SSC announces “Fight Tonight” innovation competition winner
A proposal to create a standardized interface between the U.S. and allied partners to share data from the U.S. Space Force’s Unified Data Library was named the winner of Space Systems Command’s (SSC) second annual Fight Tonight innovation competition.
The winning idea, and two other finalists who will all receive funding for their projects, were announced Nov. 17 at the Space Force Ball at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, CA.
“SSC’s Fight Tonight program was designed to identify innovative thinking from our most valuable and brightest assets – our people,” explained Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein. “The submissions were amazing and the collaboration between our acquisition and operations professionals to vet each idea’s operational feasibility to get after the fight, is why the program is so successful.”
Sage Andorka, deputy branch chief and chief engineer, SSC Cross Mission Data, who represented the winning team at the event, said, “This win will ensure delivery of a much-needed data-sharing capability for our coalition partners. We can’t win alone.”
Military and civilian SSC personnel were eligible to participate. Proposals required actionable ideas that could be implemented in a one-year timeframe and being directly in line with the Field Command’s strategic intent to exploit the resources it has, tap the commercial marketplace to buy what is already available and build when a commercial or allied solution is not a viable option.
A total of 28 projects were submitted in August, and five of those were selected as finalists. Each proposal required the submitter(s) to align with an operations sponsor from Space Operations Command to validate that the proposed idea was operationally relevant. Up to $8 million in funding will be provided toward the winning idea. Ideas that were not selected were forwarded to SSC’s relevant Program Executive Offices for consideration to implement if funding can be secured from other sources.
“Under great power competition, it really becomes prudent upon us to make sure that we can credibly not only protect, defend and deter aggression, but if called upon, defeat it at a time and location of our choosing,” Guetlein told the finalists. “In order to do that, we can no longer rely on our old processes and ways of doing business, which could take months, if not years, to field a credible capability into operations.”
The Winner: Allied Exchange Environment (AXE)
AXE will create a standardized interface between the U.S. and any foreign allied partner for highly valuable, two-way operational data distribution. Leveraging the Unified Data Library’s (UDL) capabilities and cybersecurity best practices to reduce and/or eliminate current data sharing bottlenecks, AXE would be the first known capability for near real-time, bi-directional, machine-to-machine data sharing with international allies from the Secret UDL currently unavailable to partners.
The winning team was awarded $2.8M in FY24 to proceed with the development, installation, and software sustainment of the systems in support of Japan and Australia. The project is currently being tested using data from the Australian Space Surveillance Telescope, and the AXE environment can be seen on the DISA (Defense Information Systems Agency) network.
“(The USSF) wants to be ‘Allied by Design,’ and quite simply, the United States doesn’t have all of the space-based or ground-based sensors to watch everything,” said Lt. Col. Dan Kimmich, materiel leader, cross-mission data at SSC. “If we can get to a point where we are able to share space information – current known location, detection of a maneuver, or change in brightness of an object – in both directions to and from our allies, that may give us just enough advance notice so we can take the appropriate action.”
First Lt. Rebecca Miller, 24, program manager for the Commercial Space Office at SSC, presented her team’s idea: to use Aalyria Spacetime, a software-defined, dynamic network orchestration and resource allocation capability, to directly enhance warfighter communication.
The software essentially acts as a network “broker” – analyzing all possible networks for data and optimizing them based on weather, user requirements (such as latency or data rate), or malicious interference. The capability will provide the end user the ability to communicate with the future hybrid space architecture that does not exist today. The software could provide rapid access to sensor platforms and data, unify routing across disparate networks and administrative domains, and could seamlessly scale to provide operators at the SpOC Del 8 a software defined networking broadband communication capability across all orbital regimes and domains.
“I think the amount of responsibility we’re able to inherit (as part of the Space Force) is unique and definitely accelerates your growth as a leader,” Miller said. “Having to make decisions or lead efforts such as this demonstration really forces you to grow. The capability you’re pursuing is much greater than you, so focusing on doing what’s best for the Space Force, what’s best for the military, it’s important to remove your ego.”
DEEP-RF, or Data Exploitation and Enhanced Processing-Radio Frequency, another finalist, will fill a gap for a persistent, extended monitoring of the RF spectrum by leveraging commercial data from already fielded systems. DEEP-RF enables JCO to rapidly expand into Electromagnetic Spectrum Operations (EMSO) with our commercial, military, and international partners.
Through this innovation, the speed at which SSC would be able to put DEEP-RF into the hands of warfighters aligns with the U.S. Space Force goals for its new Integrated Mission Deltas for Position Navigation & Timing (PNT) and Electromagnetic Warfare (EW). Relationships with Combatant Commands, the Combined Space Operations Center (CSpOC), the Space Information Sharing & Analysis Center (Space ISAC), the Space Domain Awareness Tools Applications and Processing (TAP) Lab, SPACE CAMP, and Air Force Research Labs have enabled the team to jumpstart this project and accomplish in months what would previously have taken years.
DEEP-RF exploits existing commercial radiometric telemetry data and enables SSC to rapidly surge the number of contributing sensors without building or launching a single new spacecraft. This technology rapidly scales, leverages unclassified commercial data, and isn’t limited to space-based sensors – it is being developed in such a way that we can provide actionable and shareable EMSO products that can be fused with other sources for a more complete threat picture.
Last year’s “Fight Tonight” winner, Anita McCorvey, director of SSC’s Space Sensing Product Support Delta, presented two ideas as a finalist this year: Missile Warning Link 16 to AORs, and Multi-INT Data via MILSATCOM.
Missile Warning Link 16 to AORs (Areas of Responsibility)
Today, Tactical Data Links (TDLs) such as Link-16 are the primary means of exchanging tactical information between warfighting units. Data encryption and frequency hopping techniques ensure that Link 16 is both jam-resistant and secure. McCorvey’s innovation prepares Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) Missile Warning messages to be directly sent from SBIRS (Space Based Infrared System) Delta 4 to the AOR (Area of Responsibility) forces including ground, airborne, and sea-based air defense platforms and selected fighter aircraft in near-real time. By directly providing OPIR data to the theater platforms, the theater users would have immediate access to missile launches, impact point prediction and launch point detection data.
Existing Link-16 software used by the Australian Mission Processor (AMP) program today could be leveraged and implemented into the Enhanced SBIRS Operational Agile Response (ESOAR) within the Missile Warning Program of Record (POR) with very little time or cost.
Multi-INT Data via MILSATCOM
McCorvey’s second innovation submission proposes using non-OPIR data sources and sensors to significantly improve track custody resulting in improved missile warning, and missile defense, and situational awareness, during a conflict.
Multi-INT Data via MILSATCOM would improve system resiliency providing non-OPIR data from outside the continental U.S. to the continental U.S. if nominal terrestrial communication paths are unavailable. This allows non-OPIR intelligence (INT) data to be fused with OPIR data, significantly improving dim target track custody.
“In a contested environment, in the heat of battle, we need to ensure alternative lines of communication so we have mission and system resiliency,” McCorvey said. “By leveraging existing satellite communications to transmit time-sensitive data, we can improve resiliency of U.S. capabilities, increase collaboration among DoD and intelligence communities, and lean forward on mission enhancements to improve the fight.”
Help IC News continue to bring you breaking news from across the IC and IC contracting landscape. Join our paid subscribers today.