Human-Machine Interface for Directed Energy Weapons

Navy SBIR 21.1 - Topic N211-060
NAVSEA - Naval Sea Systems Command - Mr. Dean Putnam -
Opens: January 14, 2021 - Closes: February 18, 2021 (12:00pm EDT)

N211-060 TITLE: Human-Machine Interface for Directed Energy Weapons

RT&L FOCUS AREA(S): Directed energy


The technology within this topic is restricted under the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), 22 CFR Parts 120-130, which controls the export and import of defense-related material and services, including export of sensitive technical data, or the Export Administration Regulation (EAR), 15 CFR Parts 730-774, which controls dual use items. Offerors must disclose any proposed use of foreign nationals (FNs), their country(ies) of origin, the type of visa or work permit possessed, and the statement of work (SOW) tasks intended for accomplishment by the FN(s) in accordance with section 3.5 of the Announcement. Offerors are advised foreign nationals proposed to perform on this topic may be restricted due to the technical data under US Export Control Laws.

OBJECTIVE: Develop and demonstrate an advanced display technology that maximizes operator performance for high energy laser weapons.

DESCRIPTION: The Navy has a long history of experience with radar, electronic warfare, and gun and missile weapon systems. Operator controls for these systems have historically been developed slowly over time in conjunction with advances in the system technology and in response to operational experience, simply adding new features to the existing displays. For example, current radar operator displays and controls evolved from the analog scopes and dials used to measure and adjust analog radar functions. As new radar features were added, displays and controls were added and the operators were trained to absorb, process, and respond to the additional information. The advent of digital and flat panel technologies caused an exponential growth in the amount of information about target detections and extracted target parameters that could be displayed, but the system designer still had a solid foundation of prior art to guide the evolution of the operator interface. This is equally true in commercial applications, for example, air traffic control radars and displays.

In contrast, directed energy (DE) weapons are being developed in technological leaps such that the human-machine interface (HMI) can no longer afford this type of deliberate evolution. From the outset, the DE operator will be inundated with tactical information, much of it requiring quick decisions and responses. The potential for operator overload is significant, and the display must be developed in a manner that supports how the operator uses the available information to provide the most efficient and effective display of data, thus reducing the potential for human error in lethal and non-lethal engagements. The commercial world provides few, if any analogies and provides no ready solution that meets the particular combination of demands placed on the naval warfighter during combat – especially in the use of a weapon system that has no non-military counterpart and no historical precedent. Furthermore, evolving threats and the insertion of new capabilities and tactics to meet those threats means that the DE console, and its interaction with the human operator, will not remain static over time. The HMI must accommodate the addition of new capabilities as well as updates to both software and tactics, and provide the flexibility for operators to hone their skills while exploring new operational concepts without the need for extensive re-training. The DE console must therefore incorporate technology that reflects the current state of the art in human cognitive science.

In particular, high energy laser (HEL) weapon, are unique in their capability and complexity. HEL systems incorporate elements of both sensors and weapons; are instantaneous; and have essentially unlimited range. Target cueing, de-confliction, atmospheric conditions, sensor coordination, resource management, battle damage assessment, and multiple other operational considerations place unprecedented demands on system operators and on the displays and controls at their command. An integrated HEL operator display is needed that maximizes operator performance while mitigating operator fatigue and the potential for error.

From a hardware aspect, the HEL operator HMI is anticipated to utilize and be based on the existing shipboard combat system display console. This console features three large flat panel LCD color displays with touch screen capabilities available on at least one of the panels. The intent of this effort is not to design a new and dedicated set of console hardware – this would be contrary to the Navy’s goal of commonality and affordability. Neither is the goal of this effort to develop finished tactical code for deployment (validation and certification of tactical code is prohibitively expensive). Rather, the goal of this effort is to design an HMI display that is based on how the user gathers and employs information that complements the particular strengths of human perception and the decision-making processes. It should be noted that "display" in this context is not just a collection of graphical interfaces and data read-outs. The display technology required is a coherent theme of graphical elements, symbology, visual cues, real-time video, and textual data captured in an HMI style guide and demonstrated (with representative software) on surrogate displays. This includes the methodology that organizes and presents these elements in conjunction with operator actions and queries. The technology should optimize the human operator’s effectiveness and efficiency by making the interaction between the HEL weapon system as seamless and natural as possible, and enabling the operator to effectively process and employ the myriad of information available in the most effective means to achieve mission success. Therefore, acceptable solutions must be firmly grounded in the science of human cognition. Testing will consist of controlled and monitored execution of the HMI technology with human operators utilizing the surrogate display hardware. Final validation of the prototype will be demonstration of the HMI prototype on the surrogate display hardware, as witnessed by Government subject matter experts and program managers.

Work produced in Phase II may become classified. Note: The prospective contractor(s) must be U.S. Owned and Operated with no Foreign Influence as defined by DOD 5220.22-M, National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual, unless acceptable mitigating procedures can and have been implemented and approved by the Defense Counterintelligence Security Agency (DCSA). The selected contractor and/or subcontractor must be able to acquire and maintain a secret level facility and Personnel Security Clearances, in order to perform on advanced phases of this contract as set forth by DCSA and NAVSEA in order to gain access to classified information pertaining to the national defense of the United States and its allies; this will be an inherent requirement. The selected company will be required to safeguard classified material IAW DoD 5220.22-M during the advance phases of this contract.

PHASE I: Develop a concept for an HEL weapon operator HMI as defined in the Description section. Demonstrate the feasibility of the approach based on the principles of modern human cognitive science and some combination of analysis, modeling, simulation, and evaluation of initial candidate display architectures and themes. Show that the proposed approach can be fully realized and demonstrated on surrogate hardware in Phase II. The Phase I Option, if exercised, will include the initial design specifications and format for the display style guide as well as a capabilities description of the prototype solution that will be delivered in Phase II.

PHASE II: Develop a prototype of the concept of the HEL weapon operator HMI technology that meets the requirements defined in the Description section. Demonstrate the prototype on surrogate computer hardware and displays (may require the synthesis of surrogate display inputs for example, video imagery). Further demonstrate the prototype through the development of non-tactical code that emulates the tactical displays. Update, finalize, and deliver the design specification that was initiated in Phase I along with the fully demonstrated style guide. Government subject matter experts and program managers will witness demonstration of the prototype technology on the surrogate display system.

It is probable that the work under this effort will be classified under Phase II (see Description section for details).

PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Support the Navy in transitioning the technology to Navy use. This may include evaluation of the final HMI implementation in tactical code on the tactical displays to validate compliance with the design specification and style guide; and may also include expansion of the style guide as additional data elements are incorporated in the HEL operator display in the future and as the display hardware receives normal updates.

Potential additional uses of the fundamental display technology developed under this effort include applications to highly complex and networked systems such as air traffic control, train dispatching, control centers for the electrical power grid, and wide-area security systems.


  1. Endsley, Mica R. "Designing for Situation Awareness: An Approach to User-Centered Design, Second Edition." Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2011.
  2. St. John, Mark and Smallman, Harvey. "Staying Up to Speed: Four Design Principles for Maintaining and Recovering Situation Awareness." Journal of Cognitive Engineering and Decision Making 2, 1 June 2008, pp.118-139.

KEYWORDS: High Energy Laser Weapons; HEL; Directed Energy; DE; Human-Machine Interface; HMI; Tactical Displays; Human Cognition; Operator Performance for HEL


The Navy Topic above is an "unofficial" copy from the overall DoD 21.1 SBIR BAA. Please see the official DoD Topic website at for any updates.

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