Wearable Technology: Connectivity & Implementation (ITERA 2016 Conference)

For my first blog post, I wanted to share with my fellow classmates my section from the paper that my group wrote for ICS 620 on Wearable Technology. My section focused on GPS and other wearable military technologies. I’ve always been interested in the military and military technology since a very young age, always wanting to me a helicopter pilot in the Army. My father spent over 20 years in the National Guard and he was a big inspiration to me and I always thought I would follow in his footsteps and join.

I wasn’t ready to join after graduating from High School and my mother talked me into coming to Ball State to study Telecommunications. My parents knew that I wanted to join the service, but they also wanted me to be one of the first Doubs to graduate from college. Had I know that 9/11 was going to happen in the middle of my Junior year of college and our nation would be thrust into war, I might have reconsidered my choice to no join the service, that is a story for another day.

One of the reasons I want to share this work with the class is because we submitted the final paper to ITERA and we were chosen to present at the 2016 ITERA Conference in Louisville. Presenting at the conference was a valuable experience. Not only was I able to stand in front of my peers and present research that is exciting to me, I was able to attend other presentations and get a better idea of other research being down in programs similar to the one here in CICS. It was also a great opportunity to do a little networking and get a little feel for the potential job market that I will find myself entering upon graduation.

I’m just posting my section from the paper, but if anyone is interested in reading the entire paper, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or drop me an email. Here is my section from the research paper titled:

Wearable Technology: Connectivity & Implementation


As technology becomes faster and smaller, armed forces around the globe are shifting their focus away from vehicle-mounted equipment to soldier-mounted equipment. Technologies that are already battle-proven are being miniaturized and deployed on the battlefield by individual soldiers. It won’t be long before a soldier’s uniform itself is used for more than just camouflage;it will become an integral part of how a soldier functions in battle (Roncone, 2004). There are a handful of platforms currently deployed by some nations, and even more being developed, examined, and tested for future conflicts.

“Where am I, where are my friends, and where is the enemy?” are questions that every soldier has asked themselves in every battle since armies have taken to the field. Previous generations of soldiers have been forced to rely on the accuracy of paper maps and the use of compasses and protractors to mark their position, the position of friendly forces, and the reported position of the enemy. Another key element to this outdated system is availability and quickness of communication between observers, commanders, and troops in the field to maintain consistent coordination between forces and the enemy. As battlefields began to expand across entire nations and armies became more mobile and started taking to the air, the demand for immediate communication of positions began to grow exponentially (“Battlelab: Assessing Digitisation,” 2015).



Where Am I?: Global Positioning System

Currently, the question of “Where am I?” is being answered by the Global Positioning System, or GPS. Initially, GPS was developed by the United State’s Department of Defense (DoD) to track military personnel, vehicles, aircraft, and munitions and has since been opened up to the civilian market where the most significant developments have taken place over the past 20 years (Moore, 1994). The predecessor to GPS was a system called the Navy Navigation Satellite System (NNSS), also called TRANSIT. It was initially implemented in the 60’s, but it had two major flaws: it suffered from large time gaps in coverage between satellite passes and it had problems with being relatively inaccurate (Wellenhof & Lichtenegger, 1997).

The current GPS systems in place is called NAVSTAR and was implemented in the late 70’s. NAVSTAR didn’t reach “Initial Operational Capability” until July 1993, and it didn’t reach its “Full Operational Capability” until April 27, 1995 when all 24 satellites were successfully placed in their correct orbits (Jones, Sutherland, & Tryfonas, 2008). There were several proposed orbit schemes suggested, and it was decided that it was most cost effective to have 24 evenly spaced satellites placed in 12-hour orbits to provide constant global positioning capability. For an accurate position to be determined, a GPS receiver on earth needs line-of-sight to a minimum of 4 satellites. There are usually more than 4 satellites visible; at times, there canbe upwards of 10 satellites visible and in these narrow windows, more accurate surveys can be conducted (Wellenhof & Lichtenegger, 1997).

