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US: Prophet Rushed to the Field For Intelligence Collection

by Elizabeth G. BookNational Defense Magazine
April 1st, 2002

 

The Army's tactical signals-intelligence and electronic-warfare system, the Prophet, has undergone a faster-than-planned development cycle, in order to meet operational needs in Afghanistan. The systems in the field today are not the full "100 percent solution," officials said, but they provide a sound foundation for the Army to plan future upgrades.

 

 The Prophet's 7-meter collapsible signals-intercept antenna mast is mounted on a Humvee truck, so it can travel with a brigade or platoon, providing it "organic" communications intelligence. It was conceived to give commanders a comprehensive, near-real-time picture of enemy electronic emitters on the battlefield. It can intercept radio communications, for example, and provide data about the location of the enemy.

 

 The Prophet represents "the beginning of a new way of doing tactical or communications intelligence," and replaces technology that is more than four decades old, said Col. Kevin Peterson, systems manager for the Army's Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), who is overseeing the Prophet project.

 

 "We are moving away from everyone listening to the internals and trying to find that golden nugget of information," he said. Instead, the Army is focusing on identifying "lines of bearing," which pinpoint the location of the emitter. The Army then can identify the type of emission and make decisions based on that knowledge, such as whether to engage or avoid the enemy.

 

 In June, the Army unveiled the first two production models of Prophet Block I, during a ceremony on Capitol Hill.

 

 Block I can pick up signals from unencrypted push-to-talk radios. The frequency range varies. "Mounted (inside the vehicle) is 20-2000 MHz, and dismounted is 2-2000 MHz," Peterson said.

 

 Commanders always appreciate the availability of more intelligence on the battlefield, he said. "These commanders don't know what they don't know yet. They haven't had good tactical intelligence in more than 10 or 15 years. We are about ready to open their eyes."

 

 "The system has been in Afghanistan and it works," said Ronald Gorda, senior vice president of Titan Systems, the prime contractor for Prophet Block I. "One system is with a unit right now in the current operations, and we are getting four more ready for another contingency," he said.

 

 By November 2003, the plan is to field 83 Block I Prophets. The top priority now is to equip the Army's two experimental Stryker brigades, Peterson said. These units are scheduled to receive Prophet in September and October.

 

 The Army spent approximately $14 million on research, testing and evaluation of Block I, said Prophet's program manager, Lt. Col. Bill Stevenson. The cost per unit is $300,000, he said.

 

 Prophet is more mobile than previous electronic reconnaissance and monitoring systems, Peterson said. "This is the first time we've fielded tactical intelligence assets that are a direct support to a brigade," he said. "Because this information is being fed to the brigade commander, it gives that commander a quicker reaction time," he said.

 

 The Prophet's antenna mast can go up or down in 90 seconds.

 

 "It gives the commander the agility, the flexibility and the versatility to go after the battle space," he said. Also, fewer people are needed to run the Prophet than it took to run the older system. "We reduced the footprint at least by 30 percent in both equipment and people," he said.

 

 Before Titan was selected to build Prophet Block I, the Army used the Foreign Comparative Testing Program to determine if the technology it sought was available in other nations. The Army spent approximately $500,000 to test signals-intelligence subsystems made by Thales, from the United Kingdom; by Tadiran Electronics, from Israel and by Midas, from Canada.

 

 "We found that the capability exists, but it doesn't meet our requirements in terms of size, weight and power," said Stevenson. Existing capabilities require too much space to comfortably fit on the Humvee, "which is a smaller envelope," he said.

 

 Prophet Blocks II and III

 

 The Prophet Blocks II and III will have more advanced capabilities for intercept and more sophisticated countermeasures. They also will allow the vehicles to operate in a network and relay data to the future Objective Force Warrior, Peterson said. Block II will focus on electronic attack, while Block III will have upgraded electronic support, said Stevenson.

 

 "The intent of the future Army is for that brigade or unit of action commander to decide when to act, and when to not act. …So if he doesn't want to engage the enemy, he doesn't have to. He can move around the enemy. Before, our concept has been 'you engage the enemy and you move around as you're engaging.' We don't do that anymore," Peterson said.

