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More agile, more integrated, more capable.

It doesn’t take an expert to know C4ISR has entered a new era. All you need is a quick look at recent news headlines.

Navy SEALS kill Bin Laden in precision mission. Intel surveillance aids Libyan rebels. Satellites monitor humanitarian crisis in Africa. Unmanned drone takes out terrorist leader. Mobile communications improve hurricane response.

In every case, the story behind the story is not just C4ISR, but a new and improved C4ISR, with capabilities that continue to reshape the conduct of warfare and drive the convergence of defense and intelligence operations. This new C4ISR is also finding wider applications in the civilian sector, from aiding homeland security and law enforcement to improving public health and managing the environment.

Expectations are high for increased levels of government funding for C4ISR. The defense budget accounts for most of this funding. As this story was written, Congress was pursuing deep cuts in defense spending, and President Obama announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of the year. Nevertheless, a recent report from Frost & Sullivan indicates that C4ISR applications will maintain a stable growth rate.

Budgets for C4ISR could take a short-term hit, and the focus may switch to doing more with existing systems and platforms. But C4ISR has proven too powerful and too cost-effective a mission resource to under-fund. Consistent with opinions voiced by many experts in the field is industry analyst Jim Fallon’s statement in the July 18 Microwave Journal that  “if we have learned any lessons from military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, including operations around the world as part of the global war on terrorism, it’s the compelling need for a robust C4ISR capability for our warfighters.”

Among the C4ISR user community, demand is forecasted to remain high, especially as rapid technology changes continue and in the face of a sustained
need to counter terrorism. In response, C4ISR suppliers are taking active steps to better position their companies to benefit from this demand. Some of the suppliers are better known for manufacturing weapons systems and platforms, such as aircraft, ships, ground vehicles and satellites, which are the targets of the biggest budget cuts. For these companies, making themselves C4ISR-centric is even more urgent.

Let’s start with that unwieldy name: Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance. The terms reflect the huge breadth of C4ISR, and many want to add more Cs, like Combat Systems and Coalition. But whatever falls under the C4ISR umbrella, the name of the game is situational awareness—real-time and near real-time—delivered when and where it’s needed to support decisions at all levels of command for a growing range of missions.

To achieve situational awareness, C4ISR networks collect massive amounts of data from multiple sensors, databases and other sources worldwide. The data is fused, processed into usable information and shared securely among authorized users.

This has been the basic process of C4ISR for more than 40 years. During this time, new technologies have driven a constant stream of improvements, especially after 9/11, and the resulting flood of new funding and innovations over the past decade. These innovations include technologies such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), advanced sensors, geospatial analysis and geolocation, mobile smartphones and other devices, biometrics, enhanced cybersecurity and enhanced communications with the bandwidth to handle massive amounts of data from large numbers of sources and platforms.

Innovation also extends to increased integration and interoperability across commands, service branches and agencies. In the past, information was typically stovepiped within organizations. Different systems and platforms couldn’t talk to each other. For many reasons, the defense and intelligence communities remained isolated from each other. And information sharing with coalition partners was infrequent at best.

Today, this has turned around—joint operations are the norm. The level of integration among systems and forces, including weapons systems, is high and further integration is vital.

Pair this with another phenomenon: the global integration of C4 and ISR is driving convergence of defense and intelligence. To repurpose a line from “Jerry Maguire,” they complete each other. The Department of Defense has become a global intelligence asset, and the Secretary of Defense is a former head of the CIA. The CIA now conducts drone attacks in southwest Asia, and its director is the former commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan. This convergence greatly enhances the effectiveness of both communities.

According to Frost & Sullivan, the Department of Defense’s 2011 budget request for C4ISR was $43.3 billion, a $600 million increase over the level enacted in 2011 and about 6.1 percent of the total DoD budget. Even with expected cuts in defense spending, this analysis concludes that C4ISR/electronic warfare/ information operations will maintain stable growth rates through 2016.

On the contract awards front, currently, the C4ISR marketplace is characterized by a number of large indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) taskorder contract vehicles with multiple primes. These include:

• U.S. Army Communications and Electronics Command Rapid Response Third Generation (R2-3G) program, a five-year contract with a ceiling value of $16.4 billion

• U.S. Army’s Strategic Services Sourcing (S3) program, a 10-year C4ISR contract with a ceiling value of $19.25 billion

• U.S. Army’s Technical Engineering Support Services (TESS) program, a five-year contract with a ceiling of $900 million

A host of other C4ISR projects continues to roll out. These range from Space and Naval Warfare’s $100 million C4ISR IDIQ and the U.S. Army’s $78
million IDIQ for battlefield virtualization software to larger programs like the U.S. Air Force’s $900 million IDIQ for wideband communications and the $791 million support program for Air Force combat information systems.

While major platform programs are expected to suffer under the defense spending cuts, there are still some bright spots. Recent large programs funded include Boeing’s $1 billion order from the Air Force for the seventh Wideband Global SATCOM satellite. And companies involved in supplying and equipping unmanned vehicles—aerial, sea and land—may reasonably expect to see more RFPs. The big reason C4ISR may be less vulnerable to budget pressures is the results new technologies have shown the defense and intelligence communities during operations in the Middle East—in situational awareness, agility, cost-efficiency and successful mission outcomes.

