NRL Researchers Develop Universal Communication Interface Module

5/3/2005 - 20-05r
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Researchers in the Space Systems Development Department (SSDD) at the Naval Research Laboratory have developed a standardized network design for the Marine Corps to accelerate the delivery of advanced technologies to the Fleet. The Universal Communication Interface Module (UCIM) is a team effort involving NRL, the Office of Naval Research, and the Marine Corps Systems Command's (MCSC) PM Communications. The objective of the UCIM project is to provide a standardized Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (C4I) network architecture that can be implemented across multiple Marine Corps (and Naval) platforms.

In early 2002, NRL's SSDD, led by Mr. Bob Eisenhauer, submitted a nomination that was competitively selected by the Assistant Secretary Navy, Research, Development, Acquisition (ASN (RDA)), the DASN (C4I) and the ASN (RDA) Chief Technology Transfer Officer (CTTO) as a significant combat multiplier that warranted rapid delivery to the Fleet.

The UCIM architecture provides a multitude of enhanced C4I capabilities by enabling network centric operations in ground and air command and control platforms. It integrates legacy radio and computer systems on a digital network, thereby reducing operator workload and allows control of multiple platform systems from a single position in any platform. Responding to lessons learned from Operation Iraqi Freedom, UCIM automates a number of command, control and communications functions currently accomplished manually. In addition, UCIM provides a flexible, open architecture for the integration of future technologies, including the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS). When implemented as a standard across multiple Marine Corps platforms, UCIM will standardize user interfaces to C4I resources, speed C4I operations and enhance staff decision-making operations while reducing training requirements and life cycle costs.

To provide a truly "universal" design, researchers began with extensive systems analysis to verify the path the Marine Corps was taking to implement its future digital battlefield C4ISR architecture in support of Expeditionary Maneuver Warfare (EMW), Operational Maneuver From the Sea (OMFTS) and Ship to Objective Maneuver (STOM). User juries were conducted with Marines who provided feedback as to how they wanted various communications, computer and C2 applications challenges resolved. This dynamic interaction allowed the NRL engineers to target their functional designs and integration to those needs. Technical interfaces studies were also conducted to identify the detailed architecture interfaces that would need to be controlled by the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)-driven, net-centric architecture.

The user juries and interface studies became the basis for determining the functionality that UCIM would have to provide and how those functions would be allocated to both hardware and software. The Rational Unified Process RUP, a set of software tools, was employed.

UCIM Use Case Development

Researchers used an object oriented approach to UCIM software development to derive the software requirements for the systems architecture. These requirements were allocated to use cases based upon an object oriented "user's" view of the UCIM system and its interfaces. Each of the "use cases" was defined using a standardized method and fed into the logical design synthesis to derive the software classes required for the UCIM system. The use cases were then refined with user scenarios to two levels to define categories of systems use.

Researchers set up a Systems Integration/Test Laboratory (SIL) at NRL. The net-centric architecture was established and as the functionality of either a hardware module or software was developed, it was brought to the SIL and tested, first individually and then collectively, and finally as part of the UCIM System-of-Systems comprising three platforms (i.e. the LAV-C2, the HMMWV and the UH-1N).

Functioning as an IP adapter, UCIM enables operator access to and control of all communications, RF cosite, computers, C2 applications, sensors and gateway assets in the system of systems UCIM network. The scalable, modular UCIM hardware/software directly supports implementation of platforms ranging from two-operator systems, to large, distributed systems with multiple platforms and hundreds of operators. UCIM-configured platforms have the advantages of being open standards based, providing interoperability with existing systems, and will enable future upgrades with minimum system impact. For instance, UCIM is specifically designed to seamlessly integrate the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) software definable radio.

What Is UCIM And What Does It Do?

UCIM is a collection of platform integration modules/components/functions that turn traditional stovepiped communications & computer products into digital net-centric, VoIP-driven C2 systems that fully support On-the-Move operations. These functions include:

  • common standard interfaces & components,
  • tremendous flexibility,
  • communications and data in standard IP network packets,
  • legacy and JTRS radios and hybrid combinations of both,
  • immediate platform system update with memory stick,
  • the operation of all radios from one location (BRC/Web),
  • communications between dissimilar RF spectra (cross-banding),
  • standard interfaces and communications spigots to plug in carry-on computers and radios,
  • additive radio nets when vehicles/platforms are linked together (enclave to enclave),
  • Web-based workstations using Windows - familiar commercial standards, and
  • reduced Operational C4I workload.

The scalable, integrated net centric UCIM system provides a common solution that can be tailored to a wide range of USMC and Navy C4I platforms, dramatically reducing development, production, deployment/support and future upgrade costs. More important, however, is the integrated access of voice, data and video C4ISR information that UCIM provides to the tactical forces, enabling a common tactical and operational understanding of the battlespace, and accelerated battle planning, command and decision making.

The Limited User Evaluation (LUE), conducted at Camp LeJeune/New River Marine Corps Air Station, NC, was the culmination of the UCIM development project. Through its design, development, fabrication, test and field demonstrations, the UCIM successfully manifested the values of a net-centric, VoIP-driven, object-oriented, open-architected network that significantly enhances warfighting command and control. It automatically manages numerous communications, encryption and computer functions and provides a collaborative environment that enhances command & staff planning, decision-making and execution - thus contributing directly to combat power.

A very successful demonstration was conducted for the Secretary of the Navy at Quantico. This was followed by the two-week training and field exercise at Camp LeJeune/New River Marine Corps Air Station. The exercise was conducted by a team of government personnel and contractors from NRL's Command Control Communications Computers and Intelligence Branch, and it was evaluated by ONR. Over 40 participants ranging in rank from lance corporal through colonel were able to run several operational scenarios in a day/night environment that demonstrated the On-the-Move command post functions of a battle staff, as well as at a short halt and when stationary. They operated the C4I suite in the HMMWV, the LAV-C2 and the UH-1.

At the conclusion of each phase, ONR conducted a detailed evaluation the UCIM. The evaluation was targeted at the measures of effectiveness and measures of performance set for the UCIM project. A summary of the results is shown below.

UCIM Limited User Evaluation Summary

ONR independently surveyed over forty USMC personnel at the LUE. The Marine evaluators strongly supported fielding this advanced capability on multiple USMC C2 platforms. Here are the results of the survey:

Measures Of Effectiveness (MOE)Average Score
Provide Standardized C4I Interface Across Multiple Platforms
Demonstrate Modularity, Scalability, Extensibility And Flexibility98.3%
Improve Marine Command And Control Operations98.4%
Improve Marine Communications Operations98.6%

As a result of the success of the UCIM project, MCSC has directed all of its C2 platforms to begin migrating to the UCIM architecture. This project is transitioning to the fleet and NRL's Space Systems Development Department is currently exploring the optimum system engineering/integration of UCIM onto various platforms.

Training and field exercises at Camp LeJeune/New River Marine Corps Air Station, NC.

Universal Communication Interface Module

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