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Changing the Face of War - The Co-operative Engagement Capability
Publication: Issued: Date: 2003-03-01 Reporter: Daniel Busch Reporter: Conrad J. Grant



US Navy


Daniel Busch and Conrad J. Grant

Date March 2003

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Capt. Daniel Busch is the Navy's program manager for the Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) program in the Program Executive Office for Theater Surface Combatants. Conrad Grant is the CEC program manager at The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

The Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) has the potential to revolutionize the way U.S. Navy ships, aircraft, and Marine expeditionary units defend themselves against airborne threats. The global proliferation of increasingly sophisticated antiship and land-attack cruise missiles that can be targeted against U.S. military forces makes it imperative that U.S. Navy units have the best means available for detecting, tracking, and destroying such weapons. Many systems are being developed that rely on improving the performance of an individual sensor, weapon, or combat direction system. CEC is intended to help the battle group take advantage of all of these system enhancements and to make the resulting capabilities available to all participating units in a modern, high-speed network.

CEC represents a major advance in enabling "Network Centric Warfare", and it is a capability unlike anything that preceded it. The fleet will be provided with three key capabilities. First, CEC enables multiple ships, aircraft, and land-based air-defense systems to develop a consistent, precise, and reliable air-track picture. Second, it allows combat system threat-engagement decisions to be coordinated among battle group units in real time. Third, CEC will distribute fire-control-quality targeting information, when available, among units in the force so that one ship or aircraft might be able to engage threat aircraft and missiles even if it does not have targeting data on its radars locally. These key capabilities will allow Navy units to engage very difficult targets successfully--including low-flying, supersonic cruise missiles. With CEC, such threats can be engaged in extremely stressful environments that include sensor and communications jamming and/or bad weather.

When difficult targeting situations are encountered, a single air-defense system might be unable to destroy an incoming enemy missile or aircraft due to the limitations caused by the system's location, the environment, or the performance of its sensors or weapons. CEC enables the battle group or battle-force units to harness the collective power of multiple sensors and weapons at different locations in order to overcome individual system shortfalls or unit locations and successfully engage the target. This is achieved through networking all radars so that they act as a single "virtual" battle-group radar.

CEC brings this capability to the combat systems by distributing and combining data from multiple sensors in a way that is significantly different from the traditional data links in use in the fleet today. The tactical digital data links, such as Link 11 or Link 16, generally distribute an estimated track position of an air target based on the sensor updates from a single sensor on one of the ships or aircraft in the battle group. CEC, on the other hand, is designed to distribute the individual sensor measurements (e.g., radar hits) from all sensors that are integrated in the network to all of the other units in the network. Since identical processing is performed at each CEC unit, all of the CEC units derive a consistent air-track picture. Given that multiple sensors are contributing to the update of the aircraft tracks, the resulting track picture is very reliable and stable, even when any single sensor may have trouble maintaining track on a maneuvering aircraft.

Equipment Installation

CEC's new capabilities were obtained through the development of a new, extremely reliable, high-capacity, low-latency Data Distribution System (DDS). It uses a C-band, highly directional, data link between units to ensure connectivity in poor natural environments and jamming. High reliability, assured connectivity, and low latency were required since remote fire-control-quality radar data was now being fed into the fire-control loop of the engaging units. If this data were lost during an engagement when a surface-to-air missile was in flight, tracking on that missile would most likely be lost as well, and the engagement would have to start over. It was also determined during early experimentation that the quality and consistency of the track picture held by each of the CEC units was directly dependent on the connectivity provided by the DDS network.

The CEC program also developed a new processing architecture in the Cooperative Engagement Processor (CEP) that takes advantage of the many advances in commercial computing technology to process the thousands of radar measurements that were being distributed around the battle group by the DDS each second. CEP uses approximately 30 commercial-off-the-shelf microprocessor boards mounted in a reinforced, rugged cabinet. The processor boards have undergone multiple upgrades in the life of the CEC while maintaining the same computer-program architecture.

It is very obvious that the changes needed to introduce a system like CEC into existing combat systems are extensive, since CEC requires unprocessed measurement information directly from radars to function. In many cases this information has never been provided outside the radar processors. Furthermore, a means is needed to provide remote fire-control-quality radar data to the Weapon Control System for remote engagements. Finally, if all of the CEC data is to be useful to the combat system, the CEC track picture needs to be provided to the Command and Decision System in a manner that allows engagement decisions to be made.