So what are the government’s likely funding priorities? What C4ISR products, services and capabilities are driving the greatest demand?

UAVs. C4ISR supplies the real-time situational awareness that UAVs need to attack with precision and the ISR capability to support military forces and Special Operations teams like the one on the Bin Laden raid.

The success of recent drone strikes against enemies represents a major shift in how the U.S. fights terror networks. Could they replace traditional combat in remote and extremely dangerous situations? The way they have proven their worth so far makes a compelling argument. A New York Times article in September prices out the difference in conventional warfare and drones. The projected cost of the major combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq: $3.7 trillion. The annual cost of operating the global airborne surveillance network: $5 billion.

SENSORS. Advanced sensors have reached new levels of sensitivity and accuracy. They capture the full spectrum of intelligence signals (multi-INT). They can send full-motion streaming video, day and night. Not only are sensors more capable, they are also smaller, so more of them fit on a single platform. They can fly on UAVs, aircraft and satellites, ride on ships and land vehicles, or sit on the helmet of a soldier. In other words, virtually anything can serve as a sensor, turning any portable device into a source of data. They are interoperable, so available data can produce remarkably accurate and effective operating pictures for situational awareness.

PED. Sensors, however, are only as effective as the C4ISR systems’ ability to turn the data collected into useful information. This is why processing, exploitation and dissemination (PED) tools have become a high priority. “We are on the cusp of revolutionary changes,” said Brig. Gen. Vincent Stewart, U.S. Marine Corps director of intelligence. “We need to make sure any system we deliver thinks all the way through the PED process,” he wrote in a C4ISR Journal forum. Otherwise, the right data will be lost amidst the massive amounts of data the systems can now collect.

MOBILITY SOLUTIONS. Mobility is a fourth priority. The C4ISR world is working to keep up with the capabilities of commercial iPhones, iPads, PDAs and
an array of other mobile devices. With the right level of security, these devices can be integrated safely into global C4ISR networks.

Deborah Dunie, CACI’s, executive vice president and chief technology officer, said CACI has taken a holistic approach to mobility, looking at both the front end and back end of provisioning and sustaining mobile devices in a complex C4ISR environment. “We’re creating mobility solutions for both classified and unclassified environments,” noted Dunie, “mobility that’s provisioned through the cloud.”

GEOSPATIAL. Breakthroughs in geospatial analysis, geolocation and geovisualization continue to advance the capabilities and value of C4ISR. Layering vast amounts of data from multiple sources and “putting it on the map” in increasingly useful and timely displays, geospatial solutions are critical to making situational awareness easily understood in time for users to take effective action. Geospatial technology is one of the key interfaces in the convergence of defense and intelligence.

CYBERSECURITY. It almost goes without saying, but cybersecurity remains critical. For C4ISR of this scale and complexity to work, security must be assured at the highest level. Access must be strictly controlled to authorized users, accommodate multiple levels of security requirements, and not get in the way of delivering information where and when it needs to go.

AGILITY—QUICK RESPONSE. The last priority is agility. The real-time situational awareness that C4ISR provides vastly increases the agility of forces to maneuver and respond. At the same time, decision-makers who rely on C4ISR-driven situational awareness value quick responses when they have urgent application requests. With mission conditions changing so fast, quick reaction capability has become a mission requirement. When a new technology is available, such as a new mobile app, support teams must be able to morph the technology to the mission needs, deploy it into the mission environment and ensure its integration across the C4ISR networks. The big names in C4ISR are moving quickly to fortify their positions in the sector—through acquisitions, key hires and realignment.

Boeing has created a new division to better align the company’s C4ISR capabilities. The new Electronic & Mission Systems division brings together Boeing’s
tactical ISR programs and acquisitions Argon ST and Digital Receiver Technology (DRT). “We’ve pursued carefully targeted acquisitions,” said Roger Krone, president of Boeing’s Network and Space Systems business unit. “We have greater vertical capabilities and are better able to provide technically advanced, network enabled C4ISR solutions for all our domestic and international government customers.”

Similarly, SAIC has consolidated ISR responsibilities into a single group within the company. According to Stuart Shea, president of the company’s ISR Group, “The group and its nearly 10,000 employees are focused on bringing the full spectrum of ISR capabilities—from manned and unmanned surveillance platforms to high-capacity processing and exploitation systems to mission-critical analysis—to our key national security customers.” SAIC has also appointed Robert Zitz, the former deputy director of mission support for the National Reconnaissance Office, to serve as the ISR Groups senior vice president and chief systems architect. “His background and leadership will be invaluable as we execute our ISR strategy and expand our presence in these dynamic markets, Shea said.”

ManTech recently purchased MTCSC and Sensor Technologies Inc. to strengthen its position in the C4ISR marketplace. “The acquisitions have expanded our technology offerings to the U.S. Army and our support to the U.S. Marine Corps,” noted Bill Varner, president and chief operating officer of ManTech’s Mission, Cyber and Technology Solutions group. “We now integrate all Marine Corps C4ISR systems before they are deployed.” In addition, he continued, “there is a cyber component to C4ISR that should not be overlooked. Increasingly, we are seeing more of a bundling of requirements, to include C4ISR, full service security, and cyber support.”

