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Leonardo’s Combat Management System

Industry Leadership Interview: Marco Buratti, Chief Commercial Office, Senior Vice President of International Marketing & Strategy Division, Leonardo


On 23 October 2018, Leonardo presented a unique new Command and Control System (CCS), a tailored version of Leonardo’s ATHENA Combat Management System (CMS). The new system covers all real-time operational management requirements via interconnected sensors, weapons and communications, all of which are easily accessible and manageable through advanced Multi-Functional Consoles (MFC). Its hardware architecture features fully-remote processing nodes and has a reduced footprint thanks to a lightweight carbon-fibre structure. 

The new Combat Management System has been designed as a single product, scalable to different types of platforms / naval units according to their needs and duties. Its backbone is based on a common architectural framework and standard software/hardware modules which are able to satisfy the needs of both combat and support vessels. Remote processing makes the whole system more resilient and allows the hardware to be encompassed in a smaller, dedicated room. This creates a C4I data centre on-board, minimising the need for IT infrastructure outside of the operations room.

In an exclusive interview with Marco Buratti, Chief Commercial Office, Senior Vice President of International Marketing & Strategy Division, Leonardo, Marco Giulio Barone on behalf of MONCh discusses the innovating features of the new CMS, with a focus on how it will cope with current and future technology hot spots such as cyber-security, the impact of AI, and the life-cycle of the product.

MONCh: First of all, I would like you to introduce the CMS general architecture and its genuine link with the ATHENA CMS?

Marco Buratti (MB): This new CMS is somehow a cut with the past that both Leonardo and Marina Militare (the Italian Navy) have been pursuing purposely for providing new vessels (e.g. Pattugliatori Polivalenti d’Altura/PPA, LHD, Logistic Support Ship/LSS, etc.) with new hardware, namely to be more interactive. Algorithms are rather invisible to the crew while performing its missions, and of course it has to be reliable and well-functioning. Yet, this new CMS focuses on the human-machine interface (HMI).

We develop all of our CMS in cooperation with Marina Militare as well as through working groups with foreign navies which require customizations and/or special features. Therefore, the new MMI has been greatly benefiting of users’ operational experience on the field, which dates back to early 2000s, when the first ATHENA family CMS were mounted on Orizzonte/Horizon-class destroyers. To catch up with names and operational history Marina Militare has been calling the CMS with the acronym Sistema Automatico per la Direzione delle Operazioni di Combattimento (SADOC). SADOC Mk.2 was the previous generation CMS in service onboard Italian military vessels commissioned in 1980s and 1990s (e.g. Maestrale-class and Lupo-class frigates). The ATHENA family CMS equipping Horizon-class destroyers and Bergamini-class frigates is named SADOC Mk.3. Although this might hint subsequent developments of the same architecture, SADOC Mk.2 and SADOC Mk.3/ATHENA have nothing in common. SADOC Mk.3 has been developed ex novo for the Horizon programme and has been influenced by the cooperation with the French navy. ATHENA is installed on all of the current vessels of the Italian navy and on 19 vessels built for foreign customers.

The evolution of SADOC Mk.3 required by Marina Militare for its new classes of ships is the new CMS we are presenting now. Yet, it is not a linear improvement of the previous product. Rather, Marina Militare has required to reshape the MMI according to extensive operational experience. Leonardo, instead, could bring consistent know-how and feedback coming from foreign operators. The process for building up the CMS has taken one year of joint work between Leonardo and Marina Militare, including the creation of a few prototypes that we will also showcase here at Euronaval. We are very proud of the final product, as we deem it unique and different from any other CMS in Europe and in the United States. The development phase will end up with the delivery of the last examples of PPAs, so this CMS has a long life ahead and continuously growing capabilities.

MONCh: Hardware is quite different from many CMS, especially for what concerns the limited number of consoles, which are less numerous than on other CMS. Is there a specific choice? What does it mean in terms of processing power and information presentation?

MB: The number of consoles depends on the kind of mission vessels are conceived for. In general, today’s military navies demand more automation and a decreasing number of operators. An advanced and complex unit such as a Bergamini-class frigate features 16 consoles onboard. On Trieste-class LHD under construction, there will be as many as 40 consoles. PPAs have similar requirements, yet to be fitted with a different way of approaching operations. In particular, they will feature a combat bridge through which both navigation tasks and combat tasks can be performed. Usually, combat ships have two different rooms, the navigation room and the combat room (Centrale Operativa di Combattimento, COC) for the CMS. Throughout the years, operational experience has been telling that military vessels spend 70% of their period at sea in non-combat or low intensity operations (e.g. sailing, transit, escort, etc.). In these cases, Marina Militare found out that assigned tasks require an average of seven console operators. Only in case of high-intensity combat operations all of the consoles are manned.

Therefore, the combat bridge proposed for the next generation CMS features 7 workstations, including the commander’s one. The commander will cease being a supervisor and will be enabled to work directly on the CMS. For high-intensity operations, instead, the combat bridge enables a further set consoles installed in an adjacent room, behind the combat bridge. On PPAs, their number is of twelve to 16, depending on the version. In sum, the apparent reduction of consoles concerns only non-combat or low-intensity operations. When the ship’s full combat capability is concerned, the number of consoles onboard does not change and even expands, instead. Furthermore, the CMS has different modes (training, defence, combat, combat ready, and customized modes) that enable or disable systems and weapons proportionally to the expected level of threat (or depending on safety arrangements). In order to better perform any operation, each workstation can also have access to dedicated application for retrieving and editing intelligence reports, marine traffic, and documents without… walking around the ship!


