A new mission management software programme is delivering one much sought-after military prize – the fusing together of multiple sensor feeds to create a single common operating picture (COP).
Known as the Minotaur Track Management and Mission Management software suite, the system integrates and fuses sensor data information while allowing multiple platforms to share networked information.
Developed by Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Minotaur has been installed on a myriad of ships and aircraft across the US Coast Guard, Navy and Department of Homeland Security.
As the system is based on a government-owned, open architecture, Minotaur has been able to be fielded without restrictions across multiple DoD and DHS platforms that previously may not have had access to networked data and a COP.
‘It's that integration of sensors and data to provide a comprehensive common operating picture across the board that’s cutting-edge,’ explains Aneesh Kothari, vice-president of marketing for Systel, Inc, which provides hardware solutions for the Minotaur programme.
‘If you're the US Navy or the US Coast Guard you've got numerous platforms – rotary and fixed-wing aircraft, submarines and ships. A common framework software and hardware combination allows large amounts of disparate data sets to be networked together, allowing allied ships and aircraft to view a common operating picture and enabling total situational awareness.'
According to the US Customs and Border Protection, which has installed Minotaur on its Multi-Role Enforcement Aircraft (MEA) Super King Air 350ER, linking sensors, cameras, radar and communications equipment into a single, more automated system allows operators to more efficiently identify and track any suspicious or illegal activity on both land and sea.
‘Among Minotaur’s important features, operators can replay anything on the screen and returning crews can show the next crew exactly what they accomplished and where to continue the reconnaissance. With the current software, that information is lost as soon as the equipment is shut down. Through a satellite link, Minotaur provides text communications, an especially useful feature because of aircraft noise. Unlike radio, the link doesn’t require a line-of-sight signal,’ states the agency.
Minotaur has been fielded on numerous platforms across multiple domains throughout the US DoD, including P-8A Poseidon, P-3/EP-3 Orion, HC-130J Super Hercules, HC-144 Ocean Sentry, HC-27J Spartan, MEA King Air, and MH-60 Seahawk aircraft, Littoral Combat Ship (LCS)-based ground control stations supporting the MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned autonomous helicopter and other surface ships. It is also the underlying software backbone for the Pentagon’s Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based Project Maven initiative.
In March 2019, the US Coast Guard announced it had received its ninth HC-130J Super Hercules long range surveillance aircraft equipped with the Minotaur mission system suite. The aircraft was also outfitted with the Coast Guard-specific integrated radar, sensors and communication systems in a process called missionisation, after which the aircraft was redesignated an HC- 130J.
The previous month, the Coast Guard transferred its fourth missionised HC-144B Ocean Sentry medium range surveillance aircraft into the fleet, also installed with the Minotaur system.
In support of Minotaur’s fielding, Systel provides rugged, SWaP-2C, high-performance servers, which feature edge-computing processing power fully integrated into a rugged, compact system, designed for mission-critical applications in extreme environments.
Specifically engineered for the immense video and data-intensive processing demands of Minotaur platforms, Systel's rugged servers support ISR and ASW missions on a variety of aircraft and ground control stations. In April 2018 Systel was selected to supply its servers in support of the US Navy Naval Air Systems Command MQ-8C Fire Scout programme.
The company also hosted the inaugural Minotaur User Group Summit (MUGS) in October 2018 bringing together key government, industry, and technology experts for two days of peer-information exchange, key program briefings, and networking all around the conference theme of “Solving the Mazes of Tomorrow.”
‘Each platform application user has a specific requirements set and needs a specific hardware configuration. Working closely with our technology partners, we integrate commercial-off-the-shelf technology into custom hardware systems, creating a purpose-built high-performance computing solution for each user,’ Kothari says.
With today’s sensors capable of collecting increasing amounts of high definition data, designing the hardware able to meet the data processing demands in a ruggedized, SWaP-optimised package is a significant challenge.
‘The Minotaur software suite is incredibly data intensive. We design and configure our systems with the capability to ingest immense amounts of raw data, and process, exploit, and disseminate it at real-time speeds. The amount of processing horsepower and throughput required is significant and the mission requirements call for fully rugged, SWaP-optimized systems.
‘We are able to support the wide-ranging Minotaur platform demands through robust configuration management and purpose-built, engineered rugged solutions. Systel is bringing data-centre performance to the forward edge with hardened, tactical computing for Minotaur program success.’
Systel will be presenting its next-generation rugged computing solutions in Booth #2147 at the 2019 Sea-Air-Space Conference May 6-8, 2019