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Integrated Close Combat

Tony White, Land Strategy Director, Ultra PCS

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With the advent of digitised vehicles and digitised soldiers comes the often-spoken problem of the Mounted/Dismounted interface. That is, how does a soldier connect into the vehicle when they climb in - and what benefits would it give.

Many modern vehicles will have digitised architecture and distributed power backbone. Documents such as the UK's Generic Vehicle Architecture (GVA) and the US Victory standard define how power and data are arranged in the vehicle to provide an infrastructure for platform mission systems to be integrated. Theses sub-systems usually include Local Situational Awareness (typically cameras to give the crew all round vision), Communications (giving the crew access to the radio comms) and the Battlefield Management System (giving the crew access to mapping, location of assets and areas of interest). All these are accessed via a common display located at each crew station.

In order for these sub-systems to communicate with each other, the architecture standards define a set of standard databus messages or “services” that are used by each vendor to ensure interoperability. For GVA (and indeed NATO GVA) , these messages are defined as topics within a Data Distribution Service (DDS) which resides within each sub-system on the platform.

DDS, an open standard middleware, defines a near real-time, publish-subscribe architecture for connecting critical systems.

Each sub-system simply publishes and/or subscribes to a series of available services. For instance, “Vehicle location” is published by the navigation sub-system, allowing each crew-station to subscribe to it as opposed to having individual GPS feeds.

By defining the DDS messages, GVA enables a kind of plug and play architecture, where new sub-systems can be added and easily integrated as long as they comply with the message set, also known as topic definitions (these are found in the UK Land Data Model).

There may be some benefit for the Mounted soldier to connect to the vehicle.

Firstly, there is the obvious re-charging of the soldier's battery, but what about accessing the vehicle sub-systems? One might imagine that having a feed from the vehicle cameras or perhaps updating GPS and situational awareness from the BMS would provide a significant benefit too. Another use case may be that data from the soldier can be 'uploaded to the vehicle' (things like battery usage, imagery and even 9 Line reports).

Connecting into the vehicle power system will always need to be done carefully. The surges and spikes seen on vehicles could damage the soldier worn devices and the body worn lithium batteries need to be properly managed in order that they charge safely.

Integrated Mission Systems (as per GVA)

Integrated Mission Systems (as per GVA)

Adding dismounted soldiers into the vehicle network isn't as easy as it first seems either. To begin with, the platform is likely to have locked down its IP addresses, ensuring “unknown devices” are not able to connect. Once connected, the dismounted soldier system would have to understand the DDS middleware model that has been deployed on the vehicle. Whilst possible to do, a more elegant solution is to produce a dismounted soldier gateway that allows the native soldier system to plug in using its native protocols (for instance ATAK messaging) and translate them to the vehicle network (DDS). The same gateway can transcode video and even audio.

First to market with such a power and data gateway is the Ultra Infantry Power and Data Unit (IPDU). Designed to connect up to 4 soldiers simultaneously, installation is straight forward with one side of the enclosure carrying the +28V and DDS/Ethernet connection to the vehicle. On the other side of the enclosure, 4 power and data connectors link out to connection points at each soldier seat. The IPDU provides the power and data interfaces common on many international soldier systems including Nett Warrior, UK GSA and Australian GSA. Supporting systems such as ATAK, the IPDU can allow the soldier to just “plug -in” either by cable or an optional wireless power/data interface and access the vehicle systems. The IPDU provides the necessary filtering to ensure allowed parameters are accessed and that the data security is maintained. In addition, on the vehicle side, the status of each soldier's connection can be seen on the GVA screen.

Ultra PCS have recently shown its IPDU working with its Electronic Architecture Kit and UltraLYNX soldier system at the IAV conference in London.

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