The Eagle-Intel (Eagle-I), a warfighter support program developed and fielded for combat by the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command’s Army Space Program Office (ASPO), is a near real-time situational awareness system that provides information to the warfighter en route to the fight.
According to ASPO representatives, the Eagle-I concept emerged during an Army tactical exploitation of national capabilities users’ working group conference when a warrant officer from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) asked about the potential application of satellite technologies to pass a greater volume of tactical threat and blue force tracking (BFT) information to forward combat elements. The program name recognizes that soldier’s "Screaming Eagles" unit designation.
"It was an operational requirement from the warfighters in the 101st Airborne Division," explains Maj. Mike Matt, the assistant program manager and contracting officer for ASPO. "We threw it together for them. They went to Operation Enduring Freedom with it, and they loved it."
"Eagle-I is a ‘system of systems,’" he continued. "It’s threat and BFT information that we shoot forward to the Army airborne command and control system (A2C2S) aircraft from the assault command post, which can be anywhere on the battlefield, or the enhanced mobile integrated tactical terminal, which is in the division’s analysis control element, where division staff members help make critical battlefield decisions. They then send information forward to deep strike units, like the AH-64D Apache Longbows, and other warfighters who are en route to their objectives. It’s all about getting information forward to deep strike units in near real time."
Program participants explain that the way Army attack aviation units have operated in the past, command and control helicopters would fly in locations where they would attempt to maintain line of sight communications between both the attack battalion and the assault command post in the rear. However, since the Apache Longbow lacks satellite communications capability, the traditional tactical arrangement made it nearly impossible to get large amounts of near real-time threat data to those helicopters while they were on a deep strike mission. The Eagle-I uses existing bandwidth and off-the-shelf equipment to provide satellite communications data to the A2C2S, which can then operate in optimum position to maintain line of sight communications with the AH-64D Apache Longbow. (The system does not talk to standard A model Apaches.)
Participants stress that the key to the rapid success of Eagle-I is that it is primarily an integration effort -- taking parts and pieces that already exist and integrating them together using a single communications protocol. This is especially important in the case of A2C2S, where the addition of any new equipment would have mandated a series of air worthiness tests. Rather than adding any hardware, Eagle-I is simply hosted on an existing A2C2S Army battle command system demonstration platform.
Although the warfighter inquiry first took place about two years ago, the mission was not given to ASPO until late last year. Working with their contractor, Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, ASPO developed initial Eagle-I capability in a few months, providing the first hardware systems -- an assault command post and two brigade tactical operations centers -- just in time for deployment of the 101st to Afghanistan in January 2002. "We had a demonstration unit there at the 101st that we had been using to demonstrate the capability of the architecture," Matt explained. "For Operation Enduring Freedom we had to take that back, ruggedize it, and give it back to the 101st within weeks in order for them to deploy. The whole point was that there was a critical need from the combat unit given to us. It was turned around within weeks and given back to them. That was the big success story."
According to Boeing’s Mike Woodfin, one of the keys to the integration was the use of the demand assigned multiple access (DAMA) network. The approach allows the passage of large amounts of data over relatively small bandwidth.
"The DAMA network takes a single 25 KHz channel and breaks it up into a time division multiple access format that allows a number of users onto a single channel simultaneously," he said. "In fact, DAMA is ultimately going to be the satellite communications network of the future. Rather than putting more satellites up you must have better use of the existing resources. And DAMA does that."
The only exception to the DAMA compatible radio architecture is the linkage between the A2C2S and the Apache Longbows that utilize a generic SINCGARS ASIP radio.
Program architects note that the next logical step for the Eagle-I effort will be to expand the current one-way link from A2C2S to the Apache Longbows in order to create two-way traffic.
"That wasn’t initially in my statement of work," Matt said. "I was told to do this with one-way traffic right there. But we want two-way traffic." Preliminary work on the two-way capability had already taken place. "We’ve integrated laptop Longbow ground station software onto Eagle-I and now we have a two-way link back and forth between the AH-64D Apache Longbow and the A2C2S helicopter. It’s sitting back in my lab ready to demonstrate out in the field," Woodfin said.
While funding to demonstrate and integrate the final linkage remains uncertain, there is certainty regarding its expanded benefit to the warfighter. Noting that the two-way linkage would allow the attack helicopter pilot to provide battle damage assessment back to the division main command post while the shooter was still on target, Matt added, "This not only gives the warfighter near real-time situational awareness, but it also allows us to conduct battle damage assessment immediately and possibly reservice a target with the next wave because we’ll know more quickly if the target has been destroyed. Whereas normally it would have taken hours to come back, download and debrief a crew, this is more flexible -- it gives a battle staff near real-time decision making that they didn’t have before.
"The big thing is that this is all off-the-shelf stuff," he concluded. "We just built the architecture, did the synchronization and put it together for the warfighter."