HomeNews & MediaFeatured StoriesFighting Fast-Attack Boat Threats: Cooperative Engagement Capability Tweaked for Netted Surface Track Picture 

July 2, 2008

Fighting Fast-Attack Boat Threats: Cooperative Engagement Capability Tweaked for Netted Surface Track Picture

Protecting large Navy ships from small, highly maneuverable boats at sea is becoming an increasingly difficult and growing challenge, as the world saw in January when five Iranian speedboats threatened three U.S. warships in the Strait of Hormuz. APL's Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) team has taken the first steps to provide a critical netted surface track picture that could help ships more quickly and accurately detect and defend against such threats.

CEC TEam

During an at-sea exercise, CEC tracked five small boats (the gray lines) weaving between two Navy vessels (represented by the two small squares). The highlighted track shows Close-In Weapon System-1B radar contributions from both ships on the straight-line lead boat.

The APL-conceived CEC system was originally designed to create a continuous, comprehensive and highly accurate air picture by combining data from a network of ship-, aircraft- and land-based sensor systems. In an exercise held off the Virginia Capes last summer, the CEC team proved they could "apply the same philosophy CEC uses for air networking to surface networking," says F. Williamson, APL's CEC program manager of the Air and Missile Defense Department.

Small-boat threats, often called fast-attack craft, provide many technical and tactical challenges. "It's difficult to track anything in the marine boundary layer," Williamson says. "These boats are exceptionally difficult to track using a single radar because they're small, very fast and maneuver quickly. We think networking several radars — providing multiple angles, frequencies and a more continuous track — will provide a more accurate and reliable surface picture. It's a difficult problem to solve, but a worthy challenge for the Lab."

Putting it to the Test
In a development effort that began in 2004, the APL team demonstrated a surface-tracking capability during the Trident Warrior '07 at-sea exercise. This annual Navy event tests and evaluates, in operational environments, hundreds of technologies in areas including network-centric warfare.

A small team of AMDD engineers developed the CEC configuration demonstrated in the exercise. CEC was modified to accept data from a sensor not normally included in its network. The Close-In Weapons System's (CIWS) radar, designed to track high-speed surface targets and slow air targets at low altitudes, was — for the first time — integrated into the Aegis ship combat system that controls long-range weapons.

During an at-sea exercise, CEC tracked five small boats (the gray lines) weaving between two Navy vessels (represented by the two small squares). The highlighted track shows Close-In Weapon System-1B radar contributions from both ships on the straight-line lead boat.

The team modified some tracking algorithms and created new code within the Cooperative Engagement Processor (one of CEC's primary components) to interface it with the CIWS radar. During the at-sea trials, they showed that CIWS' measurements can be integrated into CEC's composite track picture to improve situational awareness, and that these tracks can be transferred between CEC-equipped ships. It was the first time surface sensors were netted over an operational CEC network.

During the test, five small speedboats simulated attacks against two U.S. Aegis warships — ironically similar to the Iranian speedboat threat in January. CEC fused radar information from the two ships as the fast-attack craft weaved between them — something that could confuse a single radar.
The Naval Network Warfare Command, a global command of information warriors and specialists, rated this the "most significant" experiment of 54 initiatives conducted in Trident Warrior '07. The Navy's Command and Control director of the Program Executive Office, Integrated Warfare Systems, sent the APL team a letter of appreciation for its work, and presented awards of excellence.

Looking Ahead
The team is now preparing for Trident Warrior '08, which runs through the fall, and, Williamson says, they foresee another test opportunity next year.
"The at-sea tests allow us to build on the successes of past years and continue enhancing the technology," Williamson says. "In the long term, I think this will be a valuable capability — another arrow in the Navy's quiver of capabilities — that will fulfill a critical technology gap, providing better maritime-domain awareness and a better integrated fire-control capability to engage high-speed, maneuvering surface targets."

During an at-sea exercise, CEC tracked five small boats (the gray lines) weaving between two Navy vessels (represented by the two small squares). The highlighted track shows Close-In Weapon System-1B radar contributions from both ships on the straight-line lead boat.