There are three main components to the GPS system: the Space Segment, the Control Segment, and the User Segment. The United States Air Force Command, along with outside contractors, control the first two components. The User Segment was originally limited to military use, but was opened up the private sector in the 90’s. When it initially was made available for civil use, the United States military encrypted the precise signal to limit the accuracy of commercial GPS units in an attempt to keep the signals from being utilized by opposing militaries. In May of 2000, the United States stopped encrypting the signal, opening up exact GPS accuracy by the consumer market (Michalski, 2004)

The first segment, the Space Segment, consists of the GPS satellites in orbit that are arranged into a moving constellation. The layout of the constellation helps insure that the minimum four satellites can be seen by at the same time by a single GPS receiver on Earth. The second segment, or Control Segment, is a series of ground stations that communicate back and forth with the satellites and other ground stations to monitor and control the satellites in orbit. The last segment is the User Segment. This segment includes all of the GPS devices that are passively receiving signals from the orbiting satellites (Jones et al., 2008).

The initial user of the GPS system was the military; they envisioned that every single ship, aircraft, tank, jeep, and soldier would have a GPS receiver to help coordinate military activities. They also determined that by using four different antennas spread out over set distances, they could determine the pitch, roll, yaw, and position of a ship or aircraft (Wellenhof & Lichtenegger, 1997).

While there are multiple manufacturers of both military and civilian GPS receivers, there are several key features that all GPS receivers have in common. First of all, they must have basic computer components: a Central Processing Unit (CPU), Random Access Memory (RAM), and and some type of Storage Memory. The receiver also must have radio equipment that can receive and distinguish signals from multiple satellites while maintaining the ability to filter out noise. A screen to display output from the CPU is also essential in order to process the incoming signal and access the stored data, there must be an operating system (OS) (Jones et al., 2008). As technology has advanced and computers have become miniaturized, it has become possible for anyone with a handheld device to know their exact position at any given second.

All GPS receivers perform the same three tasks: they collect and amplify the low-power signal being broadcasted by the satellites, they measure the signals, and then they compute position, velocity, and time (PVT) based on collected information. For the receiver to accurately compute an exact position, it needs to calculate and measure several different variables. It first computes the exact location in space of each of the satellites by the signal that satellite is transmitting; it then measures the travel time it takes to receive the signals from each satellite, and then accounts for delays in travel time caused by earth’s atmosphere. Once all of the required information is collected and computed, the receiver will display an exact position on earth (GPS: The First, 2007).

The signal being broadcasted by the satellite is called pseudo-random number code, or PRN. The PRN code has three responsibilities: it needs to uniquely identify each satellite, provide the crucial timing information, and be able to be amplified so the GPS receiver does require a large satellite dish in order to receive all of the needed information. The PRN code is a binary-based code that repeats itself every millisecond, and on each repeat, a unique sequential identifier is added to the code. The ground control stations insure that all of the satellites broadcasting are in sync with each other, guaranteeing perfect timing within the satellite constellation. The GPS receiver has been programmed to also predict the timing of the PRN code; it then calculates the time between when the signal was scheduled to be broadcasted and the time when the signal was received by the receiver. Once the travel time has been determined between at least four different satellites, the receiver can then calculate its exact location (GPS: The First, 2007).

It has become clear that GPS has quickly become an integral part of how the United States, and other nations around the world, conduct military operations. Precise location information dramatically increases military effectiveness, reducing the number of missions required to accomplish objectives, and reduces the potential for unintended collateral damage. With GPS being incorporated into every single piece of the military puzzle, it also increases the reliance on the system, thus increasing the focus that must be placed on the potential vulnerability of the system. The Heritage Foundation’s report “Defending the American Homeland” listed designating GPS frequencies and network as critical national infrastructure as number two on the list of top priorities in defending the nation’s infrastructure (Simonsen, Suycott, Crumplar, & Wohlfiel, 2004).



