noted that one key reason for acquiring the satellite-making business of Hughes Electronics for $3.8 billion last year was to tap its expertise in space-based communications, which will be integral to developing the requirements for an integrated battle space.
Immediately, part of the effort could include equipping airborne tankers--a constellation of which is constantly in the air to refuel fighters and bombers--with antennae and electronic equipment that allow the aircraft to relay data and communications from the battlefield to far-flung command and control centers.
"The technology is already here," said Ret. Lt. Gen. Carl O'Berry, a former deputy chief for command, control, communications and computers for the Air Force and now head of Boeing's strategic architecture unit. "We just need to integrate it."