At CACI, the emphasis is on core strengths augmented by acquisitions. Explained Deborah Dunie, “Our core capabilities give us strong C4ISR plays in specialized secure tactical communications, mobility and quick reaction capability.” With the acquisition of TechniGraphics and Applied Systems Research, CACI expanded its C4ISR work with the U.S. intelligence community, providing geospatial and technical intelligence, imagery and digital maps. The acquisitions of Pangia Technologies and Paradigm Holdings further increased the company’s presence in the intelligence community, adding full lifecycle services and solutions in cybersecurity.

BAE Systems began preparing for the anticipated declines in U.S. defense spending in 2010. “We realigned our businesses to become more cost-competitive and agile,” said Dave Herr, president, BAE Systems Support Solutions. “Now we are more streamlined to meet customer needs for products and services, including those in the C4ISR market.”

ITT Corporation has spun off a $5.5 billion defense solutions subsidiary, ITT Exelis. A major part of its focus is the changing C4ISR sector. Dave Melcher, CEO and president of ITT Exelis, expects that the ability to remain platform agnostic will play an important role in his company’s success in this sector. “This means that many of our products can be fitted across multiple platforms or can be used to upgrade existing systems. No single program currently accounts for more than 7 percent of our revenues, allowing us to avoid becoming overly dependent on legacy systems and largescale projects increasingly subject to budget scrutiny.” More and more, civilian government agencies are finding C4ISR an affordable asset for supporting their missions. The Department of Homeland Security is considering the use of drones for border security. C4ISR systems support the maritime mission of the U.S. Coast Guard. The DHS coordinates its ISR functions with those of the defense and intelligence communities to monitor and respond to international terrorist threats to the U.S. homeland.

In addition to homeland security applications, C4ISR offers situational awareness capabilities to support environmental management and has already turned weather forecasting and alerts into near real-time capabilities.

The technology isn’t just for federal programs. “CACI is working with a hospital system in New Jersey that is deploying mobile emergency trauma units,” said Deb Dunie. “We’re helping them develop a communications capability integrated with state and local governments, first responders and health care entities, and helping deploy bio and radiation sensors to monitor potential contamination releases.”

One private group at Harvard University has even started monitoring human rights abuses from space. Affiliated with actor George Clooney, the Satellite Sentinel Project uses satellites to record events on the ground in remote parts of Sudan. The project has spotted troop movements in time to warn possible victims and can provide images to help build cases for war crimes trials.

“C4ISR will remain a priority,” said Boeing’s Krone, “because in almost every future conflict scenario envisaged in official documents like the Quadrennial
Defense Review and Quadrennial Intelligence Community Review, enhanced situational awareness is critical for success.”

Bill Varner of ManTech agreed. “C4ISR is particularly important to the kind of warfare we expect to face in the future, with small units operating close to civilian populations and dealing with terrorists and armed insurgents. Good C4ISR keeps our soldiers safer, limits collateral damage and gives greater precision. That’s how those battles will be won.”

Although current budget concerns may lower spending in the short-term, the potential of emerging C4ISR capabilities is still driving demand for major initiatives.

For example, the U.S. Army is developing a single, fully integrated C4ISR battlefield network capability. In a July 2011 interview with Microwave Journal, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli said that “the network will literally redefine how we fight. Ultimately, the network will connect leaders, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines at all levels, at every echelon of command, in any formation and across the entire team, with the right
information quickly and seamlessly. I am confident it will make our various formations more lethal, faster and more survivable in today’s battlefield.”

The convergence of defense and national intelligence will continue. “The future of military cyber operations is going to be the convergence of cyber intelligence and geospatial intelligence,” said QinetiQ North America’s Dr. J. Scott Goldstein, senior vice president, Mission Solutions. “Uniting the cyber and geospatial domains can correlate cyber activity, geolocation and even cultural and behavioral data to identify trends or concerns much earlier in the intelligence-gathering process.”

These are the kinds of changes that the future holds. Turbulence in the political and budget process may delay their arrival, but it is difficult to think they will be held back for long.

Consider how fast C4ISR and military capability have evolved. The UAV fleet has gone from about four remote aircraft on any given day in 2001 to today’s 62 continuous drone patrols, writes Maj. Gen. James Poss, the U.S. Air Force’s assistant deputy chief of staff for ISR.

In 2001, we could watch a street corner with airborne technologies; today, we can view a small city on the same scale of detail. Aircraft once linked back to only two intelligence analysis sites in the U.S.; we now have 18 sites operating around the world.

“It’s an incredibly flexible network,” Poss wrote in an op-ed column earlier this year. And its uses beyond battle make continued evolution imperative: “After a few computer commands, the high-flying Global Hawk RPA went from scanning the battlefield over Afghanistan to surveying the damage high above Japan to support recent tsunami relief efforts.”

With results like this, it’s hard not to bet on the future.