A mobile app to record data for Naval divers. Graph-theoretical models as tools to fight propaganda and misinformation. A flock of 20 drones—operated by just one pilot.
These are just some of the projects keeping scientists at Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic (SSC Atlantic) on the cutting edge of science and technology (S&T) research. SSC Atlantic’s mission is to provide information warfare solutions to warfighters. Whether those solutions end up looking like a mobile app or a remote-controlled flock of drones, SSC Atlantic scientists continue to deliver.
“The command has already strategically aligned several key S&T departments to enhance facilitation of technology transitions and leverage programs like Joint Capability Technology Demonstrations for accelerating the delivery of capability,” said Dr. Scott Batson, S&T Lead Manager, Office of Naval Research and Advanced Technology Research Business Units at SSC Atlantic.
“Through these opportunities, professional development, and an active recruitment strategy, we are building a strong competency of operationally-minded researchers capable of conceiving and developing critical technologies that will be essential to maintaining information superiority,” said Dr. Batson.
A Mobile App for Divers
That’s what one project, Automated Dive Profile Data Transmission and Synchronization (Auto-DPTS), aims to do.
Through its mobile app called Scuba Binary Dive Application (SBDA) 100, naval divers can log and record dive profile information digitally on a tablet. Before SBDA 100, dive supervisors or the person logging the dive would fill out a form or write down dive information on a piece of paper, a process that’s not ideal in wet and potentially windy conditions.
Four years ago, Scott Brodeur, Force Master Diver for the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, asked himself if that process could be improved for the operators, who at the end of a long day on the boat have to come back and manually fill out all the paperwork that goes along with diving. “Looking at all the man hours it takes to log dives, it just seemed like something we could do better,” said Brodeur.
Now, divers can streamline the tedious logging process—which includes packing binders full of paper onto the boat—with a simple digital tablet that provides a structured profile for logging dives. And that’s not all.
“Our app also does Navy dive computer extraction of data and time series information,” said La’Keisha Williams, Scientist and Principal Investigator for the Auto-DPTS program at SSC Atlantic. “It also automatically uploads into the DJRS system, which is the Dive and Jump Reporting System.”
SBDA 100 is intended to benefit Navy divers around the world, specifically those who do surface-supplied diving and scuba diving, by alleviating the administrative burden of logging dives. This streamlining of processes helps divers focus more on other parts of the job like training Sailors, getting them dive-certified, planning dives, and diving itself.
Another SSC Atlantic project, REDHAWK, uses a software-defined radio (SDR) framework to support the development, deployment, and management of real-time software radio applications. Applications developed under the REDHAWK framework are 100 percent government owned, free, open source and scalable.
One such REDHAWK application, developed by SSC Atlantic Electrical Engineer Justin Sellers, receives and processes aircraft beacons.
“REDHAWK enables the rapid development and deployment of Software Defined Radio capabilities,” said Sellers.
Applications developed under the SDR framework are compatible with many different hardware products and allows for more efficient rapid prototyping, code generation and testing. REDHAWK’s integrated development environment also provides tools to support the development of REDHAWK software by, for example, allowing users to interact with and control multiple running REDHAWK applications.
Sellers and his SSC Atlantic colleagues also assist the Navy and Marine Corps with REDHAWK adoption through the Military REDHAWK Center of Excellence by aiding in the acquisition process and providing software development training.
“REDHAWK applications benefit the warfighter by giving them reusable signal processing algorithms to perform mission function,” said Sellers. “This allows speed to capability and cost savings. Additionally, it allows programs to then invest realized cost savings in platform and mission-specific tailoring.”
Drone Swarm Technology
In the realm of autonomous technology, SSC Atlantic makes piloting drones safer for Marines by requiring less manpower to pilot more assets. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions for more than a decade, but not without a human operator at the helm, guiding the vehicle’s every move from the control room.
But for the SSC Atlantic Unmanned Systems Research (SAUSR) Range Team, there’s no need for a one-to-one drone-to-operator ratio; there are dozens, or a “swarm,” of them per pilot, and that pilot’s primary role is backup support.
SSC Atlantic software developer D.J. Tyree explained drone swarms in the context of basketball. “Imagine you’re playing one on five. What can you do when you’re one guy, one asset, going up against five, or 50, or 100?” said Tyree. “You’ve got to increase your number of assets without increasing manpower. That’s where swarming comes in.”
Scalability, autonomy, cost-effectiveness and logistical agility are all tactical advantages to using unmanned drone swarms rather than popular, typically manned UAV models. And as drones become more commercially available, the cost to build them will be driven down.
“Current technology is a net reduction of force. If you want one drone in the air, it may take 10 people on the ground supporting it,” said SSC Atlantic mechanical engineer Chad Sullivan. “What we’re trying to do with swarming is achieve a net multiplication of force where you need less people than you have assets in the air.”
NATO Events and Exercises
It’s not always easy translating products in the lab into applications on the battlefield. That’s why SSC Atlantic’s participation in NATO events and exercises is crucial in transitioning their technology products for warfighter use. One SSC Atlantic project, Warfighter Experiment Design, will get its chance to shine at upcoming NATO event Trident Juncture 2018.
“Warfighter Experiment Design for Information Environment Assessment aims to gain an understanding of rumor, social hysteria propagation, and crowd manipulation and determine how social network analysis techniques and algorithms, along with emerging computational and social science techniques, may together be exploited to achieve desired effects in the online domain space,” said Michael Grass, Lead Researcher for Warfighter Experiment Design.
Warfighter Experiment Design is a set of appropriate, effective tools, techniques and procedures for assessing adversary activities within online platforms.
“Accelerated evaluation of the algorithms and tools, together with the development of appropriate, effective tools, techniques and procedures are key to getting on top of the rapidly evolving adversarial information campaigns that potentially threaten and undo mission objectives on the ground,” said Grass.
One such tool is TRACER, software based on mathematical algorithms designed to thwart the missions and proliferation of bots or botnets—networks of computers infected with malicious software and controlled by an external source without the users’ knowledge—by modeling their efforts in a graph theoretical structure called a competition graph (CG).
“These adversaries use social media in Information Warfare campaigns to spread misinformation, manipulate crowds, propagate social hysteria and cause group polarization,” said Grass.
TRACER analyzes large, complex, directed social networks of bots through CGs to provide an interpretation of current and novel graph-theoretical and social network analysis measures with the goal of identifying and combating trolls, bots, botnets and the organized spread of misinformation on social media and social networks.
“Our department bridges the gap between newly-available technologies and fielded programs,” said Chief Technology Officer Dr. Suzanne Huerth. “We are innovating tomorrow’s Navy today with a technical workforce and aligning our capabilities to the needs of the Navy.”
Through projects like these, SSC Atlantic’s Science and Technology department is focused on ensuring warfighters retain technological advantage on the battlefield today and well into the future.