Where are my Friends?: Battle Management System

With GPS solving the “Where am I?” question, it’s time to examine how the soldier of today answers the “Where are my friends?” question. Simply put, the answer to this question lies in combining the GPS system with the wireless communications system so that the location of every single combat element can be communicated amongst them. With GPS alone, a soldier would still communicate his position by radio which would have to be tracked by hand on a map, increasing the need for more communication of troop movements and the focus on accuracy. Northrop Grumman’s Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2) was the first Battle Management System (BMS) to incorporate GPS transponders mounted on vehicles to communicate their position to all units in their radio network automatically. This self-forming “tactical network” was the first time soldiers and commanders could see exactly where they were relative to everyone else in the element. The soldiers were able to see on computer screens the location of friendly vehicles and monitor their movements. In January of 2001, the 4th US Infantry Division (4ID-Mech) was declared the First Digitized Division (“Battlelab: Assessing Digitization,” 2015). As BMS systems continue to be implemented across the globe, entire armies are becoming completely digitized.

This digitization of the battlespace has become an integral part of communicating both Situational Awareness (AS) and Command & Control (C2) information amongst all the units in a dispersed and dynamic battlefield (Chevli et al., 2006). There are two aspects of digitization that remain key to its continued implementation: the existence of a reliable network that has the sufficient bandwidth to handle the transmission of all the data and the need for a common set of applications and systems that contain common formats and protocols to allow proper transmission between all nodes on the network (“Battlelab: Assessing Digitization,” 2015).

The original FBCB2 system relied on line-of-sight (LOS) radios to communicate GPS information between vehicles. Early deployments of FBCB2 into Kosovo revealed that difficult terrain, paired with the wide spread of a limited number of vehicles, made it nearly impossible to rely solely on LOS communications (Baddeley, 2005). Military planners quickly realized the need to integrate beyond line-of-sight (BLOS) communications into the current LOS-based BMSs. Blue Force Tracking (BFT) has become the answer to that problem.

BFT combines LOS systems, such as the Enhanced Position Location and Reporting system (EPLRS) and Single Channel Ground to Air Radio System (SINCGARS) operating on VHF and UHF frequencies with the BLOS MT-2011 satellite transceiver system. The signals propagated by BFT devices are transmitted through a commercial L-band satellite to a ground station. The ground station then relays the signals to the Network Operations Center (NOC) via either SATCOM or land lines. The NOC is responsible to manage the flow of data between BFT devices that either require LOS or BLOS connections to complete the transmission (Chevli et al., 2006). The FBCB2-BFT system delivers both tactical- and operational-level information that includes the positions of friendly units in relation to each other (Bryant & Smith, 2013). The strength of FBCB2-BFT relies more on its ability to effectively communicate between the systems mounted in vehicles or carried by soldiers and less on the effectiveness of the software or the power of the computers running it (Baddeley, 2005).

A limited number of units were equipped and deployed with early versions of FBCB2-BFT previous to being deployed to Iraq in 2002. After-action reports coming in from the field were showing that the FBCB2-BFT system was providing significant increases in the speed with which commanders could make tactical decisions and with a far greater degree of certainty. The reports also showed that controlled troop movements could continue even when visibility of the units on the ground at be reduced to 0 meters by sandstorms. The system also provided a common operating picture (COP) where everyone on the system could see the same information. According to the author of “Battlelab: Assessing Digitisation on 21st Century Battlefields,” the US Army’s Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP) publication for mechanized infantry operating from the M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) effectively summarizes the advantages and disadvantages of having a common operating picture:

An accurate and current common operational picture is a key tool for the platoon and squad leaders. It identifies friendly locations, suspected or confirmed enemy positions, obstacles, and other information vital to the success of a mission. The same common operational picture is displayed to subordinates, superiors, and adjacent units. However, platoon and squad leaders have to understand that the common operational picture is only as accurate as the data fed into it. It might not identify all enemy positions or, especially, friendly units that are not equipped with the FBCB2. (p. 3)



Where is the Enemy?

“Where is the enemy?” is a question that becomes harder to answer as military tactics and technology changes. In previous centuries, war was conducted on a single battlefield, between two opposing sides, marching in rows, meeting in the middle to conduct combat. Over time, warfare has evolved into what we see today: cities being turned into battlefields, enemies hidden among allies and civilians, and munitions being delivered from the air, directed from another continent. Advancements in technology are making it easier to see and identify the enemy, as well as track and communicate their position to other friendly forces. The ability of computers, GPS equipment, and global communications systems that work in unison to provide real-time information to soldiers and commanders has greatly improved both the situational awareness and combat effectiveness of militaries around the world. Soldiers are now able to move more freely through the battlespace knowing the location of friendly or enemy forces (Jones-Bonbrest, 2012).

