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DARPA ACK will assist military commanders in making rapid tactical decisions in multi-domain battlefield

The emerging battlefield is a multi-domain battlefield which shall include all the traditional domains of land, air and sea as well as Cyber, Space, Low Intensity conflicts, Information warfare including Psychological warfare and cognitive warfare shall be exploited by our adversaries simultaneously or in any desired combinations. The response of this multidomain battlefield needs to be met with integrated multidomain response by developing capability to deliver effects across all domains.  Therefore, there is need to develop new doctrines, strategies, tactics, capability and training for this multidomain environment.

 

Implementing multi domain operations require is achieving integrated multidomain command and control  system (MDC2) that is the arrangement of personnel, information management, procedures, and equipment and facilities essential for the commander to conduct multidomain  operations. Broadly speaking, this will involve the seamless integration of air, space and cyber capabilities, providing commanders cross-domain options to make more rapid decisions in complex battle spaces.

 

Modern warfare is becoming less about singular platform and weapon capabilities, and more about combinations of systems that can be rapidly developed and composed into more effective warfighting constructs. DARPA’s Assault Breaker II (ABII) and Mosaic initiatives, along with their resulting technologies, seek to fundamentally change the way the military thinks about designing, buying, and deploying future
systems.

 

DARPA’s Adapting Cross-Domain Kill-Webs (ACK) program

Military operators currently use manual processes to assess availability and coordinate use of sensors, communications, weapons, and other assets across domains.  The goal of the Adapting Cross-Domain Kill-Webs (ACK) program is to provide a decision aid for mission commanders to assist them with rapidly identifying and selecting options for tasking – and retasking – assets within and across organizational boundaries. Specifically, ACK will assist users with selecting sensors, effectors, and support elements across military domains (space, air, land, surface, subsurface, and cyber) that span the different military Services to deliver desired effects on targets. Instead of limited, monolithic, pre-defined kill chains, these more disaggregated forces can be used to formulate adaptive “kill webs” based on all of the options available.

 

While the technology developed for this program will apply at both the tactical and operational levels, ACK will focus on providing support for tactical decisions. It is expected that decision timelines will be on the order of minutes. Specifically not in scope for ACK are algorithms and software to manage the low-level execution of the assigned tasks (e.g., routing, payload scheduling, etc.).

 

ACK will enable multiple warfighters to define distributed effects and adapt them at up to combat speed using a shared set of resources. This will create greater lethality by pairing the right sensor and weapon together for a given target and operational problem. This will create greater resilience by enabling rapid substitutions if a capability is lost. It will produce greater efficiency by enabling better sharing of resources across domains and Services to balance tasking loads.  The system is using e-commerce tools and online auction technology to list the available assets and then identify tools, no matter the domain, that can take on the additional workload, Grayson said. The available asset “raises its hand” in the system, he said, and is then be available to the war fighter. “It says ‘hey, there’s an airplane that can go support that Army problem,” Grayson said. “How you get there, how you’re going to do it, don’t care. … You said you can do it, go execute that mission.”

 

There are three major challenges to realizing the ACK goals. First, in real-time (and largely at planning time), planners and operators have little or no insight into what capabilities are available across domains and what capacity and quality of service they may be able to offer. Second, each domain has its own set of commanders and missions they are tasked to service, making it challenging to assess meaningful tradeoffs of the “value” or “cost” of supporting new missions originating from another domain versus their own current set of missions. Third, given a set of diverse cross-domain kill web options, decision-makers need a way to compare them rapidly and select the “best” option.

 

As part of the Adapting Cross-Domain Kill-Webs (ACK) initiative, DARPA intends to implement a marketplace-based platform for warfighters to share a set of capabilities such as sensors and weapons. Tim Grayson, director of the Strategic Technology Office at DARPA, said at a recent conference that ACK will use an “online auction” framework to visualize available assets. He noted that his team is working with the U.S. Air Force to coordinate ACK with the service branch’s Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS).

