Case Study: Enhancing Real-Time Situational Awareness with Onyx's FYNDER

The United States Air Force is home of the world’s preeminent airborne commandos employed in Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), Air Combat Command (ACC), and other elite units. US Air Force Pararescuemen are tasked and trained with the unique mission set of deploying from the air, ground, or sea for full spectrum personnel recovery operations worldwide.

Both overseas and domestic, Pararescue units deploy in the harshest environments, often leveraging their military free fall capabilities for mission insertion to the area of operations. Free falling into a drop zone, however, is just the beginning of their mission, as “PJs” then must travel by water or ground movement to their objective to conduct actions-on. Although PJs perform hundreds of jumps throughout their career and they become experts in airborne operations, this high-risk task requires constant training and proper equipment to ensure safety, operational effectiveness, and situational awareness.

The Challenge

Pararescuemen train and deploy operationally to conduct parachute operations in any environment, and maintaining situational awareness is mission essential. Although training and equipment have improved over time, operators have struggled to find friendly force tracking and situational awareness tools that enable them to safely and reliably navigate to the drop zone with all of their teammates, consolidate quickly, locate lost forces, and proceed to the next phase of their mission. Legacy solutions are not precise, overly prone to human error, and do not inter-operate well with military communications ecosystems.

In recent years, the Air Force and broader airborne community have encountered tragic airborne-related incidents. Airborne operators who inadvertently navigate off-course, especially without reliable equipment for tracking jumpers, are placed at much higher risk due to separation from their unit and medical aid which may need to be rendered in the case of an injury upon landing.

The Pararescue community and other airborne commandos strive to completely eliminate airborne-related incidents. Jump Operations require a solution that is reliable in the harshest conditions, able to be used in the darkness of night, precise, and real-time.

The Solution

In a fast-paced mission, free fall jumpers need as few devices as possible to collect, store and transmit their precise altitude, vertical and horizontal speed, multi-axis positioning, and to facilitate real-time recording and analysis. The right solution must work throughout all phases of an operation, from insertion through actions-on, and after exfil. Listening to the requirements of the military free fall community, Onyx partnered with Kägwerks to create FYNDER - the ultimate plug-and-play edge sensor of its kind, designed to enhance the operator's situational awareness, filling a critical gap in the current US military inventory.

FYNDER-SItuational-Awareness-in-action-Onyx

Through hand in hand development between engineers and end users, the FYNDER asset tracking system sets a new standard for data logging in an environment many other devices struggle to provide the accurate real time recording of positional data and near real time transmission of location to other devices in the ecosystem and to the base station on the DZ and/or in the aircraft.

FYNDER can be employed as a stand alone device, tethered to a smart phone or connected via secure Intra-Soldier Wireless (ISW). Through wireless connection, FYNDER can also link to a range of tactical communication systems for over the horizon transmission, through an intuitive interface like ATAK/CIVTAK.

Ultimately, FYNDER is an asset tracking, sensor data logging and transmitting “black box”, along with direction finding and altimeter all wrapped up into a single intuitive device that fits comfortably on the jumper's wrist. The device transitions functionally through every phase of the skydive and into surface movement allowing continuous data collection, position tracking and direction finding that surpasses other devices currently on the market.

The FYNDER Difference

FYNDER has been operationally tested by ACC and AFSOC units. As Onyx continued to work with its clients, it enhanced FYNDER allowing the device to communicate with other systems of its kind using Intra-Soldier Wireless (ISW). This offers the wearer the ability to actively monitor both self and team, enhancing the overall situational awareness of critical datasets.

As the product matured, an optional small base station was added to increase range and offer agnostic integration for conventional over-the-horizon layer-two IP networks. To meet a variety of requirements, the form factor of FYNDER was designed to offer easy embedding into both hard and soft materials, be it worn on the wrist or affixed to an asset. Additionally, FYNDER currently boasts a robust processor and data ports to accept future expansions for bidirectional communications, heads-up displays, or tethered end-user devices.

To accommodate ease of integration into pre-existing network ecosystems, FYNDER uses open-source protocols and open-developer kits (SDK/PDK) for customers to independently develop and integrate tailored capabilities without being locked to vendor proprietary software.

The product consists of cutting-edge microelectronics providing essential data over a secure but open architecture leveraging a ISW. The integrated radio boasts a certified propagation feature that is designed to be low probability of detection or intercept. This differs from commercial mesh radios as it includes ISW to connect to appropriate military accessories. FYNDER was further enhanced with ISW to securely and seamlessly connect the sensor system and various other add-ons (coming as expansions in future versions) for warfighters operating in multi-domain operational environments.

Additionally, native AES256 encryption is applied to all aspects to ensure security throughout the ecosystem. The base station operates on the same principles with the added ability to connect any other layer-two IP network for real-time over-the-horizon connectivity. The FYNDER's packet structure and protocols meet standard interoperability across a variety of user interfaces including commercial Android, Windows, Linux operating systems as well as seamless interoperability with the TAK suite.

Use Cases

Scenario #1: HALO Freefall Training Jump (Schoolhouse Student Malfunction)

A class of Air Force Special Operations students take off from their local base in a low light freefall deployment during the water operations training. The drop zone is located miles away at an unknown DZ to all jumpers. The team exits the aircraft on the jumpmaster’s command. Upon arrival and collection on the DZ, one student is missing. One of the students spoke up and said that he saw the Airman deploy his parachute low but did not track where he landed. Each jumper had a radio but no response was heard from the lost student. There is limited time before sunset and the aircraft can not confirm the location of jumpers as low temperatures set in.

The jumpmaster scrolls through his list of students on FYNDER and selects the missing student. Since FYNDER is connected over a secure mesh network, it provides a distance and direction to the lost student. The jumpmaster also looks to his end-user device and witnesses the lost student's FYNDER in ATAK, then issues a medevac while the team moves on the location of the unresponsive student.

Scenario #2: Freefall Open Water Parachute Insertion to Capsule (Astronaut Recovery)

A Pararescue team is sitting on alert status for a non-nominal reentry of a space capsule returning from the International Space Station (ISS). The team is notified that the capsule has landed in the middle of the Pacific. The team flys six hours into the open ocean for recovery. Once in the water the team takes accountability for the team and discovers one team member is missing. In the open ocean swells are overhead and fuel is limited so search procedures become ineffective without precise location. The Team Leader locates the lost team member using FYNDER and disseminates the location to the closest boat team. The team moves to find the lost team member and continues on to the recovery of astronauts.

Scenario #3: HALO SPIN Up Training

An operational team is conducting night jumps in austere conditions for preparation for upcoming overseas deployment tasking. The team trains in unmarked and mountainous DZs where they simulate a combat operation. The team inserts but due to malfunctions the team is split and lands on different ridge lines. Once on the ground the team has no line of sight commas with each other and cannot navigate to each other.

The Team leader finds the other team members and drops a point in the ATAK for a new rally point. This enables the team to sync in a manageable position and reduces the risk of trying to overcome obstacles.

Scenario #4: Ground Operations

A team is conducting high angle and ground mobility training in remote areas. A team member gets stranded and falls from a high elevation. The team is unable to make a positive ID of his new location and begins search efforts.

The team leader uses his FYNDER to locate and direct recovery of the team member. Upon arrival back to base, the team can use data gathered from FYNDER to build an after action review of what went wrong in the situation, and then provide data points for future teams to ensure minimized risk to force.

Curious to Learn More?

Get in touch with us today to learn how FYNDER can help you improve situational awareness and enhance operational effectiveness to ensure mission success.


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