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Agile Lion demonstrates future of net-centric warfare

By Cpl. Michael Nease | | December 15, 2005

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The Marine Corps and Northrop Grumman Corporation teamed up on station Dec. 12-15 to experiment with the possibilities of network-centric information technology in Marine Corps war-fighting.

The goal of the demonstration, dubbed Agile Lion, was to explore the advantages and disadvantages of using network-connected air and ground assets to accomplish missions of a Marine Air Ground Task Force as represented in four operational scenarios.

The results of the demonstration will help shape and influence future Marine Corps acquisitions in regard to net-centric warfare. In essence, it will help the Corps see how far we are ready to go with this technology, said Lt. Col. Robert Sofge, Agile Lion project officer and Headquarters Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier coordinator.

“I can say with confidence that we are moving in a direction where we are more connected, and our ability to share information -- to share knowledge on the battlefield -- is going to increase,” said Sofge. “Exploring the ways we might do that remains a noble endeavor.”

The four scenarios included close air support, time-critical targeting, convoy escort and interdiction. The first three took place in or near the Yodaville Urban Training Complex on the Barry M. Goldwater Range. The interdiction scenario included live ordnance and took place at the Chocolate Mountain Aerial Bombing and Gunnery Range in southeastern California.

The demonstration integrated hardware already used by the Marine Corps, such as the enhanced position location reporting system, or EPLRS narrow-band radio, and aircraft-borne LITENING pods -- self-contained, multi-sensor laser target-designating and navigation systems -- with gear from NGC and related corporations which was necessary to establish the network and connect all the players of the scenario.

In the air, the players included a KC-130J Hercules, two AV-8B Harriers, an F/A-18 Hornet and an AH-1W Cobra helicopter. Each aircraft carried an Advanced Information Architecture computer server and contained various radios for narrow- and wide-band datalinks.

The Harriers and Hornet each carried a LITENING pod, and its cameras enabled the pilots, through their heads-up displays, to share still images and streaming video to the other players on the network.

On the ground, the players included a Combat Operations Center, two Humvees and soldier ensemble radio vests for individuals. Like the aircraft, the COC and Humvees accessed the network through narrow- and wide-band datalinks. The soldier ensemble radio vests used only narrow-band EPLRS MicroLight radios.

The COC, located between the Sonoran Pueblo and station housing, served as headquarters for the scenarios and also had satellite communication capabilities. The COC connected to the KC-130J, which then established the network from a high altitude down to the other aircraft and ground assets. The ensuing connections between players created a web of information -- an encrypted battlefield network -- over which the service members could share text, voice, still imagery and streaming video in real time.

The result is enhanced situational awareness at all levels and increased communication and intelligence capabilities. This sharing of knowledge could make the Corps more deadly and help eliminate collateral damage and friendly-fire incidents, said Sgt. 1st Class Gino Fragomeni, Army Special Forces reservist and NGC systems engineer.

“I believe this is a progression of net-centricity all the way down to the situation-awareness level of the soldier -- the individual soldier,” said Fragomeni. “What they want to do is get the soldier connected just like the operations center above. They want to be able to push data to the soldier in a timely fashion with the least amount of effort on the part of the soldier, so the soldier can concentrate on the mission.”

As expected, the experiment had many small setbacks, such as range and connectivity issues. But as a whole, it was a success, said Sofge.

“The demonstration was very successful in showcasing the abilities of some of the technologies that are out there,” he said. “There were some successes; there were some disappointments.

“Hopefully, this will lead to an intelligent, informed process of developing the requirements we will levy on industry in whatever we ultimately bring to the field,” Sofge added.

For NGC, the demonstration was more than an opportunity to show off its equipment, it also gave them a better understanding of the Marine Corps and how to develop their technology to suit the needs of the military, said Stew Miller, NGC director of advanced programs and experimentation.

The next step will be to consolidate the data from the experiment and eventually draw some conclusions from the results -- the scientific process.

“When we collect the data, there will be parametric data that we understand -- the performance of the signals, the characterization of networks in terms of range and quality of service -- all those features,” Miller said. “And we will know very well, at the end, the performance of each piece of hardware.”

But more important than how well the gear performed is if the knowledge it brought the Corps is valuable or not, Miller said.

“What was the value of the knowledge? That’s the important thing,” he said. “If you have the knowledge and information (our gear) provided, are you better off than where you were before?”

The Corps will draw its own conclusions from the experiment. If HQMC eventually decides to go operational with the gear, NGC would miniaturize it and ruggedize it to suit a battlefield environment. Until then, the corporation will continue to move forward with this technology, Miller said.

The technology increases battlefield awareness for higher echelons, but it is more intended to provide information down the chain rather than up, said Sofge, a native of Port Charlotte, Fla.

“I would like to give the lowest echelon in the structure -- the strategic corporal, the small team -- the ability to pull anything that is of interest to them that will help them do their job more efficiently -- to give them what they need and let them decide,” said Sofge. “We should use our aircraft, our support structure and our ground assets -- everything we can -- to empower them.”

Sofge wished to thank all the service members and units that contributed to the success of Agile Lion, including Marine Air Command and Control Squadron Experimental, Naval Air Systems Command, Marine Attack Squadrons 211 and 311, Marine Wing Support Squadron 371, Air Test and Evaluation Squadrons 20 and 31, Marine Aircraft Group 13, I Marine Expeditionary Force, US Central Command Air Forces, and the US Air Force 15th Automated Surface Observing.

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