Recently, the Holistic Situational Awareness and Decision Making (HAS-DM) team at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center got a unique opportunity to gain real-world experience and collect vital data that will be used to develop technologies for potential integration into the upcoming Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft and Future Long Range Assault Aircraft.
The team, based in ERDC’s Information Technology Laboratory, visited the General Dynamics Information Technology rotorcraft simulation training facility at Fort Rucker, Alabama for hands-on experience to use in their work to develop aircraft technologies.
“This was an invaluable experience,” said Dr. Alicia Ruvinsky of the ERDC Information Technology Laboratory, where the HAS-DM team is based. “The goal of my research is to understand how artificial intelligence can serve to effectively, optimally and seamlessly integrate into human cognitive processes to help people do better work. Though the simulation time was very informative for building awareness of the context of a rotorcraft pilot, the most critical part of this experience to my research was hearing firsthand from our instructor pilots about how they define situational awareness (SA) and how they describe how SA changes as the situation changes or as their experience changes.”
Working with flight instructors, the team participated in three simulation events, each with a specific objective: first, to identify data and information used and produced by pilot and co-pilot teams throughout phases of flight; second, to identify the flow of information between crew members, ground station and the aircraft; and third, to develop an understanding of operational SA and characteristics that distinguish processes and mechanisms relating to establishing, maintaining and regaining SA. Each simulation included both a pre-brief and an out-brief, discussions that were immensely valuable for planning simulation content and better understanding what the team observed during the experience.
“This experience provided me the opportunity to verify information that I had been collecting over the past several months through a series of pilot interviews,” said Dr. Cody Salter, who led the first objective. “As a researcher, being afforded the opportunity to verify results through a real-world experience was invaluable and really cool. Finally, and most importantly, the experience made the research real. I now understand why maintaining SA is so difficult and how easily you can become overwhelmed. This is why our research is so important and how it could save lives.”
“Watching and listening to the pilots interact with the aircraft displays and onboard and ground crew made it incredibly easy to identify the information flows throughout the phases of flights and during different tasks,” added LaKenya Walker, who led the second objective.
The HAS-DM effort has a projected timeline through Fiscal Year 2026 and the ITL team – brought on in January 2022 – is currently funded through June 2024 by the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation and Missile Center Technical Development Directorate. The overall goal is to create a computational, holistic SA decision-support capability to enable an optimal and manageable cognitive workflow for rotorcraft pilots, and the ITL team is specifically working to define and design a data environment to host SA data in a manner that enables fast, prioritized and efficient dissemination to human and/or computational analytic workflows.
“HSA-DM will improve combat mission performance of novice, overloaded, fatigued and injured Future Vertical Lift pilots and copilots by providing optimized task loading, thereby increasing warfighter lethality and survivability,” said Ruvinsky, who led the third and final objective during this recent simulation event. “This will improve the pilot/copilot’s ability to respond effectively to dynamic and hostile development in the operational space. The impact of the data environment is to support the identification and dissemination of relevant situational awareness data to the point of analytic need.”
Rapid technological advancement has ushered in a time of near-constant innovation for the Department of Defense (DOD), bringing both previously unimaginable progress and a marked increase in threats. Cybersecurity has emerged as a critical aspect of day-to-day DOD operations, and the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) Information Technology Laboratory (ITL) is home to a Security Control Assessor-Validator (SCA-V) team that is playing an integral role in securing vulnerable infrastructure and sensitive data.
“Cybersecurity work is important to almost every aspect and capability we have come to take for granted in today’s world,” said Kelly Hills, ITL SCA-V lead. “Cybersecurity is necessary to protect all categories and types of data from theft, damage and exploit, and without comprehensive safeguards in place and the ability to conduct third-party audits of these implemented mechanisms, data and systems could remain unknowingly at risk, which could be devastating to national security.”
ITL’s SCA-V team is one of only eight teams appointed by the U.S. Army Network Enterprise Technology Command Cyber Security Directorate to perform third-party Assessment and Authorization validations on U.S. Army systems to obtain and maintain an Authority to Operate. The group uses the Risk Management Framework – a required, comprehensive set of security regulations – to assess the management, operational and technical security controls and enhancements employed within an information system and determine overall effectiveness.
“We conduct these assessments on all types of information systems around the world, including systems that belong to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” said Hills. “Examples are hosting enclaves, the cloud, web and desktop applications, enterprise systems, simulation, training, tactical, and financial models and systems, to name a few. These assessments ensure security posture is maintained and data is kept safe from adversaries.”
Comprised of 16 members with a wide range of knowledge, expertise and certification, the ITL SCA-V team performs more than 100 assessments per year on average and was also recently responsible for conducting 36 assessments in Southwest Asia, traveling to multiple countries within a 12-month period. The group also has the ability to perform remote assessments, a process they created and documented in FY20 when faced with a COVID-19-related travel ban.
“As the premier DOD center engaged in creating and applying advanced information technology to support the Warfighter and the nation, ITL is uniquely suited for these efforts,” said Hills. “The SCA-V team is responsible for ensuring our nation’s information, and therefore our men and women in uniform, remain safe and secure. The team contributes to the ERDC mission by developing and delivering groundbreaking solutions to operational environments, continually finding new ways to ensure that the Army’s and DOD’s information systems remain secure.”