 

Further, ACK technology could help with the protection of sensitive capabilities by allowing service providers to offer capabilities across domains in terms of the effects they can provide, without exposing any details regarding how those effects will be achieved (i.e. without revealing sources and methods). If the program is successful, the technology developed under ACK will be an important enabler for the new joint multi-domain concepts that the Services are pursuing at both the operational and tactical levels.

 

The ACK program also takes bandwidth into consideration. In that scenario, an asset could tell a war fighter “I have this much bandwidth that can satisfy your immediate need,” Grayson said. Lisa Sanders, director of science and technology at the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), said during the same event that ACK could benefit special forces seeking to improve decision-making activities. The ACK effort also complements USSOCOM’s Hyper Enabled Operator (HEO) resource management program, she added.

 

But that raises a planning problem, one that ACK purposely doesn’t address: some solutions – think a jet or missile – need to have a flight plan, one that may cross into other nation’s airspace. To solve that, DARPA has another program called Air Space Total Awareness for Rapid Tactical Execution, meant to “clear that lane,” Grayson said. ASTARTE uses artificial intelligence to plan that mission.

 

The ACK program also takes bandwidth into consideration. In that scenario, an asset could tell a war fighter “I have this much bandwidth that can satisfy your immediate need,” Grayson said. Lisa Sanders, director of science and technology for Special Operations Command, said the ACK program could benefit special forces. A special forces operator is constantly seeking ways to complete missions, but the ACK program would improve that decision making.

 

“This is helping to hyper enable them with the tools that allow them to make a decision that their brain wouldn’t have come up with on its own,” Sanders said on the same webinar.

 

BAE Systems selected by DARPA to create autonomy software for multi-domain mission planning

BAE Systems has been awarded a contract by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop software that will enable semi-autonomous multi-domain mission planning. The technology will be designed for military operators to leverage battlespace resources from across various domains, such as space, air, land, and sea, for more effective, efficient missions.

 

Military operators currently use manual processes to assess availability and coordinate use of sensors, communications, weapons, and other assets across domains. DARPA’s Adapting Cross-Domain Kill-Webs (ACK) program will seek to help operators adapt to dynamic situations with software technology that automatically identifies the best options. In response, BAE Systems’ FAST Labs™ research and development organization, along with teammate Carnegie Mellon University, will create software called Multi-domain Adaptive Request Service (MARS).

 

MARS aims to help operators make informed decisions by automatically identifying available capabilities across domains, and then rapidly assessing the costs and benefits to use those capabilities when adjusting mission tasks. The software also includes a visual interface that will allow the exploration of available asset options, helping operators arrive at the best course of action to deliver the desired effect on targets.

 

“Multi-domain mission planning is complex because it involves a tremendous amount of distributed variables such as domains, systems, resources, and manned and unmanned platforms,” said Chris Eisenbies, product line director of the Autonomy, Controls, and Estimation group at BAE Systems. “Our hope is that MARS will provide warfighters with the ability to automatically leverage the resources they need and quickly determine the most effective way to accomplish their mission no matter what type of battlespace they are operating in.”

 

MARS builds on BAE Systems’ robust autonomy portfolio and 20-year history pioneering autonomy technology. Work on the ACK program, valued at $3.1 million, is being performed at the company’s facilities in Burlington, Massachusetts and Arlington, Virginia.

 

BAE Systems was awarded a Phase 2 contract from DARPA in August 2021 to further develop software that will enable semi-autonomous, multi-domain mission planning.

BAE Systems, Inc. has received a $6.5 million Phase 2 contract from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to further develop software that will enable semi-autonomous, multi-domain mission planning. The Phase 2 award under the Adapting Cross-Domain Kill-Webs, or ACK, program follows a successful Phase 1 demonstration.