Just as the Global Positioning System solved question number one and then aided in solving question number two, the combined FBCB2-BFT BMS is not only the answer to question two, it’s also a large part of the answer to question number three. Once the positions of friendly forces have been collected and distributed, it is now possible to plot suspected or confirmed enemy locations onto the same battle map being used to view friendly forces. The system has been engineered to display the exact location of friendly forces in blue and the locations of enemy forces or improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in red (Jones-Bonbrest, 2012).

The individual soldier is able to designate enemy targets through the use of a Multi-Function Laser (MFL). Usually mounted on the soldier’s weapon system, the MFL transmits the distance, elevation, and the direction of the target to the BMS. Since the FBCB2-BFT is already tracking the position of the friendly soldier through the GPS system, the BMS can then pinpoint the exact location of the enemy target and transmit that information to the rest of the battle force. The biggest advantage of the MFL is that it communicates the enemy position without the need for the soldier to use more traditional communication channels that would require more movement or the use voice that could give away his position (Fitzgerald, 2007). The other advantage of a weapon-mounted MFL being carried by every soldier on the battlefield is that it eliminates the need for a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) to be deployed with the combat element, increasing the size, and sometimes limiting the mobility of the squad. A JTAC is usually not a member of the Special Forces community, but instead member of the United States Air Force and his sole responsibility is to mark targets and communicate with the Air Force to provide air support for the operation. Giving every soldier the ability to perform the task of a JTAC reduces the number of soldiers required to perform mission-critical tasks and increases the lethality and mobility of the entire squad (“SWaP Shop: Future,” 2015).

Along with communicating friendly and enemy positions, the system is also utilized to detect and track other threats that may be present on the battlefield. The Adaptable GIS Multi-threat Detection System (AGMDS) is used to detect, track, and display chemical, biological, radioactive, and explosive threats. It uses a collection of state of the art sensors to detect chemical vapors, biological aerosols, and radiological threats and then plots them on the battlefield map based on the GPS location of the sensors that detected them. As the sensors move around the battlefield, they continue to collect, update, and transmit data through the self-organized wireless network back to the control system. The control system processes all the data streaming in from different nodes and then factors in changes in battlefield conditions, such as wind and terrain.It then sends a more accurate picture of the potential threat on a GIS layer of the battlefield map to the soldiers on the ground so that forces can evade the threats as needed. The AGMDS system also collects soldiers’ physiological data through Zephry BioHarnesses and wireless video surveillance camera mounted on vehicles or soldier’s helmets to further analyze the situations as they unfold (Mcclintock, Saxon, Forsythe, Rascoe, & Risser, 2011).



Future Force Warrior

As network-centric technology is being integrated into armed forces around the globe, the focus has been shifting from “big-ticket systems such as fighter aircraft, warships, and armoured vehicles” to systems that are to be fielded by individual dismounted soldiers. With warfare shifting from the open battlefield to more urban environments, it has become necessary to upgrade the capabilities of the individual infantryman to meet the challenges of dismounted operations (Weichong, 2009). One of the biggest challenges in developing a Future Force Warrior (FFW) system has been difficulty in designing a single system that will be effective in completing a wide variety of combat tasks while also meeting size, weight, and power constraints that will not overburden the load on a dismounted soldier (“SWaP Shop: Future,” 2015).

There are several technologies are being shared throughout  different FFW systems  currently being developed . The first, and possibly the most important element, is the integration of a BFM system, such as FBCB2-BFT, into the FFW system. To do this, each soldier must carry his own tactical network connected computer, radio and satellite communication equipment, and a GPS receiver. The first attempts were systems that would take commercial-grade off-the-shelf smartphones, tablets, and laptops, wipe their memory clean, install BFM software, and then strap them to the front or rear of a soldier’s vest. This created two distinct problems: the commercial-grade hardware would not hold up well in extreme battlefield conditions and soldiers had trouble managing all the cables required to connect their computer to all their peripheral electronic devices, causing snags (Keller, 2013).

