Aboard a warship, the job of the Combat Management System (CMS) is to gather, integrate and present information from the ship’s own sensors and from external sources pertaining to unknown, hostile, neutral and friendly targets, and to enable the crew to act upon such information.
The CMS is also the computerised entity that manages the ship’s own weapons and sensors, including her Electronic Warfare (EW) systems that are integral for triggering automatic responses to cope with the very short warning that all the hallmarks of modern threats such as supersonic Anti Ship Missiles (AShMs). Other tasks that a modern CMS is expected to enable include management of organic aircraft such as naval support helicopters and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Aboard air defence ships, this can even include airspace control throughout large volumes around the ship and any task group of which it is a part. Likewise, it must keep track of boats, and any other surface or subsurface vehicles, launching from and recovering to the ship; particularly those used by special forces teams. As most warships will be involved in allied and coalition operations, in addition to national operations involving multiple vessels, a modern CMS must also interface with the Command and Control (C2) systems that support networked cooperative actions, particularly in air and missile defence for example.
Complex threat growth
Warships face a large and seemingly ever-growing range of threats associated with both symmetric and asymmetric warfare, both while under way and in port. Apart from the aforementioned AShMs, these include heavyweight torpedoes and mines, vessel-borne IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), swarm attacks by small, fast surface vessels deploying rockets and surface-to-surface missiles, UUVs (Unmanned Underwater Vehicles) and combat swimmers along with a large variety of land combat weapons if close enough to the shore. Surface combatants must be prepared to defend against any of these, singly or in combination, in the world’s most crowded and complex waters among civilian traffic.
Most surface combatants have some capability in some, or all, of these areas but roles such as anti-submarine warfare and area air defence demand specialisation, as do combat support roles such as Mine Countermeasures (MCM). Submarine combat management systems are also highly specialised, but have much of their computing technology in common with their surface counterparts. Many companies offer these systems, investing heavily in the software that forms the bulk of the intellectual property involved. Some focus on a relatively small number of vessels categories, but there is a lot of overlap and the market is highly competitive. Prominent among them are Atlas Electronik, BAE Systems, DCNS, Elbit Systems, Hanhwa, Israel Aerospace Industries, Kongsberg, Larsen and Toubro, Leonardo, Lockheed Martin, MARSS, Saab, Systematic, Terma, Thales and Ultra Electronics.
A warship’s CMS has a two-way relationship the external C2 systems Morten Juhl Bødker, Systematic product manager, explained to AMR: “Normally the CMS will do correlation for the ship’s sensors and create a local picture that covers the range of that ship’s sensors. This picture is then distributed to the (external) C2 system, which then correlates multiple local pictures from multiple ships creating a global recognised maritime picture for the area of operation. This may be passed back to each ship and injected into the CMS or kept locally at the ship in the C2 system.” Joint, allied and coalition operations demand must be able to handle a wide variety of international communications standards, the most common being the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO) Link-11 and Link-16 tactical data links: “These are standards that most CMSs already support,” Mr. Bødker confirmed: “Often C2 systems support more standards than the CMSs so it is often the CMS that is the limiting factor.”
Over the last five years or so, the most important and challenging factor to have affected naval C2 and CMS requirements has been the introduction of more sensors, particularly radars, along with maritime traffic networks such as the International Maritime Organisation’s Automatic Identification System (AIS), mandated for all vessels displacing in excess of 600 tonnes, new Mode-5/Mode-S Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) installations and sonars, aboard many different platforms: “Unless more automation and decision support is introduced,” Mr. Bødker argued, “this just leads to information overload instead of increased situational awareness, which is the whole purpose of introducing more sensors.”