(Photo: Marco Barone)



MONCh: Some navies procure miscellaneous materiel, including Russian or Chinese weaponries, or they want to integrate new nationally-built systems. Does the CMS feature a data integrating unit or any other arrangement that allows for plugging in “exotic” systems? Is this CMS agnostic?

MB: Exporting abroad makes indispensable to design hardware and software to support different weaponries and systems, be them legacy or deliberately chosen by customers. The whole architecture of our system takes into consideration the need of allowing for integration of a diverse array of systems with the lower possible impact. Usually, making our systems compatible with Chinese or Russia hardware implies some software adjustments only, but we had also a few cases in which we had to install special units/modules for “translating” signals from the CMS to systems and vice-versa. For doing this, some components use already technology agnostic protocols and we are already working for delivering on a fully service-oriented architecture (SOA) style of software design to be implemented on current and future CMS.

MONCh: Could you tell me something about the lifecycle of the CMS? How will upgrades and new releases work for keeping the system’s relevance throughout time?

MB: The most important pre-programmed upgrade for the CMS is the mid-life update (MLU) almost every vessel does at least once throughout its service life. During the MLU obsolescence in either hardware and software are tackled, and Leonardo’s experts bring the CMS to the state of the art through radical modifications to software and hardware. In addition to such a radical pre-planned upgrade we are used to release update kits that can be installed onboard autonomously by military navies. Such kits are often released upon request only. In effect, the military often prefers to have a known system and to keep it in service as it is as long as it can. This because any major modification requires additional training, therefore the client sometimes opts for major releases only and only when needed. On our side, instead, we try to keep the CMS up to date, possibly aligned with the best available technology, so that we can jump in when the client deems indispensable to modify its systems.

MONCh: Some CMS feature a spiral development due to a wide community of users which experience is merged to offer growing capacities. How will it work this product’s evolution for future operators? Will they be part of a community?

MB: To some extent Yes. When the new CMS will be installed on the first PPA, any improvement coming out of the integration process will be taken into proper consideration for the second ship and then possibly refitted on the first, and so forth for the following vessels. Same can said of foreign customers, for instance with the ATHENA CMS. We collect all feedback based on operational experience in order to ameliorate the product’s performance, then we can propose back ameliorations to customer navies or simply respond to their requirements with a consistent release. Such way of exploiting users’ experience apply to both hardware and software components.

MONCh: What is the relation between the new CMS and artificial intelligence (AI)? In the neat future, a number of predictive and behavioural models based on regression analysis will be available onboard to better exploit sensors by merging information into a concrete early warning capacity. Are there tools sets in this sense?

MB: Leonardo is already committed to research activities aimed at introducing AI tool sets into its systems. The new CMS to be delivered to the Italian navy will already field some elements of predictive analysis. In detail, the CMS will be able to simulate a number of combat situations that can be based on real data, such as intelligence reports. The ship can therefore create a fictional scenario for studying the situation and get into the operational theatre with a good situational awareness about the enemy’s capacities and the most appropriate behaviour to hold in combat. In brief, for now what we can field is a simulating system, but we will be soon able to substantiate true AI tool sets for operation planning and forecasting. The first step ahead will be the capability of analysing big data coming from multiple sources to merge them into comprehensive deliverables for the decision-maker. Afterward, should the client opts for it, a two-three years research programme should be able to deliver on innovative capabilities based on pure AI applications.

MONCh: Cyberspace is becoming a new domain of warfare and led to resilience provisions for hardware and software. Has this CMS been thought as resilient to cyber threats? How do you have tackled the issue?

MB: Our software is based on hardened versions of Linux operating systems and the CMS will operate into an enclosed environment. For external communication, the system communicates only through secured military connections (NATO certified). In simple terms, the CMS does not surf the internet. Even the internet connection available onboard for the crew private communication is decoupled from the CMS communicating network. So, nothing can get into the ship simply breaching through the internet. Despite these precautions, communications are continuously monitored through early warning applications that analyse all of the incoming and outcoming traffic from and to the ship. The systems feature redundancy of switches and firewalls that deny even physical persons such as hackers or unauthorized crew components to break through. In effect, I can confirm that integrating systems like these onboard is not easy, but it was a specific request of the Italian navy, and international customers are very interested as well in being resilient to cyber-attacks. In the near future, we will also implement some solution against electro-magnetic effectors, meaning intrusions through radar signals. According to rumours, aircraft like the F-35 are already capable of doing it. The extent to which it can go deep into the CMS is hard to understand (these are highly classified data that are not disclosed, naturally). But there is growing interest all over the world for this kind of capabilities, so we need already to assess them and provide some solution to protect our CMS.

MONCh: What are the expected marketplaces for this product and what is the value added in comparison to competitors?

MB: The primary market, as highlighted, is the Italian navy. All of the ships to be commissioned in the years to come will mount a version of this CMS. We hope that these vessels will serve as showcase to demonstrate our outstanding capacities in the field, with an eye on markets we are already present in (e.g. Middle East) – either for further orders or refits – and with the ambition of expanding to the most dynamic (and growing) markets such as Southeast Asia. In addition, South America seems to offer a fertile ground for our programmes since long time, but budget constraints over there sometimes play against commercial success in those regions.

MONCh: Thank you. 


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