In modern warfare, the volume of data generated is so great that humans can no longer assimilate it without the help of sophisticated machines. This has spurred the introduction of computers to the battlefield, initially in the form of embedded processors such as radar and fire control systems and, more recently, in battle information computers.
Previously, the battlefield was monitored by sensors and any targets that were identified were communicated verbally to the central control centre. Orders issuing from there were relayed verbally. Today, it is becoming more difficult - and less desirable - to communicate information to the control centre verbally. Trials conducted in the United States show that digitised data can be transmitted from company to battalion twice as rapidly as voice data.
Furthermore, digitised data is accurate 98% of the time, compared to only 22% in the case of voice. Obvious superiority of digitised data has hastened the advent of battlefield digitisation.
SA Submarine Industrial Cluster (SA SubClub) member, C2I2 Systems, specialises in real-time network-based solutions for mission-critical applications and its contribution to the bids for the SA Navy’s new vessels includes two locally designed, state-of-the-art digital control systems.
The first of these, the Platform Management System (PMS), is an integrated vessel control and monitoring system, providing centralised management of sub-systems by means of a computer network. Access to the functions of the PMS is via a sophisticated man-machine interface, using a graphical environment to effectively display information concerning the move and float functions of the ship.
The second, C2I2 Systems’s Information Management System (IMS), is a ship-borne network based on SAFENET (Survivable Adaptable Fibre Optic Embedded Network) that manages the transfer of time-critical command and control messages, multimedia streams and background file transfer from many sources to many destinations. The IMS effectively provides the logical integration function of the fight function of the ship.
The company's managing director, Richard Young, explains why these systems are so important for today's corvettes and submarines : "Traditionally, command and control is the gathering and dissemination of battlefield information, a process involving various functions.
"In the sense function stage, data is gathered through electro-optic, electromagnetic and electro-acoustic means, as well as through intelligence and situation reports. In the process and compare functions, this data is transformed into information. This is done firstly by collating related data into attributes of an object, such as a target.
"Thereafter, data is transformed into information by comparing the captured and processed data to data from other sources such as sensors and/or current or historical databases. In the decide function, information is transformed into knowledge and it is the latter that gives the commander the battlefield advantage.
"Orders given by the commander provoke reactions on the part of the enemy. These are monitored and also entered into the system. The process then repeats itself until an outcome is achieved, i.e. winning the battle.
"Messages containing either raw data or processed information are transferred between the various functions. Attempts to transfer all data to the commander would cause undue strain on technical and human resources. To prevent this, the most time –critical data must be prioritised and the most mission-critical information awarded precedence."
C2I2 Systems's Platform Management System (PMS) would typically provide the flowing functions :
It provides centralised management of the following classical functions within the vessel :
"The PMS implements a distributed hardware architecture ensuring a high level of reliability with redundancy at any level and freedom from any single point of failure, effective reconfiguration procedures and extensive BIT (Built-In-Test)," said Young.
"It provides a flexible and modular architecture which interfaces to equipment manufactured by different suppliers, accommodates alternative versions of the installed equipment and allows improvements and updates to be incorporated during the service life of the platform.
"The PMS is based on an open systems architecture, facilitating ready integration of new sub-systems. It interfaces, either directly or indirectly, to the control circuitry of equipment, such as main engines, generators and pumps, allowing remote monitoring and control. A multi-level access control system is used to ensure responsible use of this powerful feature."
Further, C2I2 Systems’s PMS provides an interface to on-shore logistic support systems in the form of equipment usage statistics, fault finding logs and service intervals. This information can be used to determine optimal servicing of all major equipment.
It also allows for the display of live video from unmanned machinery spaces, the flight deck, cargo holds and other remote areas and utilises high-performance display technology to implement its man-machine interface. Information received from the various sub-systems is displayed in a user-friendly fashion. Dials and indicators are used to present information in a clear, easily understood way. Screens can easily be reconfigured to accommodate user preferences, equipment changes or upgrades.
As far as the Information Management System architecture developed by C2I2 Systems is concerned, a key feature is that it is based on a fibre optic, dual or quad redundant network, specifically FDDI (Fibre Distributed Data Interface).
The IMS supports unicast, broadcast and reliable multicast transfer types. It also provides for network synchronisation and message timestamping as well as sophisticated built-in test and network management. The IMS offers bounded packet latencies, message-level priorities, synchronous bandwidth allocation, high throughput, determinism and reliability.
"Apart from ship-borne applications, IMS is also finding application in real-time vetronics systems as well as tactical command and control systems," said Young.
"Its communications architecture follows the dissemination architecture designed for real-time communications and supports many-to-many connections which is best suited to distributed, time-critical information flow.
"The IMS allows nodes on the network to produce and consume data on the physical network and provides distributed control of the network. The IMS manages the actual data transfers between nodes on the network. Each node dynamically registers with the IMS and then becomes a producer and/or consumer until deregistration.
"It handles the multicasting of all data on the network, thereby allowing virtual links to be set-up between the nodes on the network. This architecture is symmetric, robust to changes and failures and is very efficient."
According to Young, the IMS communications architecture differs significantly from the older point-to-point (e.g. TCP) and client-server (e.g. RPC) architectures. These architectures suffer from complex connection and error recovery problems as well as single points of failure.
IMS features include :
"In the future battlespace, where a soldier or sailor could die within minutes of being detected by the enemy, action will be required as rapidly as possible," concludes Young.
"Information will be transferred between different units of the force, who will use the information to enhance their own decisions and actions, shortening the time from detection to action.
"We've come a long way from the days of Julius Caesar, the first commander known to have kept records of his battles and campaigns. In his time, the battlefront moved at a footsoldier's pace."
"Today, the only limit is the speed with which we can transfer battlefield data."