In Paris, Raytheon sells high-tech situational awareness

Road Trip 2011: At Paris Air Show, military contractor is showcasing new technologies, including one intended to allow commanders in the field to triangulate multiple sources of intelligence data.

Daniel Terdiman Former Senior Writer / News
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
Daniel Terdiman
5 min read

This grainy image shows Raytheon's Global ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) triangulation system. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

PARIS--As a major contractor to the U.S. Department of Defense, giving American soldiers a competitive advantage is a big part of what Raytheon does.

At the Paris Air Show here this week, the giant company is demonstrating a number of its newly developed technologies, including several intended to give the U.S. military that competitive edge. Among them is an overarching system that provides what's known as Global ISR--intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance--and a technology that's a key part of that known as Distributed Common Ground System, or DCGS.

I got a chance to see this technology demonstrated during my CNET Road Trip 2011 visit to the Paris Air Show. If it works the way it is supposed to, it would certainly seem that the technology boosts the fortunes of American troops fighting tough combatants in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Aviation world jets into Paris Air Show (photos)

See all photos

Essentially, the DCGS technology that is being deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq is a multisensor triangulation system. That means that commanders in the field can have at their fingertips near-real-time imagery and other data being sent to central ground systems from several different sources: reconnaissance drones flying over a battle zone; surveillance planes surveying similar territory; and even from individual soldiers watching the opposition and photographing their movements with mobile phones sporting new apps.

The idea here is that a commander can have all this data integrated quickly into a digital system that can display near-real-time "actionable" intelligence about a potential threat. Or it can give that commander the confidence to send a platoon of soldiers around a blind curve because the data has shown that, from three different perspectives, the road beyond the bend is safe.

Among the types of data that will be at commanders' fingertips with this system is full-motion video, allowing for a "crystal clear" picture of situations in which the technology is being used.

Military planes take center stage in Paris (photos)

See all photos

To be sure, a common use of this technology would be to try to identify with near-100 percent confidence that someone suspected of being an opposing combatant is in fact a threat to American troops. And with the triangulation of data that the DCGS system provides, Raytheon says it is giving its military customers just what they need to confidently take on the opposition, even in remote locations and on narrow, mountainous roads.

At the same time, the DCGS and Global ISR technology allows commanders to send data the other direction as well. With good intelligence in hand, a commander could route photographs or video to soldiers in the field, allowing those troops to get the same multisourced view of a situation, and with it, the advance warning about an incoming threat, or the ability to position themselves to prepare to catch the opposition by surprise.

Finally, the system can be used to develop battle damage assessments, whereby the same set of assets--reconnaissance drones, surveillance planes, and soldiers armed with mobile handsets and apps--can be employed to photograph the aftermath of a battle or a targeted attack and report back with high confidence the actual outcome. No longer, in other words, would the military have to wonder in such situations what happened, or have to send troops directly to the point of a battle or attack to determine in person what the result was.

Ultimately, Raytheon is saying, it can offer the military high-tech answers to common combat problems--in this case, a specific answer to what in the past would have been a lack of data about developing situations.

"The key thing is that it's [a new set] of eyes and ears, providing [new] situational awareness," Jane Chappell, Raytheon's vice president of business development and strategy, told CNET. "You can see either over the horizon or behind [a] building, so you know which situation you're going to face, either for intelligence or reconnaissance."

Upgrades without replacements
Another big piece of the military puzzle that Raytheon is showing at the Paris Air Show is a group of products designed to give military customers the ability to provide pilots with a series of new technologies without having to replace major equipment--such as fighter jets or other aircraft.

The idea here is that Raytheon is producing upgraded equipment--radar and in-helmet digital display systems in this case--that can be installed in existing assets without the major costs of full replacements.

For example, Raytheon was showing off a new radar system, known as RACR (Raytheon Advanced Combat Radar), that can be added to its existing roster of what are called active electronically scanned array radar (AESA) systems. These are radar units used on fighter jets like the F-16, or F/A-18, which can be used to offer pilots a big advantage in "today's net-centric battlespace."

But these systems are also modular, meaning that they can be installed on legacy jets with a minimum of delays caused by modification or new training, Raytheon said. And that means quick delivery and lower costs to military customers, the company says.

Similarly, Raytheon has developed a new "4D Flight Simulator" that can be integrated into pilots' existing flight helmets, augmenting the digital technologies they've already had available through heads-up displays.

The new 4D flight simulator system (see video below) is designed to give pilots a new selection of data to help them navigate complex and distracting situations. The system is meant to be installed in legacy planes like F-15s and F-16s--bringing as Todd Lovell, the chief engineer for Raytheon Technical Services Company, said, "21st century technology to existing platforms."

What this means practically is that a pilot's helmet displays can now offer a new moving map with a tactical overlay, a picture-in-picture capability that provides flight and tactical information, and even high-resolution display of targeting videos. All in their vision via a new "monocle" that fits in front of one of their eyes. As well, the system allows the pilot to pass data on to others, including text messages and PDFs. And it means documents they normally would have had to have in paper form can be viewed digitally through the helmet system.

The monocle is, Lovell said, the first that is available for existing helmet display systems, and the first that offers full color, as well as video capabilities, to such legacy equipment. And finally, the system allows for the use of what Lovell called "3D audio," meaning different conversations coming over a pilot's radio can be heard in different ears, allowing him or her to distinguish between things being said by multiple people, something that can be crucial in a combat situation.