ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- The Marine Corps has partnered with Army researchers again to overhaul tactical multimedia capabilities that support its information operation activities overseas. Building upon prior successful collaboration, the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command's communications-electronics center, or CERDEC, is working closely with the Marine Corps Combat Camera Program, or COMCAM, to update the Tactical Imagery Production System, or TIPS, to make the most of significant technology advancements.
After a successful interim program review hosted by CERDEC's Command, Power and Integration Directorate, or CP&I, in April, the project is set to deliver the first new TIPS to the Marines in June. TIPS processes raw imagery and video collected from the tactical battlefield by the COMCAM teams to provide intelligence and situational awareness data to the Marine Expeditionary Force Combat Commander for command and control decision making. The system provides commanders with timely imagery and multimedia products which facilitate operational analysis, planning, training and documentation. Further contributing to the Marine Corps' ability to achieve and maintain information dominance, TIPS is also a hub for the consolidation of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information, serving as a source of accurate, actionable intelligence for the commander.
In 2005, CERDEC CP&I outfitted 13 TIPS for the Marine Corps. Eight years later, the first TIPS has returned to CERDEC CP&I to be updated with advancements in technology that have evolved since 2005. "We are taking the old TIPS and gutting it completely," said Jack Ruroede, CERDEC CP&I TIPS team lead. "Everything will be smaller and lighter. More importantly, [the new] TIPS will have a smaller footprint, meaning it will use less power. It's going to end up being much cheaper [to run in theater]." CERDEC CP&I's Prototype Integration Facility, or PIF, specializes in the integration of Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, or C4ISR, technologies across various platforms, and the in-house capabilities offered in the PIF cut program costs and turnaround time, attracting multiple customers like the Marines, Ruroede said. In 2009, CERDEC collaborated with the Marine Corps on an additional project for a calibration facility, or CALFAC, which involved the integration of complex, precise calibration instruments into a new facility, similar to the TIPS project.
"CERDEC is very familiar with what TIPS needs to be able to accomplish," said Gunnery Sgt. Ernest Hagewood, a program analyst for Combat Camera. "CERDEC'S ability to provide support ranges from technical, engineering, fabrication, installation and testing--they are able to provide expert advice as well as making themselves available to meeting our needs."
The PIF provides equivalent service to Army customers such as Program Manager Warfighter Information Network -- Tactical, Program Executive Office Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors and Special Operations Command, said Joe Ryan, CERDEC CP&I Prototype, Integration and Testing division chief.
The 2005 iteration of TIPS consisted of three ISO units, two of which contained the functional pieces of TIPS while the third contained support equipment. The new TIPS will be contained to just one ISO unit, allowing for the creation of two new TIPS for every one original.
The new TIPS houses commercial-off-the-shelf products that reflect vast technology advancements since the original TIPS design almost a decade ago. These include cutting edge video editing equipment and software, all-in-one color printers that also scan and copy, a large scale poster printer and scanner, a National Security Agency certified shredder and other multimedia equipment.
The CERDEC TIPS development team is made of engineers from the PIF along with engineers from CERDEC's Space and Terrestrial Communications Directorate, or S&TCD, who provide the networking and configuration expertise. As potential equipment is identified, the S&TCD engineers verify that the equipment will meet the system requirements. They also provide field support for TIPS from S&TCD labs, which maintains a subset of the TIPS equipment. This teaming has proven successful not only with both versions of TIPS but with many other projects as well, Ryan said. New advances in technology cut down on both space requirements and energy costs. Special LED light fixtures will use longer-lasting light bulbs that can also safely use non-LED bulbs if they are unavailable. The new printers and computers are more efficient, further cutting energy consumption. "The biggest energy savings comes from the use of the new [environmental control unit] ECU," Hagewood said. "The old ECU drew almost twice as much power than the newer version. Additionally, because we are reducing the number of shelters per system, we are further reducing the energy consumption by 50% right from the start." TIPS is also an on-the-move capability. The unit is condensed by two-thirds for travel between locations. Various components like light fixtures and electrical wiring can be easily removed and reattached to the walls, as the outer walls of the unit collapse, and the remaining appliances like printers and shredders fit, when pushed together, within one-third of the normal operating space. "This redesign will lighten our impact on Marine Air Ground Task Force to maintain operational tempo, gain intelligence and enhance decision making within command and control functions at all war fighting levels," Hagewood said. This is in accordance with the USMC Commandant's Planning Guidance released in 2010, calling for the continued and improved ability to execute distributed operations, provide command and control, and conduct persistent engagement missions while allowing the USMC to operate lighter and faster through reduced energy consumption.
To ensure all updates are practical, CERDEC CP&I engineers are in constant communication with COMCAM Marines who will be using the updated TIPS. Weekly phone calls ensure the end users will find each aspect of the design useful and better than before.
"This is one of the beautiful things about this program," Ruroede said. "We get early input from the end user as we're developing it, rather than deploying it and finding out its impractical."
Small changes have been made to the program as a direct result of this continued dialogue between CERDEC engineers and COMCAM Marines. A specific video-editing keyboard has replaced a traditional computer keyboard, giving Marines the option to more easily maneuver video footage, frame by frame. The new TIPS will also have a more effective cooling system, said Hagewood. Previously, TIPS had an unbalanced cooling system that resulted in a significant temperature difference on either side of the unit. Based on requests from the Marines, TIPS will distribute air more efficiently.
The original plan called for Mac computers, but has been changed to PCs in order for TIPS to connect to the greater Marine Corps network.
"The original TIPS didn't connect to the network," Ruroede said. "We are doing our due diligence to make sure the new TIPS passes all certifications in order to be connected to the wider network, making it even more useful to the Marines."
The redesign began in October of last year. Based on the current schedule, the first of the new TIPS will be delivered to the Marines in June of this year and the second in September, with the intent that all TIPS would return to CERDEC between 2014 and 2020 to be updated.