Army planners say they are making strides toward developing a new generation of base protection capabilities. They're aiming to give commanders a suite of sensors and other defensive tools that are easier to deploy and more sensitive to enemy activities.
Efforts have been underway for a couple of years to develop an Integrated Base Defense (IBD) capability to improve upon the ad hoc systems deployed across Afghanistan over the past 15 years.
Now the first half-dozen systems have been deployed, and a dozen more are either on their way out to the field or in the final stages of assembly, according to officials from the Program Executive Office for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare & Sensors (PEO IEW&S).
Aspects of security
Base camp security encompasses a range of capabilities intended to detect potential hostile activity approaching the unit, at the perimeter and within camp grounds. Key elements include:
- Entry Control (EC): Controls vehicle and personnel access to expeditionary bases.
- Perimeter Security (PS): Provides dedicated surveillance to detect, locate, characterize, identify and track activities of interest.
- Persistent Surveillance (PSv): Provides persistent, integrated, networked, multi-spectral surveillance capabilities.
- Warning and Alert (WA): Provides a communication method and standardizes rapid warning alerts.
Across Afghanistan, bases may have been outfitted with some or all of these capabilities. There was never a unified design scheme in place to dictate the components or configuration of base defense systems.
"Most of the capabilities were spun out as stovepipe solutions aimed at very specific problem sets," said Col. Anthony Sanchez, project manager terrestrial sensors.
As activites in Afghanistan have wound down, planners were tasked to collect and refurbish sensors, cameras and related tools in Kuwait for re-deployment to forces in Iraq and elsewhere. They have been taking the opportunity to produce a more coordinated solution set, one that’s being billed as the IBD kitting.
"A lot of money has been invested in all these disparate sensor systems," Sanchez said. "Rather than buying all new stuff to fill capability gaps, we are looking to better integrate what we have."
IBD embraces a broad range of technologies, grouped generally under two headings: Electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensors, and terrestrial sensors. These can take a number of forms, nearly all drawn from existing commercial off-the-shelf technologies.
The kitting incorporates the same access-control turnstiles and body scanners used in airport security, for example. It makes use of the same pop-up barriers to impede vehicle progress as are seen at many government installations.
"We use a broad spectrum of cameras, from a basic closed-circuit TV camera all the way up to multimillion dollar electro-optical/infrared cameras that can see day and night and can see out 20 kilometers," said Robert Bednarczyk, deputy product manager force protection systems.
The kitting includes ground surveillance radars and motion-activated lighting. There are seismic, motion and acoustic ground sensors as well as a Rapid Aerostat Initial Deployment (RAID), an 80-foot-tall telescoping tower system used to provide surveillance over critical infrastructure positions.
The suite also includes the more nimble Cerebus, a portable EO/IR asset. Unlike the fixed-position RAID, "this is a very flexible capability. You can move it any place you need to thicken your surveillance capability," Sanchez said.
IBD access control relies on nonintrusive systems, high- and low-energy imaging tools that can peer into trucks and other vehicles to rapidly assess any potentially suspect cargo.
"You are looking for weapons, people, bombs — anything that would warrant further investigation," Bednarczyk said. "You need to have some confidence that vehicles entering the [forward operating base] don’t contain some kind of threat."
The preconfigured sensor suite in the IBD kitting comes in four versions, intended to serve extra-small bases (around 50 people) to large facilities (6,000 and up).
"Everything is scalable depending on the terrain, the unit and the mission of the soldier," said Capt. Andrew Hines, assistant product manager for Integrated Base Defense. "Even in the extra-small configuration you get all the capabilities. You just get it on a smaller scale."
All versions of the kitting share in common a degree of integration that has been lacking in past base defense efforts.
In Afghanistan sensors tended to operate independently, with no overarching coordination or communication between elements of a base defense system. It would not be uncommon for multiple operators to be monitoring 10 or more screens on a large base, in an effort to keep tabs on all surveillance data.
"By doing this IBD kitting you can eliminate that screen clutter and allow those soldiers to go back and do their jobs. You also give a much better situational understanding to that commander who is looking to react to potential threats," Sanchez said. He estimates that software-based networking of sensor data has reduced screen clutter by up to 60 percent in the typical base defense operations center.
Integrating sensor information helps commanders to get a faster, more accurate read on potential threats.
"Not only do I have better visibility, but it is real-time information, so that allows me to make real-time, on the spot decisions," Hines said.
One goal is to make sensor data more transparent across the enterprise. A soldier approaching a FOB ought to be able to access IBD information at a glance, without even having to ask for it.
"The end state is to have sensors that are dynamically discoverable in the battle space, regardless of what their basic mission or function is," Sanchez said.
In an ideal solution, this kind of information-sharing would happen automatically, with IBD information appearing as needed with little or no user prompting.
"Having access to that information doesn’t require any prior knowledge of the sensor. That sensor is going to announce itself to you," Sanchez said.
At the same time, planners say they envision the operation of the base defense system will become more simplified, as they work toward a uniform software solution that will potentially manage all aspects of the IBD.
"We will have a single software baseline for all the force protection sensor systems," Sanchez predicted.
Planners are putting the finishing touches on half a dozen kittings due to deploy shortly to undisclosed destinations. They also have an order to produce an unspecified number of additional kittings in anticipation of future need. They say the next iteration of the system will include sensors to detect chemical and biological warfare agents, and they are working to extend the range of sensors in order to support thinly manned FOBs remaining in Afghanistan.
"In the past you might have sent out a patrol to check on something," Sanchez said. "Now we want to leverage cameras and other sensors to verify activity outside the wire."