To solve the first problem, engineers looked to companies like Quantum3D in San Jose, California to supply a purposed-built, ruggedized tactical visual computers (TVC), called Thermite. Thermite is a lightweight, ruggedized, sealed computer that is currently in use by the United States Army, Air Force, and Navy for a wide variety of tasks, including command and control, communications, intelligence, surveillance, unmanned-aerial-vehicles (UAVs), and real-time embedded training applications (Singer, 2015). The Thermite acts as the soldier’s central communication and processing hub for Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) along with navigation, radio communications, live video display, and other mission-critical information (McHale, 2007).

The development of e-Textiles is helping to solve the second problem. In previous systems, the materials used to construct the soldier’s uniform and load bearing equipment (LBE), were strictly passive and intended only to carry gear, provide protection from the elements, and provide camouflage. As FFW systems started adding more and more electronic devices that each required their own batteries, military textile manufactures started integrating power and data distribution via USB2.0 technology inside the fabric in order to centralizes the power source and eliminate excess cables and the need for soldiers to carry a supply of batteries (“SWaP Shop: Future,” 2015). The use of plastic optical fiber in e-textiles gives the added benefits of higher bandwidth, protection against electromagnetic interference (EMI), is more resistant to nicks, and can be repaired easily by melting back together the fiber in the field. Antennas are also able to be sewn into the LBE to help reduce the soldiers signature and increase their mobility (Winterhalter et al., 2005).


Field Study- FELIN

There is only one FFW system that can be considered in full production: FELIN (Valpolini, 2012). The French Army’s Fantassin àÉquipmenent et Liaisons INtégrés (Infantryman with Integrated Equipment and Links) FELIN soldier can be described as a digital integrated suite that was designed to enhance the dismounted soldier’s capabilities in terms of “precision, day/night combat, intelligence, and individual and collective self-protection.” 17 French Army regiments have been equipped with the FELIN system so far, with a total of 18,552 FELIN systems to be in the field by 2019. The system is based around the French Army’s SitComDé (Système d’Information Terminal- Combattant Débarqué) battle management system. SitComDé combines both geolocation awareness and Blue Force Tracking with real-time video streams of infrared images being transmitted by optical gunsights and other optical sensors include multifunction binoculars (“SWaP Shop: Future,” 2015).

One of FELIN’s primary advantages is its modular architecture. Soldiers are able to adapt the system to handle alternative communication solutions and swap between operational software that can be tailored to different missions or for different individual assignments. The vest is based around a “modular pocket concept” where all the subsystems (helmet, sights, weapons, radios, sensors) are able to be interconnected through wires sewn into the pockets (Valpolini, 2012).

Another advantage of FELIN would be the increased situational awareness that is given to the soldier through the soldier’s helmet mounted display (HMD). The FELIN equipped soldier is able to see information coming in from the SitComDé BMS, images being captured by the night vision camera on the soldier’s helmet, and the video being captured by the camera built into the the optics on the soldier’s weapon system. The soldier is then able to send video directly to other soldiers in the field or the commanders back at base through the SitComDé. They are also able to use the camera mounted on their weapon to see around corners and accurately engage targets without exposing themselves to incoming fire. Instead of using microphones mounted to a headset, voice commands are fed into the system through an ostephone inside the helmet that uses bone vibrations instead of sound waves. This system has been found to be more effective in noisy environments, perfect for the battlefield. The soldier’s weapon has also been modified with a push-button panel on the stock to allow the user to switch between sighting options and communication systems without having to take their weapon off target (Curlier, 2004).

The first live-fire training conducted with the French FELIN system was done at the Otterburn training ground outside of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. There, the British and French Armed Forces conducted live-fire exercises between the 5th Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland (5 SCOTS) and the FELIN-equipped 8e Régiment de parachutistes d’infanterie de marine (8e RPIMa), part of the French Army’s 11e Brigade parachutuste. During the five-day exercise, attacks were made both day and night, by both the visiting and hosting armies with the goal of preparing for future deployments to Afghanistan for both the French and English (Pengelley, 2012). The FELIN system impressed both sides, with the only complaints about the system being relatively heavy weight and relatively shorter battery life when being deployed in the field. Soldiers were quick to learn that they needed to pay close attention to energy management and shut down different parts of the system that were not in use (Forkert, 2012).



