The advantage is information

Soldier Modernisation talks to Leo McClosky from Echodyne Inc
about their innovative solutions

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The technology revolution has enabled many advantages for the men and women in uniform. Many are now from generations that are technology natives, demonstrated by the rapid adoption of different forms and styles of computing and communications. The dynamic growth in communications media - ad hoc wireless, meshed, frequency hopping, LEO (Low Earth Orbit) satellites - is itself the perfect indicator of the primary driver: Information.

A better-informed warfighter is more capable, more likely to remain safe, and more likely to achieve mission success. Situational awareness data has high value if reliable and accurate and easy to consume. The challenge is acquiring high value data while avoiding information overload. The baseline data element for the dismounted soldier is nearby enemy location and movement, with technology solutions like Teledyne Flir's Black Hornet Personal Reconnaissance System (PRS) providing a decisive advantage in urban and other very close range scenarios.

Mission geography and environmental conditions vary widely, and a mix of data acquisition technologies is required to maintain an information advantage. For the dismounted soldier, the solutions need to deploy quickly, operate in all conditions and provide actionable data. Only one sensor operates in all conditions and provides actionable data - Radar. It detects, tracks and classifies all movement, regardless of weather, lighting, or environmental conditions.

Conventional radar, though, is so large, expensive and vital to the broader situational awareness that it must be kept as far from harm as possible. While the data may be useful to the dismounted soldier, the combination of distance and terrain makes the data from rear-based radar less actionable for detecting and defeating enemy drones and other low altitude threats.

Radar, like all technologies, evolves. Breakthroughs in radar technologies have created compact, solid-state, low power sensors with range and accuracy, and not just from traditional Defense suppliers. These low-SWaP, commercial radars have the same data fidelity as large, expensive radars but are more adaptable to the concept of attritable, distributed, cooperative radar networks with high fidelity data that best inform dismounted soldiers and provide operational superiority.

There are three applications where radar fits the strategy of a highly informed dismounted soldier. Fixed locations are the first application. Whether large FOBs or temporary locations, radar deployed with optical/thermal sensors on masts or on tethered drones creates robust perimeter situational awareness. Important to this profile is reliability, range, accuracy and ease of use.

The second application is radars and other sensors fixed to vehicles to create mobile sensing platforms. One of the key protection challenges is counterfire to the source of the radar signal. Large radars, such as Hensoldt's TRML-4D, must be motionless to operate. Vehicle-borne warfighters derive significant benefits from highly localized data capturing movement of forces, vehicles and drones in their operating area. Data integration with mobile effector vehicles creates a potent, highly informed mobile force with powerful ground and airspace protection capabilities.

However low the SWaP of the preceding packages might be, they feel large. The last application may also be the most difficult - complete sensor packages that can be carried by a single dismounted soldier and rapidly setup and configured for operation. The market offers only a few radars that meet operational requirements.

A complete package should include a high-performance ESA radar, tripod mount, sufficient battery and solar collector capacity for round-the-clock operations, and computer or tablet. The combined package should weigh less than 15 kg, fit in one pack, cost less than $50,000, and be highly replaceable. Small teams deployed with such packs would create highly localized, high value data sets that combine for a common operating picture in forward areas with less capital risk than larger systems.

The drone revolution has arrived, and it is unlikely to be won by deploying larger, more expensive systems designed for jets, bombers and missiles at high altitudes. Warfighters need high value precision data as much as they need equipment and weapons. Commercial solutions and sensors are available that meet requirements for performance and attritability. Equipping the dismounted soldier with sensors and systems that enhance safety and improve mission success is an investment whose time has also arrived.

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