Air Force officers in charge of creating air tasking orders have long developed mission plans at air operations centers, known as AOCs, or centralized hubs in a specific command. In future conflicts U.S. forces may face degradation or denial of critical communications capabilities essential for coordination and shared situation understanding. Adversaries like Russia and China have developed sophiticated electronic warfare environments.
The U.S. military has evolved over the years to a highly centralized architecture for operational-level C2 of air operations. This has resulted in a heavy reliance on robust, high-bandwidth communications, which are subject to disruption. Distributed planning provides a leap ahead in resilience for C2, supporting control throughout the architecture that adapts to the changing state of the network.
The program, called Resilient Synchronized Planning and Assessment for the Contested Environment (RSPACE), seeks to develop human-centered software decision aids that can assist air operators to better control daily operations in a complex battlespace. The Air Force is looking at diversifying and decentralizing how and where those plans are created to add depth and resiliency to the process. This may be needed as designing air battle plans against potential peer threats will only grow in complexity in the future, experts say.
RSPACE presents a different way to orchestrate mission planning and evaluation, spreading out planning roles from the centralized AOC model, explains Craig Lawrence, outgoing program manager in DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office. Lawrence is heading to the University of Maryland’s Applied Research Laboratory for Intelligence and Security, as deputy director for systems research.
As part of the RSPACE effort, DARPA explored with the service the idea of functional decomposition where “one node might be responsible for planning a lot of the strike missions or ISR, and another is responsible for tankers and EW support,” Lawrence says. “Or it could be geographic decompositions, where maybe you carve out the battlespace into regions. So we’ve tried to be consistent with what they’ve been thinking about in how they might distribute these types of operations.”
DARPA also built automation into the execution monitoring tool, to harness real-time tactical data feeds coming in from the missions and digitally assess that information. For that, it was important to strike a balance between the human-computer roles, incorporating effective automation and more capabilities for the computer to perform, while keeping the creative and insightful human a part of the process, he shares
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded BAE Systems a Phase 3 contract worth $3.1 million in March 2019 to continue developing autonomy software to improve the resiliency of air mission planning for the military.
Resilient Synchronized Planning and Assessment for the Contested Environment (RSPACE)
The challenge for RSPACE is to develop tools that enable coordination in the face of disrupted communications and high levels of uncertainty. A complementary challenge for RSPACE is to provide automation support to help operators at heterogeneous C2 nodes (e.g., a wing, a carrier battle group, or a control and reporting center) manage the complexity of C2 in an uncertain battlespace. Finally, RSPACE seeks to develop tools that optimize the respective roles of people and machines – with people providing insight and creativity while machines track details and apply such strengths as quickly comparing and measuring options.
While RSPACE will be built upon a well-established base of automated planning and scheduling technology, current capabilities are insufficient to meet the needs of the program vision. Success will require research that extends the state of the art in three key areas:
- Scalable Automated Planning – Operational planners for future air campaigns should be able to manage as many as 1,000 different platforms, including unmanned vehicles and long-range missiles that create congested air space for manned aircraft. Planning tools must also be able to coordinate air operations spanning a variety of platforms and resources over extended periods of time.
- Distributed Coordination – Currently deployed scheduling systems are centralized and assume all of the relevant data are available to a single planning system. Greater resilience could be achieved with coordinated plans produced by distributed C2 cells that cannot be dependent on always having the bandwidth necessary to transmit data to a centralized planner.
- Human-Centered Automation – Warfighters are not going to rely upon computers to design their campaign plans. Successful automation requires a careful balancing of the deep knowledge and creative insight that human planners can deliver with the ability of computers to quickly generate and explore options while ensuring that all relevant details are tracked.
These research challenges are being addressed in the context of a three-phase program effort directed towards the development and evaluation of an integrated system that will be evaluated in a realistic military environment. If successful, RSPACE will ensure continuity of operations when communications are limited and enable small, distributed staffs to quickly generate effective responses to events in the battlespace as they unfold.
DARPA worked with several industry partners to develop RSPACE. Northrop Grumman Mission Systems was the integrator. Vern Boyle, vice president of the company’s advanced technologies, explains that for their role, getting input from airmen was important to the development operations, or DevOps, environment. “[Our] focus [in] the integrator role is to provide a DevOps environment for rapid prototyping with continuous integration, continuous deployment and continuous testing to shorten development lead times and enhance software quality,” Boyle states. The company also harnessed two software integration labs hosting an Amazon Web Services region running on Stratoscale Symphony—a converged cloud product—that supports testing and demonstration of capabilities program partners develop.
BAE Systems Awarded DARPA Contract to Further Develop Autonomous Software for Air Mission Planning
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded BAE Systems a Phase 3 contract worth $3.1 million to continue developing autonomy software to improve the resiliency of air mission planning for the military.
The program, called Resilient Synchronized Planning and Assessment for the Contested Environment (RSPACE), seeks to develop human-centered software decision aids that can assist air operators to better control daily operations in a complex battlespace.
In response to this need, and as part of the RSPACE program, BAE Systems created software called the Distributed, Interactive, Command-and-Control Tool (DIRECT) to improve air battlespace awareness. To provide resiliency to RSPACE users, the company employed techniques to ensure system and data availability in a distributed architecture even when users are faced with a highly constrained, disrupted or disconnected communications channels.
“It accomplishes this by treating data as an enterprise resource, rather than an application-specific resource, and manages data according to enterprise needs and priorities, ensuring distribution of data uses the available communications resources in accordance with the criticality of the missions supported,” Boyle clarifies. It allows the data distribution of both legacy and emerging applications and avoids having to rely on hosting legacy applications at all of the sites where the data is required to perform enterprise functions, and it does so without modification to legacy applications, he adds.
Using assessment analytics, the software provides an easy-to-use, visual interface to generate real-time alerts so operators can evaluate areas of concern during the planning and execution of a mission. The software also automatically adjusts to minimize bandwidth when communications are limited and unreliable to assist in mission continuity and completion.
“New users have found DIRECT easy to learn, indicating we are well on our way to providing a software decision aid that will help planners adapt to plan changes, make real-time decisions faster, and more effectively execute their missions,” said Chris Eisenbies, product line director of the Autonomy, Controls, and Estimation group at BAE Systems.
Created by the research and development team at BAE Systems, DIRECT is part of the company’s autonomy technology portfolio. Work for the RSPACE program is being performed at the company’s facilities in Burlington, Massachusetts, and Arlington, Virginia. The program also includes teammate Uncharted Software Inc.
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