 

As part of Phase 1, BAE Systems’ FAST Labs™ research and development organization, along with teammates Carnegie Mellon University and Uncharted Software, created software called the Multi-domain Adaptive Request Service. The Phase 1 demonstration highlighted the software’s ability to update a plan in real time during a live exercise by ingesting information feeds to track the state of planned tasks, and then generating options to adapt the plan to insert new tasks. The Multi-domain Adaptive Request Service software adapts a plan with 100s of missions to insert tasks against new targets, requiring only fractions of a second per target added.

 

Under Phase 2, BAE Systems will continue to mature and advance the software to scale up the capabilities designed to help operators make informed decisions by automatically identifying available assets across domains, and then rapidly assessing the costs and benefits of using those assets when adapting mission tasks. Phase 2 is a step toward the ultimate goal of the program: demonstrating the techniques in a full scale, operationally realistic setting.

 

“Autonomy is a critical enabler for multi-domain mission planning,” said Chris Eisenbies, product line director of the Autonomy, Controls, and Estimation group at BAE Systems. “The Phase 2 award will focus on advancing the software designed for military operators to leverage battlespace resources from across various domains, including space, air, land, and sea, for more effective, efficient missions.”

 

 

Air Force demonstration of the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS)

Two DARPA-developed technologies – a novel decision aid for mission commanders and a rapid software integration tool – played a critical role in the recent Air Force demonstration of the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS).  The Adapting Cross-domain Kill-webs (ACK) program and the System-of-systems Technology Integration Tool Chain for Heterogeneous Electronic Systems (STITCHES) were among a number of technologies employed in the Sep. 2020  ABMS on-ramp demonstration, which involved attacks using live aircraft, ships, air defense batteries, and other assets. ACK was used in an air defense scenario during the ABMS demonstration, where an air commander faced incoming aerial threats and needed to quickly decide the best way to counter them. In the demo, the ACK decision aid software analyzed thousands of options to form cross-domain kill-webs and recommended assets and the best command-and-control “play” to the mission commander.

 

“The ACK decision aid software analyzed thousands of options to form cross-domain kill-webs and recommended the assets for the kill chain and the best command-and-control ‘play’ to the mission commander,” said Air Force Col. Dan “Animal” Javorsek, ACK program manager. “Once selected, the ACK software sent the ‘play’ to the C2 Incident Management Emergency Response Application (C2IMERA) and the ground-based Composite Tracker and Classifier (CTC) integrated fire control system that used automated messaging and machine-to-machine cuing over Link-16 to scramble fighters and intercept the cruise missiles.”

 

The machine-to-machine communications to enable this distributed fire control was performed by the STITCHES integration toolchain. STITCHES is a software-only and fully government-owned (non-proprietary) toolchain specifically designed to rapidly integrate heterogeneous systems across any domain by auto-generating extremely low latency and high throughput middleware between systems without needing to upgrade hardware or breaking into the existing system software. The toolchain does not force a common interface standard; rather it rapidly creates the needed connections based on existing fielded capabilities obviating the need to upgrade in order to interoperate.

 

“The DoD is acquiring more and more advanced electronic equipment each year which solve problems unique to our mission,” said Lt. Col. Jimmy “Reverend” Jones, SoSITE program manager. “These new systems need to work with systems deployed more than 40 years ago. STITCHES brings force composability directly to the warfighter by allowing data to be shared without system upgrades.” In addition to the ACK and STITCHES technologies, DARPA security and information system staff were able to rapidly accredit and host ACK, STITCHES, and other ABMS software on a secure DARPA network in a matter of days, significantly contributing to the overall demonstration success.

 

“We were extremely pleased to demonstrate two of many advanced technologies we’re developing under our Mosaic Warfare strategy, which is focused on providing fast, scalable, adaptive joint multi-domain lethality,” said Tim Grayson, director of DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office (STO). “We look forward to continuing to develop and test capabilities that will further enable ABMS.”

 

 

References and Resources also include:

https://www.darpa.mil/program/adapting-cross-domain-kill-webs

https://www.baesystems.com/en/article/bae-systems-selected-by-darpa-to-create-autonomy-software-for-multi-domain-mission-planning

About Rajesh Uppal

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