In 1999, Operation Allied Force was a success, as Serbian forces were evicted from Kosovo. But then-USAF commander Gen. John Jumper was distinctly unhappy. He said those Serbian tanks that rolled out of hiding after the shooting stopped should have been spotted and destroyed by coalition airpower. Jumper also said he knew that the Serbian air defense system had never really been neutralized.
The Serbs had proved very adept at passive defense. They presented only well-concealed targets that even sophisticated imaging radar systems failed to find, Jumper said. They moved under cover of darkness, and came on air for only seconds, so that equally sophisticated SIGINT systems could not fix their position.
Back in the U.S., a dozen software engineers led by former Raytheon manager Brian Cullen came up with a conceptual solution. If the vital data from all the sensors that observe a battlefield could be combined, the chances of finding, fixing and tracking those fleeting targets would increase exponentially, he said. Supported by Jumper and other U.S. entities, plus the UK Royal Air Force, Raytheon formed a company named ComCept and got funding support for an advanced concept technology demonstration. The demo was called network centric collaborative targeting (NCCT).
The NCCT concept is for machine-to-machine networking–the only practical way to meet Jumper’s goal of just 10 minutes to complete the entire “kill chain.” The different languages used by each platform to relay its sensor data are converted into a common Internet protocol so they can be communicated to a central computer, or network controller, he explained.
Using common algorithms and building a common database, target data from one platform is sorted and cued to the others, Jumper said. Composite tracks are built up and can be displayed throughout the network, including ground stations.
ComCept’s work soon attracted the attention of the major defense companies. When Cullen and his partners decided to sell out, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, L-3 Communications and Northrop Grumman all made bids. In late 2002, ComCept became part of L-3.
By summer 2004, L-3 ComCept had developed the software and built or specified the interface module required to network five disparate platforms–the U-2 Dragon Lady, RC-135 Rivet Joint, E-8 JSTARS, a classified reconnaissance satellite, and a (surrogate) unmanned air vehicle. This NCCT “constellation” was successfully tested during the Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment (JEFX-04) at the Nellis test range in the U.S. By combining the speed of SIGINT sensors with the accuracy of imaging sensors, fleeting targets such as surface-to-air missiles and a terrorist convoy were each identified as a single track and geo-located in record time.
In 2005, ComCept made further refinements in the NCCT program, adding new communication pathways and three more SIGINT platforms–the U.S. Army’s Guardrail, the USAF C-130 Senior Scout and the UK Royal Air Force’s Nimrod R1. For the recent Trident Warrior exercise along the U.S. East Coast, the U.S. Navy’s E-2C airborne early warning aircraft was also equipped with NCCT capability, and the system was integrated with the U.S. Navy’s Cooperative Engagement Capability, which provides the air defense picture to ships and aircraft. The USAF plans to field a production version of NCCT in 2009.