The designator will be integrated with the Marine Corps' planning for a target location, designation, and hand-off system (TLDHS) that, integrated with a USMC-standard rugged laptop computer, will provide digital targeting messages to the Navy's shipboard fire-control system.
The Marine Corps and the Army signed a memorandum of agreement in mid-1997 for joint development and funding of the designator-rangefinder. The joint program office, run by the Army's Night Vision Laboratory at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, awarded the engineering, manufacturing, and development contract to Litton in July 1997. The designator-rangefinder itself meets joint requirements, but the Marine Corps is developing its own target-location and hand-off capability.
Digital messages from forward observers to fire-support weapons, which include artillery, close air support aircraft, and Navy shipboard guns and missiles, should render obsolete in practice a technique already obsolete in principle: the use of voice communications by artillery forward observers and forward air controllers to communicate calls for fire.
The NFCS system is planned for Arleigh Burke (DDG-51)-class Aegis destroyers, starting with the USS Sir Winston Churchill (DDG-81), and Ticonderoga (CG-47)-class Aegis cruisers (CGs-52 through -73), which will go through a planned cruiser modernization program. Funding for 12 of the cruisers has been approved so far.
Both NFCS and the TLDHS will incorporate lessons learned in the ongoing series of fleet battle experiments now being managed by the newly established Maritime Battle Center. In October, Ticonderoga -class Aegis cruisers from the Kitty Hawk (CV-63) battle group tried out an NFCS prototype called the land-attack warfare system in Fleet Battle Experiment Delta, held in Korean waters. The system, hosted on Pentium-based workstations that run the Windows NT operating system, traces its joint-service roots to an Army system, the automated deep-- operations coordination system (ADOCS), now fielded as the "go-to-war" system for Army units in Korea. During the experiment, the land-attack warfare system's prototype evaluated a range of naval fire-control control functions, including fire-support, weapons-target pairing, and management of interfaces to the Army and Marine Corps advanced field artillery tactical data system. The system evaluated conceptual firings, from an upgraded Mark 45 mod 4 five-inch shipboard deck gun, of both conventional five-inch Navy shells and of the extended-range guided munition (ERGM) projectile. Raytheon TI Systems is developing the ERGM for the naval surface fire support program. United Defense is developing the upgunned Mark 45 gun, which went through a successful demonstration firing at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren, Virginia, in December. Navy officials say that those systems, along with the NFCS, represent the core Navy surface fire support program.
The Army ADOCS, which consists of a server and about 50 individual stations or nodes, evolved from Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency efforts in the early 1990s. It then was enhanced through an advanced concept technology demonstration called counter multiple rocket launch, aimed at providing strike-weapons control for the Korean area of operations.
For the first of two phases planned for NFCS, Interactive Television Inc., which developed the ADOCS software, will produce on a sole-source basis the software documentation needed for government configuration management. The NSFS program office will run a competition next year to award a second-phase contract for development of a production system.
Meanwhile, the Marines plan to buy 442 of the LLDRs on the Army contract. To provide the target location and hand-off capability, the Corps will equip forward observers and forward air controllers with a Marine Corps laptop computer fitted with a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver.
Marine Corps tactical radios will provide the communications link to artillery batteries, forward air controllers, and Navy ships offshore. The program will buy the computers through an omnibus contract with Tadiran of Israel; Engineering and Professional Services of Tinton Falls, New Jersey, is teamed with Tadiran and will integrate the military GPS code (non-U.S. companies are not permitted access to the military code).