 

 "Block I gives us enhanced capability of extended frequency range. If we don't get a good reception, we can quickly move it to another location," Peterson said. He explained that the current legacy systems involve a more arduous process: "Stop, erect an antenna, and if it doesn't fit you bring it down again, losing a good half-hour," he said.

 

 Block I is quieter that the existing systems. "We don't have a generator that you can hear at night. They are just [running] off the battery of a vehicle, versus a high-pitched generator. You have to charge up the battery about every two to two and a half hours, but then all you do is turn the Humvee on and let it rev up," he said.

 

 One useful feature is the availability of a seat in the vehicle for a linguist. Linguists are absolutely necessary in current operations, he said. The Army currently has trouble trying to "marry up the right linguist, at the right location, at the right time," he said. "Now, even though the Prophet has a foresight for a linguist, it doesn't need that linguist, to be effective," he said.

 

 "If we have the linguist, and the communications are not encrypted, which is the case for Block I, then the linguist provides a value-added to the Prophet for the brigade," he said.

 

 More importantly, the Prophet can detect when and where people are transmitting at a given frequency at a particular location, he added. Prophet operators can take the information, "decipher what kind of unit it is, and the brigade commander can either act upon it (the intelligence), or move away from it. It gives the brigade commander a situational awareness he has never seen before," Peterson said.

 

 "The philosophy of this program has been to get something out in the field, quick, let the soldier use it, and then build upon it. We have come a long ways from concept to test to production within two years. … Then we are going to field it in two years. We are going to have this whole process done in 4 to 5 years, and that has never been done in the Army.

 

 "Another big thing Block I did was go from tactical legacy pieces that are in shelters to ones that are mounted on a Humvee, so you can do [everything] on the move. You can be listening to what is going on if you have convoy support."

 

 During a training exercise in Fort Polk, La., the Prophet was providing convoy support. It was listening to the communications of the enemy. "They found out they had eyes on that convoy and were about ready to do a fire mission. He alerted the commander, and avoided the ambush or artillery order, whatever it was," said Peterson.

 

 "In Block I to some extent, but Block II and III are going to have very open architecture, software programmable, … plug-in plug-out. Block I has duct tape and Velcro, strapping it in there," he said.

 

 Being able to pick up advanced signals, such as cellular phone communications, is in the Prophet's initial operational requirement document, but that capability was not reached for Block I, Peterson said.

 

 Blocks II and III funding is estimated at $20 million over fiscal years 2003 and 2004, said Stevenson. The contract for Blocks II and III, which will be worked on simultaneously, is expected to be awarded by December, with initial operational test and evaluation completed by July 2004. The first unit will be equipped by August 2005, he said.

 

 In Blocks II and III, "We are going to start technology insertion to include measurement and signature intelligence stuff," said Peterson.

 

 The idea is for the Prophet to become a multi-sensor platform, not to just perform communications intelligence, so you have a multi-spectral look at the battle space, he said. "You have some unattended sensors out here to give you that multi-spectral look of the ground and what is going on."

 

 Peterson explained that even the initial improvements in signal intelligence were so important to the Army, that the program office was urged to get Prophet Block I to the battlefield quickly, even if Block I didn't have every desired capability.

 

 "We wanted [to reach] an 80 percent solution and slowly work to that 100 percent solution," he said. "We will probably never get that 100 percent solution, because radios are progressing so quickly. That is why you use technology insertion to go after that delta between what you can do today and what you have to do tomorrow in another operation."

 

 The Prophet being fielded at Fort Lewis, Wash., will be part of the Stryker brigade's Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition (RSTA) squadron. "They are using the Prophet information coupled with the ground surveillance radar and the unattended sensors," Peterson said. "They are cueing other sensors, particularly the Hunter Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). …That has never been done before at this level of the Army. Even though we have not fielded it yet to the big Army, we have seen big benefits already. Our new concept is kind of, half-way, working," he said. This technology is "helping the brigade commander to think quicker and be quicker than the enemy's decision cycle," Peterson said.

 

 Prophet operators use a laptop computer to monitor all three receivers (the driver's seat, the passenger seat, and the back linguist's seat) at the same time. "You get more capability out of the system than you can with just one screen," he said. 





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