Army teams with SOCOM to conduct urban "burn-off"
By Ms. Nancy Jones-Bonbrest, Army Rapid Capabilities Office
MUSCATATUCK URBAN TRAINING COMPLEX, Ind. (April 4, 2018) -- Against a backdrop of a decaying city, complete with a collapsed parking garage, rundown marketplace, flooded village, downed aircraft and more than a mile of subterranean tunnels, the Army scouted new technologies that provide positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) in GPS-denied environments.
At the Muscatatuck Urban Training Complex, Ind., from March 26-29, the Army Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) took part in the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) Technical Experimentation event, used to assess and identify potential capabilities. The event had several assessors and organizations on hand to evaluate capabilities for optics, biometrics, advanced sniper rifles and cognitive enhancement. The RCO led the PNT portion, assessing several non-GPS mounted and dismounted solutions that enabled vehicles and troops to maneuver in an operational, urban environment.
"This demonstration provided the next step in assessing new technologies for PNT," said Rob Monto, head of the RCO's Emerging Technologies Office. "It's taking concepts from white paper to the field, in order to see how well they perform to meet a specific need. Being able to participate in this SOCOM-led event meant the Army could determine if the capabilities were tangible now, while also giving us a better understanding of what technologies are out there."
The collaborative event enabled technology developers to interact with program offices that could eventually acquire the capabilities, while also getting feedback from the SOCOM operators and Army Soldiers who could one day use the equipment. SOCOM holds Technical Experimentations throughout the year at different locations and with different focus areas. To participate, companies must respond to a Request for Information (RFI) posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website. After the event, the participating companies receive detailed assessments of how their technologies performed.
"We bring the actual operational users, the program offices and the technology developers together," said Dan Bernard, the SOCOM Acquisition, Technology and Logistics lead for the Technical Experimentations. "The technology developers are essentially showing their kit to the user and the program offices at the same time. We're looking at early development. It does no good to do this with finished products. That's just shopping."
Technologies demonstrated during the PNT portion included radio-frequency (RF) range finding, atomic clock systems, and inertial navigation unit (INU) technology. Each presented innovative ways to overcome jamming, which occurs when an adversary overpowers signals from GPS satellites so receivers in certain areas cannot operate, and spoofing, or tricking a GPS receiver into calculating a false position.
In the driving rain, mounted operators attempted to keep their vehicles on course without GPS while driving through scenarios that included harsh terrain, repetitive loops, and an off-site location they hadn't planned for ahead of time. For those demonstrating their dismounted systems, the scenarios included walking through the 1.5 mile subterranean tunnel, through the dark corridors of a multi-floor building and climbing the different levels of a partially collapsed parking garage. To track the results, the RCO provided a GPS logger to record the ground truth data, which will be compared to the log files of the systems that were demonstrated. Distance and location measurements were taken inside of the buildings and tunnels where GPS was not available.
One of the participating companies, Orolia, demonstrated VersaPNT, a mounted device that allows a PNT-reliant system to operate throughout GPS disruption by using inertial measurement units and precision timing technology. This device combines PNT functions typically achieved through multiple independent systems.
"What we are showing here is how our system works as far as keeping accurate time and accurate position in a denied environment, whether it's a jam or spoof environment," said Mike Sutton, an applications engineer and product specialist for Orolia. "We also have software embedded into our unit that an end user can use to help determine the type of denied environment, whether it is jamming or spoofing."
Robotic Research provided a look at its Warfighter Localization (WarLoc) dismounted system that uses an inertial navigation unit that users wear on their foot and communicates with a smartphone via Bluetooth. Robust algorithms are used to communicate during failures and dropouts.
"Essentially, you know where you were when you had GPS and you know where you are now, so it can use that information to bring up your location," said Kyle Smith, a senior engineer with Robotic Research. "The more people you have on the system and the more you walk, the better the solution gets, which is not typical for these types of solutions. An event like this provides a lot of hands-on feedback and relevant data sets in relevant environments. That helps us a lot in tweaking our technology."
Another company participating at the event, Raytheon, demonstrated a software defined radio with three prepositioned antennas set up to provide triangulation, enabling RF ranging for both mounted and dismounted operators.
"If GPS is degraded, spoofed or drops out of service for whatever reason, X-Net can replace that functionality and feed that information into the system that is depending on it," said Bob King, senior program manager for X-Net at Raytheon.
Other participating companies included ENSCO, GPS Source, L3 Technologies and TRX Systems. In addition, there were two other demonstrations by Modern Aviation Systems, which submitted a video presentation, and Charles River Analytics Inc., which demonstrated a robotic platform. Georgia Tech Research Institute assisted in developing the demonstration plan while also providing quantitative analysis of the data collected.
"At an event like this, you get two things. On one side, you get the quantitative analysis that we are doing, and that answers, does this system really work? Does it actually provide position with some reasonable amount of accuracy?" said James Perkins, principal research scientist with Georgia Tech Research Institute. "But I think the other side you get is the operational side. So does somebody who is a boots-on-the-ground Soldier actually want to use it? Seeing the operational perspective and seeing what real operators think about a system is important early in the development."
The RCO will use burn-off events throughout the year to bring together commercial capabilities in an operational demonstration to determine if a new technology can be used -- either by itself or in combination with existing technology - to meet a specific need. The PNT project manager and Cross Functional Team also participated in the Muscatatuck event to facilitate potential future efforts.