The recognised maritime picture needs to be fused with as little human effort as possible. Today many nations heavily rely on manual correlation of the maritime picture”, he continued: “Picture managers or Track Coordinators have a very stressful task dealing with all the information (which can) quickly become a bottleneck. This means that either the picture is of bad quality, or it is not delivered in a timely manner to the decision makers. As more and more sensors are introduced this only exacerbates the problem.” After a fused picture has been created, the next challenge is to identify contacts of interest, about which commanders must make decisions, and which must be provided to the CMS to coordinate rapid action against them, whether that involves a warning signal or a weapon launch. Which contacts are of interest depends to some extent on the kind of operation the warship is conducting and on the behaviour of the contacts, as Mr Bødker explained: “In an anti-piracy operation, you might be interested in detecting vessels that are approaching other vessels at high speed. This is often called anomaly detection (things that are unusual or suspect compared to normal pattern of sea behaviour). C2 systems today need to be able to help operators detect such anomalies”, he said: “In the area of operation, there may be hundreds or thousands of tracks to keep an eye on. This cannot be done efficiently without having the C2 system assist in detecting these anomalies.”
Modularity and scalability
Modern CMSs are usually described as modular and scalable and use ruggedised commercial off-the-shelf computer hardware, interfaces and communication standards, and even civilian standard operating systems. Meanwhile, overall design philosophy is moving towards open architectures that enable the rapid and frequent upgrade of computer technologies to minimise obsolescence problems. The large number of projects dedicated to different classes of vessel with different combat system requirements, Leonardo sources informed Armada, makes scalable Service Oriented Architectures (SOA) a necessity; architectures that in turn are based on libraries of software modules that can be combined to meet individual CMS requirements, and to integrate new capabilities into existing systems when needed.
Mr. Bødker added that basing these systems on SOAs with public Application Programming Interfaces (API); the messenger programmes that carry information requests and responses between different computer systems and applications, is essential to ensuring that they are truly open and scalable: “Being service oriented creates a loose coupled system where it is more cost efficient to upgrade or build new modules. Having an extensive number of public APIs in your C2 system, creates an openness that allows easy integration with other systems. It also allows for different, specialist organisations to develop additional add-ons or specific national integrations. This means that the customer is not ‘locked’ to one C2 vendor but can allow multiple expert vendors to provide modules for their C2 system. This leads to higher competition and can ensure that local industry also gets a ‘piece of the pie’.”
A typical modern CMS such as Atlas Elektronik’s ANCS, has a C2 core that focuses on track management, picture compilation, threat evaluation, data link operation and weapon assignment. Around this core are other functions including identification and classification of targets, to NATO standards for example, automatic target recognition; lethal and non-lethal engagements; planning and operational support; helicopter control and search and rescue. Like a growing number of systems, ANCS also boasts full-vessel simulation and training features. The Deutsche Marine (German Navy) is the ‘parent’ navy for ANCS, variants of which are in use on Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV), Fast Attack Craft (FAC), corvettes and frigates relying on a model-driven software architecture with interfaces for mission modules that are free to interface with any subsystem to achieve the modularity and scalability it needs to work aboard vessels with such different operational profiles. Typical of modern practice, multi-function consoles enable all subsystems connected to the ANCS to be operated from any console, while a ‘user-centric’ operator interface provides role-based virtual desktops, context-sensitive menus and data. Ergonomically designed, the user interface is also independent of the operational software to avoid unanticipated consequences of changes to either affecting the other. Besides ANCS, Atlas Elektronik offers the IMCMS for mine warfare, AIMS for OPVs and ISUS for submarines, as part of its CMS portfolio.
Networked consoles are where human operators touch and interact with the CMS, in the operations room or combat information centre, although there are usually consoles in other areas such as the bridge to provide a measure of redundancy and resilience to combat damage or localised power failures, for example.
