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October 22, 2013

APL Expands Battlespace in Multifaceted Effort

USS Chancellorsville
The latest demonstration of the Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) capability took place aboard the USS Chancellorsville in August 2013. (Credit: U.S. Navy)

A team of APL engineers and scientists worked with military partners to successfully test the Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) capability aboard the USS Chancellorsville off the coast of Point Mugu, California, in August 2013 and at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, in September 2012 and April 2013. This significant milestone proved NIFC-CA’s ability to extend the battlespace and provide engagement opportunities beyond the horizon—a key to U.S. military strategy.

The September 2012 test was the first live-fire engagement utilizing tactical Aegis Baseline 9, Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC), Standard Missile-6 (SM-6), and a remote sensor. The August test was the first at sea involving all of the operational elements. APL’s involvement has been critical to NIFC-CA because of the Laboratory’s role as technical direction agent (TDA).

“NIFC-CA is all about a family of systems working together to coordinate fire control,” says APL Missile Defense Project Manager Jeff Mitchell. “What APL helped its military partners accomplish this year expanded the battlespace greatly—allowing a shooting ship to get a coordinated picture and react a lot farther out.

“All of the APL and Air and Missile Defense Department staff supporting the participating NIFC-CA pillars are in this together, and our staff has really worked hard to make it happen,” adds Mitchell. “We know we can’t be ‘stovepiped’ in our approach and simply perform our own piece of work. We’ve been successful because we’ve collaborated.”

APL’s Air and Missile Defense Department (AMDD) coordinated its approach to NIFC-CA and accomplished a successful test by holding major milestone meetings and weekly teleconferences to streamline communications both within and outside the Laboratory. “The uniqueness of NIFC-CA forced barriers down and encouraged everyone to operate as a team,” says Mitchell.

Standard Missile-6
Standard Missile-6, shown during an earlier test, is a critical element of the Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA). (Credit: Missile Defense Agency)

Success Built on Continuity

According to AMDD Head Conrad Grant, NIFC-CA pulls together 40 years of development at the Laboratory. “APL is TDA in three of the four key pillars: SM-6, CEC, and Aegis. And, even though we are not TDA for the participating sensors, our staff has had very strong involvement in their development over the years,” he says. “The Lab had a very influential role in driving this from extremely early concept to implementation.”

That “early concept” was authored by Al Eaton in the 1970s as he worked on Aegis and Battle Group Coordination. By the 1980s, a team of APL staff began working on the concepts and requirements for their “dream” advancements.

“These were mainly things like the ‘engage on remote’ capability—essentially what NIFC-CA just accomplished,” says Grant.

In a 1996 exercise called Mountaintop, APL advanced Eaton’s concepts by placing radars on elevated cliffs in Hawaii while Aegis cruisers were stationed off the coast of the island. With the elevation, they could look out farther to see an incoming threat. “This was a beginning of NIFC-CA, and while the architecture was slightly different, the concept was very close to what we are doing now,” says Grant.

To fully develop the “engage on remote” capability that NIFC-CA now provides, APL engineers and scientists knew they needed an airborne sensor or something that could “see” a target downrange. Over the years, an APL-led team worked with the Navy to further develop the active Standard Missiles.

“SM-6 was critical to NIFC-CA since it was developed to be a fully active missile with its own energy that can home in on a target,” says Grant. “When we put the capability to see a target and eliminate the need to illuminate it over the horizon because of the active seeker on the SM-6 together with Aegis, you get the ‘engage on remote’ capability we achieved with NIFC-CA.”

The Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air
The Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) includes airborne sensors such as the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS), which provided persistent, over-the-horizon sensing capabilities in the first land-based test in September 2012. (Credit: Raytheon)

From Eaton’s development of the initial concepts in the 1970s, to these recent events when APL and military partners brought together four major weapons systems for NIFC-CA’s successful live-fire tests, the continuity APL brings has promoted success.

“As I was sitting at the White Sands test, I noticed that the APL project manager was two years old when APL began working on this, and that for many of the folks on this project who are in their 30s, APL has been developing this capability during their entire lifetime.” Grant says. “I realized that the power and value we bring to our sponsor is not only in the concepts we come up with and our ability to prove to sponsors they will work with detailed studies and models, but also in the continuity we provide to help make them real.”

APL will continue to work with its partners to fine-tune NIFC-CA before handing it off, fully operational, to the fleet.

“This isn’t the end of the line,” says Grant. “It is part of a natural evolution of capabilities the Lab is working on with our sponsors. We’ve got other potential concepts in mind to work on next.”