Field Study- TALOS

The US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) is responsible for the “most adventurous future soldier technology currently in development,” the Tactical Light Operator Suit (TALOS). The purpose of the TALOS program is to provide maximum protection to Special Operations soldiers, while focusing on mobility and situational awareness. According to former USSOCOM boss, Admiral Bill McRaven, increasing the protection of operators that are storming buildings and compounds was to be the primary objective of the TALOS project (SWaP shop: Future, 2015).

The TALOS program began in 2013 in response to the number of Special Forces operators lost while storming buildings and compounds in Iraq and Afghanistan. Operators were blaming the majority of losses on incoming enemy fire directed towards the “Fatal Funnel” created when operators first encounter a choke point caused by a limited number of entry points. The first generations of TALOS aimed at providing ballistic protection against small arms fire, up to 7.62mm ammunition(caliber used by the AK-47 platform), and increased the coverage of the armor by upwards of 44% in comparison with currently armor options (White, 2014).

Along with improving ballistic protection, operators requested a host of integrated electronics to provide mission-critical C4ISTAR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Information/Intelligence, Surveillance, Targeting Acquisition and Reconnaissance) while operating in an dismounted capacity. To aid in this, TALOS designers have developed motorcycle-style combat helmet that allows for operators to clip on different mission modules to customize their suit for the mission at hand. The mission modules include sensors for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosives (CBRNE) and biometric recording and recognition, along with target acquisition and identification, navigation aids, and image intensification and thermal imaging. In a recent NATO study that examined future military operating environments in which the enemy is mostly comprised of unarmored and untrained guerrilla soldiers, it was determined that the greatest improvements to combat effectiveness will come from improved situational awareness and from an increase in the ability to acquire targets with weapon sights and optical sensors (“SWaP Shop: Future,” 2015).

Another module new to the battlefield is the Boomerang Warrior-X. Developed by the Raytheon Company, Boomerang is a soldier-mounted detection system that uses a wrist display that provides the soldier with the range and azimuth of incoming fire. Boomerang is also wired into the soldier’s communication gear to notify both the soldier and the BMS to a change in position of the threat as it moves and continues to fire. Boomerang uses an array of small microphones to detect and measure the muzzle blast and supersonic shock wave caused by incoming supersonic projectiles. Since each microphone in the array hears the sounds at different times, the system is able to tell the soldier where the fire originated (Prêt-à-porter: Military, 2015). The British have been working on a similar system called QinetiQ that is able to also identify the origin of incoming fire, but QinetiQ uses low-power Short Wave Infrared (SWIR) technology working between 900nm and 1,700nm to more accurately identify incoming fire out to greater ranges (“SWaP Shop: Future,” 2015).

With the increased weight in both armor and electronics, TALOS designers are looking at incorporating an exoskeleton to reduced the added strain on the soldier. The goal of the exoskeleton is to allow the soldier to walk greater distances, reduce the amount of fatigue caused by the extra weight, and to minimize the risk of injury to muscles and joints. TALOS engineers are examining Lockheed Martin’s unpowered, or passive,  FORTIS system for inspiration. As Donaldson observed, the FORTIS systems consists of a “stiff pelvic belt that transfers heavy loads to the ground through jointed legs that allow the wearer to walk normally” (Donaldson, 2014). Future versions of TALOS are expected to use a powered exoskeleton system that not only reduce the strain of the soldier, but will increase the wearer’s strength.

Along with the weight of increased armor, more electronics, and the incorporation of a powered exoskeleton, the bigger problem has become providing sufficient power for the entire system to operate over extended periods of time. Anthony Davis, the director of science and technology at USSOCOM, has figured that a powered exoskeleton, supporting 500-600 points of armor, electronics, and gear, would require 3-5 kilowatts of power to power the system for a 12-hour period and “currently, there is nothing available man-packable that can provide that kind of power” (Magnuson, 2015).