The soldier's perspective
New missile defense tech delivers a 3-D view for speed and accuracy
When it comes to missile defense, there's a simple rule: You can’t stop what you can’t see.
The U.S. Army has an answer it calls battlefield situational awareness. Real-time, radar data, presented clearly, concisely and in an advanced visual style that's easy to understand, can make the difference between life and death.
There is command and control technology for the Patriot® missile defense system that makes this possible: a warfighter machine interface, or WMI, and simply put, it's the way that data is shown on screens. Raytheon is transforming WMI from black and white blips and pixilated shapes into a vibrant, 3-D-based interface with graphics that rival a modern-day video game. And it's being rapidly developed, thanks to a unique partnership between the engineers advancing the tech and the soldiers whose lives will depend on it.
“We’re bringing in soldiers [of varying levels of experience] much earlier in the process, we’re putting them on the machines and they’re giving us feedback on what they like or don’t like,” said Bob Kelley, a senior manager at Raytheon's Integrated Defense Systems business. “They’re giving us suggestions on what would allow them to more clearly understand the battlespace that they’re looking at.”
The new user interface provides a total view of that battlespace, with 3-D visuals, easy-to-read status pages and search functions. Before, operators would have to memorize where hundreds of different types of information were stored in the system. Now they can perform a simple search using modern, drop-down menus. Less time learning how to run the system means more time to master it for the real world.
“We go back to the development drawing boards, we make the changes, and two to three months later we’ll get with them again, show them how we implemented their recommendations and get more feedback,” Kelley said. “This will streamline operational training for all of our Patriot users around the world; it will take far less time to raise a new soldier’s level of proficiency to a point where they can operate Patriot in combat.”
The WMI changes also reflect a mix of of gaming and personal computing technologies, said Joe DeAntona, a Raytheon vice president who once commanded a Patriot battalion in the U.S. Army. Advances in game technology, from controls to information sharing, tactics and visuals, can be used to quicken and improve decisions that are needed for missile defense.
“Young recruits grew up in the gaming age, giving them an instant familiarity with these advancements,” DeAntona said. “The threat has gotten pretty sophisticated, too, so when you’re decision-making with the system, it allows much greater detail, much more inclusiveness, because you’ve got to be able to process everything in a timely manner.”
The Army decided earlier this year to field WMI across Patriot – all 60 fire units and 15 battalion headquarters -- at both the battalion- and battery-level command and control. The intention is for the United States Forces Korea to be the first to get the upgrades in 2020. The rest of the Army will begin implementation in 2022.