Initial testing of the CEC prototype systems proved extremely successful. CEC was integrated with early baselines of the Aegis Weapon System aboard Aegis cruisers, versions of the New Threat Upgrade Combat System on non-Aegis destroyers (that have since been retired), and with the Advanced Combat Direction System Block 0 aboard aircraft carriers. The results of developmental and operational tests held in 1990 and 1994 were so promising, and the potential value of the new CEC capabilities was considered so important to the defense of U.S. Navy ships from attack by antiship cruise missiles, that a very demanding CEC program schedule was established. Given the positive test results, Congress mandated that CEC achieve Initial Operational Capability (IOC) by fiscal year 1996.

With such a short time to achieve IOC, the CEC program embarked on a two- pronged effort. The first focus was to mature the computer programs and perform independent verification and validation of those computer programs operating on the initial version of the CEC equipment, designated AN/USG-1. This would lead to the certification of those computer programs and equipment for operational use in the Aegis guided-missile cruisers USS Anzio and USS Cape St. George. IOC was achieved on those ships in September 1996. Both ships, with CEC installed, have deployed twice with the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Battle Group, and the fleet response has been overwhelmingly positive. The second focus was on the development of a production equipment set that would be smaller, lighter, more maintainable, and cost-effective. Two variants of the Common Equipment Set were developed, one for shipboard use (designated AN/USG-2) and one for installation on the U.S. Navy E-2C Hawkeye early-warning aircraft (designated AN/USG-3).

Interoperability Problems

Even though CEC had achieved IOC with the AN/USG-1 equipment, the program had yet to go through the independent Technical and Operational Evaluation required to achieve a production decision for the AN/USG-2 equipment set. In the long-range preparation for the required Developmental and Operational Tests that were originally planned for the summer of 1998, it was decided that CEC should be tested with production-representative ship combat systems. The Aegis Weapon System Baseline 6 Phase 1 was considered to be the future system for Aegis cruisers and destroyers. The combat system of the future for aircraft carriers and amphibious assault command ships at that time was Advanced Combat Direction System (ACDS) Block 1. The development and test schedules for both of these combat systems were shortened so that they could be delivered in time for CEC Developmental and Operational Tests. Unfortunately, however, there was insufficient time to test the new combat systems thoroughly themselves and to test the extensive changes needed to integrate CEC into these combat systems prior to the formal CEC test events.

An Initial Operational Test and Evaluation of the AN/USG-2 equipment set was conducted on the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp in July 1997. Wasp was equipped with the new ACDS Block 1 computer programs. Although CEC essentially met its performance requirements, it was noted during testing that the operators aboard Wasp encountered considerable interoperability difficulties when operating ACDS Block 1, CEC, and the tactical digital data links concurrently. On the ACDS Block 1 consoles, the operators were overwhelmed with inconsistent data, alerts, and identification conflicts.

Subsequent testing of CEC with the Aegis Weapon System Baseline 6 Phase 1 aboard the guided-missile cruisers USS Hue City and USS Vicksburg in early 1998 showed similar interoperability and combat system problems. Given the inadequate time available to diagnose, fix, and test the ACDS and Aegis systems--and then test them with CEC--the decision was made to delay the CEC Technical and Operational Evaluations until spring 2001. This provided adequate time to test each element of the battle group warfare system thoroughly, starting with the individual combat systems, later integrating the tactical digital data links, and finally adding CEC.

System Engineering

A disciplined battle group warfare system engineering process was established by the Program Executive Office for Theater Surface Combatants (PEO TSC) to ensure that the preparations of the individual systems for the Technical and Operational Evaluations were well coordinated. This was done so that the final battle group warfare system (made up of the individual combat systems, the links, and CEC) would operate together as effectively as possible, with interoperability problems being minimized. An Interoperability Task Force (ITF) was established in PEO TSC to direct battle group tests and analyses. A Senior System Engineering Council (SSEC), made up of engineers associated with all of the systems involved, was created to oversee management of the resulting combat system configurations and to control the overall system-change process. Finally, the Naval Sea Systems Command configured a Distributed Engineering Plant (DEP) from multiple land-based test sites with representative combat system mock-ups, so that battle group interoperability testing and analysis could be conducted prior to taking operational ships to sea.

Through these efforts, significant improvements have been demonstrated in recent tests of the combat systems, data links, and CEC equipment and computer programs. Given the continued developmental efforts and test events planned for this year, it is anticipated that CEC and the combat systems will be ready for Technical and Operational Evaluation in the spring of 2001. A successful evaluation of CEC should result in a full-scale production decision for the CEC equipment and computer programs. Only then can the fleet realize the full potential of CEC.

As retired Adm. J. Paul Reason, former commander in chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, told Sea Power (April 1999), "... systems like CEC ... will change the face of war." The challenge for the CEC program is to ensure the effective integration of CEC with a diverse, complex, and evolving set of combat systems.

With acknowledgement to the US Navy Office of Information.