Monday, September 3, 2007

FCS Follies, Part 1

In a fit of boredom a few months ago, I wrote a briefing paper outlining what I saw as handful of critical issues related to network-centric warfare that need to reconciled before the Army starts fielding Future Combat Systems. I was planning to hold it until right before I left for the State Department, mostly to avoid becoming persona non grata at PM FCS.

One of my coworkers stumbled upon my two-pager back in May and unbeknownst to me, passed it up to the FCS folks with his name on it. After straightening out the plagiarism issue, FCS sent me a polite, but dismissive 'mind your own business' e-mail. Needless to say, I think I was taken off their Christmas card list.

During this whole affair, my boss was sent a copy of the paper and his reaction was much more positive. He suggested expanding the paper by including some solutions to these issues. I've decided to test each of these expanded ideas on my readers. Here is part 1:

"Lit up like Christmas Trees"

Soon after the summer 2006 skirmish between Israel and Hezbollah concluded, claims surfaced that Hezbollah managed to hack into the IDF's U.S.-made SINCGARS radios. It turned out that Hezbollah hadn't actually hacked the radios, but instead used a bank of modified radio scanners to track the electromagnetic emissions of IDF units.

This example points to a key vulnerability of the network-centric model, namely its vulnerability to electronic warfare support. In order to provide the kind of real-time data exchange and blue force tracking capabilities envisioned in FCS, the density of wireless communication will have to expand manifold.

Individual units and soldiers will not only be swapping a wider variety of tactical information, they will also be giving off a constant amount of positional data. They will be lit up like Christmas trees adorned in intense, but invisible lights. Each tank, truck and soldier will be a beacon of electromagnetic radiation that can be intercepted, triangulated and tracked.

Since it was playing defense on familiar territory, Hezbollah didn't need to crack the IDF's radios to carry out effective operations. They knew where their resources and units were located, so it was only a matter of triangulating IDF locations and feeding the information to nearby assets.

A future reduction in the cost and complexity of compact anti-radiation guidance packages for indirect-fire munitions would pose an even bigger threat to a network-centric force. If a simply seeker package just doubled the accuracy of the simple artillery rockets and mortars favored by insurgents, it could lead to serious casualties. Tactical network hubs will be easy targets at the very least.

There is no easy solution to this problem because it exploits the most indispensable part of network-centric warfare, the network itself. Lasers are the only wireless media that do not 'leak' a traceable amount of electromagnetic radiation, but it requires line of sight. DARPA has been contemplating a laser-based work-around for blue-force tracking called 'Dynamic Optical Tags' or DOTS for short.

In the DOTS system, each vehicle and soldier would be equipped with a tag that functions as a passive light modulator. When the tag's receiver is struck by an encoded laser signal, it modulates the beam to pack it with new information and reflects it back at the point of transmission. A powered version of this process could be used as a two-way interface between the tag and the light source.

This system would still be limited to line of sight and would have to mounted to an UAV (a blimp maybe?), but it would very difficult to intercept and track.


Trent said...

You're essentially running into the physical limits of your information transmission medium.

Sure optical comm doesn't leak, and at short range it's energy efficient since you can use LEDs. But I'd think the line-of-sight requirement would be a killer. Since we can realistically expect FCS to be deployed in urban areas (both because of likely geopolitical conditions and because that's where network-centric warfare should provide you with the most gain), then you run into massive problems. Go in a building to clear it? Lose line of sight. Dust or smoke in the air? You're off-grid. Those are the same reasons smart munitions today don't use laser anymore, aside from the need for a designator.

Radio is great because is goes through walls, smoke, dust... It's omnidirectionnal, which is both a strength and a liability. But realisticly, radio is the only workable option, short of scifi-ish quantum entanglement ancibles. ;)

So maybe what would be workable is to flood the operation area with radio emissions, from UAVs, or small emitters, deployable cluster-bomb style.

Them you mask the network's operating frequency within that background noise.

Or if that's not possible, maybe because you can't effectively disguise the network signal in the background, then use the same strategy, but have the emitters broadcast signals that look like asset signals, at random intervals. Since the ennemy can't actually break the encryption of the signal and determine it's gibberish, then simply locating signal emissions becomes useless.

But like anything else, it's an arms race. I have no doubt ressourceful opponents like Hizbollah would eventually find a way to defeat the system.

A.E. said...

Ah yes, the Israels got DF'd, as the spy folks would say.

Robot Economist said...

Trent - Good point. I hadn't though about a 'white-out' approach. I remember something similar from a Dale Brown book - basically modify and AWACS to put out an intense amount of radio noise that disrupts enemy communication and guidance systems. Again, it is only a half-measure, but its another option to consider during the transition to net-centricity.

A.E. - Good to see you blogging again.

A.E. said...


I've been reading a lot of blogs during my hiatus, though. I loved your FCS graphic--"Totally Awesome Force' indeed!