BMT Defence Services illustrates a modern idea of how such as space should be configured aboard its conceptual Venator 110 general purpose frigate design. It clusters operators who need face-to-face contact close together, some facing each other in triangular formation in the middle of the space, others side-by-side along the walls. The commanding officer and principal warfare officer are seated at their own consoles with a large horizontal and hexagonal digital moving map table between them with space for an advisor to work at it. Clustered nearby are the air picture supervisor and missile director seated next to each other with their own consoles with a command advisor opposite. This latter officer is responsible for the internal battle, which includes damage control, fire fighting, CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear) response, managing propulsion incidents and electrical repairs. In another cluster of three, the EW director and EW operator seated are next to each other at their own consoles with a combat system specialist opposite. Along one wall are positions for the tactical picture supervisor/link manager, the aircraft controller, the surface picture supervisor and then the sonar picture supervisor, who is flanked by a pair of sonar operators. In a row along the adjacent wall are the anti-ship missile operator, the medium calibre gun system operator, and the port and starboard weapons battery operators.
One senior engineer working with Leonardo said that the necessity to make these systems modular, scalable and ready to be adapted to a variety of solutions with interfaces connecting many different sensors and effectors have been among the most significant requirements affecting modern CMS development. The biggest challenge, they continued, comes with requests to begin a CMS development or software update that depends on a particular combat system interface. This situation leads to big integration problems that are not directly connected with the development itself but that require “a huge part of the code” to be rewritten so it will integrate with the correct interfaces and exhibit the right dynamic behaviours, said the company.
Often, the biggest challenges facing naval information systems developers are not technological in nature but result from skewed procurement priorities, with industry constantly forced to argue that money has to be invested in this area to maximise the capabilities of platforms and weapon systems: “If you don’t provide the commander with effective C2 systems, they will not be able to command and task their resources efficiently,” said Mr. Bødker: “What does it then matter that you have bought a billion dollar combat ship with state-of-the-art weapons and sensors if the commander is not able to benefit from improved situational awareness or to use this expensive new asset to optimal effect.” Most recently, said the Leonardo engineer, the growing demand for a more intuitive interface similar to that of a smartphone or tablet has been a major challenge because of the consequent need “to rethink all the consolidated human interfaces” to make them easy to use and to configure: “New display technologies and new vision systems in general, are the new CMS frontiers. Some great steps have been made in developing multi-touch interfaces on big displays to allow CMS operators to interact with the systems naturally,” the engineer continued: “Augmented reality is the next step, for displaying CMS information in situations where consoles cannot be used. Further developments could involve the integration of curved displays for easier visualisation of CMS data and video and virtual reality for training, which could be applied ashore and afloat.”
Looking to other upcoming trends that could affect CMS design, the engineer cited “massive integration of wearable technologies and the Internet of Things (IOT: the connectivity of computing devices embedded in equipment beyond computers): “IOT and wearable interconnected technologies will allow people to be part of the system, not just a user, interacting in a deep way with the systems around them.” The process that started with automated household systems, the Leonardo engineer expects, will evolve into a personalised system, in which the user will integrate with the system through operational virtual and augmented reality. Mr. Bødker concurred: “There is no doubt that the expected breakthrough of augmented/mixed reality in the consumer market will at some point enter the C2 arena,” he said: “You could imagine commanders having something like a Microsoft Hololense to jointly browse the situational picture or to jump into video streams from 360 degree cameras on different platforms such as UAVs.”
While the connected concepts of Network Centric Warfare (NCW) and cooperative engagement have been discussed for almost two decades, Mr. Bødker argued, many navies are still in the initial phases of the transition from platform centric to NCW capabilities, the process has accelerated recently and is affecting the technologies navies use as well as the ways in which they organise and operate. While the widespread adoption of NCW will open many navies’ eyes to the benefits of information sharing, the sheer volume of data generated in a true NCW environment is likely to increase dramatically, he said, which could easily lead to information overload. In order to speed up the decision cycle further it is essential that C2 systems are able to help operators navigate the system and quickly find the data they need so support large numbers of critical decisions in rapid succession: “This will bring buzzwords such as big data analytics, data mining and decision support systems to the lips of vendors and customers”, he said. Given the complexity of the modern operational environment, the very short reaction times needed to respond to the latest threats and the likely human and political consequences of mistakes, ever closer and more seamless integration of C2 and CMS systems for warships seems inevitable.