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Software Capabilities Take off With New Facility

July 2008
By Rita Boland
E-mail About the Author

 
Josh Williamson analyzes C-5 flight data in support of the growing C-5 workload for the 402nd Software Maintenance Group. A new facility is solidifying Warner Robins Air Logistics Center as the electronic warfare center of excellence for the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Defense Department.
Personnel and programs will be less stovepiped as support for key military programs improves.

The construction of a new building is expected to transform existing infrastructure into a cutting-edge facility that will solidify the Warner RobinsAirLogisticsCenter as the electronic warfare center of excellence for the U.S. Air Force and the entire U.S. Defense Department. The building will stand in the middle of three already constructed structures and link them, offering a physical connectedness that is lacking among the experts working there. Officials associated with the effort anticipate increased collaboration as well as the ability to take on new and increased workload because of the extra space available.

The $21-million, 70,000-square-foot software support facility is being constructed on Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, and is scheduled for occupation by January 2010. The primary tenants of the building will be the 402nd Software Maintenance Group, which already is responsible for two of the three buildings that will be connected into the new building. The third building belongs to the 542nd Combat Sustainment Group. “On three sides it will connect to those three buildings and create a single integrated complex for all software maintenance,” Diane Suchan, director of the 402nd Software Maintenance Group, explains. The new facility will house people and equipment for the purpose of maintaining software across multiple mission areas and platforms, including electronic warfare systems that are managed by the 542nd Combat Sustainment Group.

The facility will expand the software group’s capabilities across a wider variety of platforms and enable personnel to accommodate additional or new workload. Suchan says she expects the group’s footprint to expand to support more weapons systems anticipated for the Air Force’s future such as the F-22 Raptor, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Global Hawk and Predator, C-130 AMP, C-130J, Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures and Directed Infrared Countermeasures. Other new workloads anticipated by the 402nd Software Maintenance Group include increasing support for electronic warfare, special operations forces/combat search and rescue, the C-130, C-17, C-5 airframes and support equipment. The group already provides support for Air Force Special Operations Command, Air Combat Command, the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System and F-15 avionics.

In addition, developers will incorporate an actual C-5 cockpit, made available after a crash, to enhance and improve their simulations on that aircraft. They also will have new software languages in the facility. Combined, the new building will accommodate a 30- to 40-percent increase in software core workload for Robins through fiscal year 2012.

Support for electronic warfare goes further than the efforts of the 402nd Software Maintenance Group. One of the buildings being connected in the construction houses the Air Force Electronic Warfare Avionics Integration Support Facility (EWAISF), which has served as the primary support facility for Air Force Electronic Warfare for almost three decades. It encompasses the world’s largest electronic warfare laboratory and more than 200 engineers, computer scientists and technicians who sustain electronic warfare systems employed on most operational aircraft. In its current configuration, the facility has no space for growth, but with the new building, the center will expand its support to additional platforms and mission aircraft.

The EWAISF already is the lead for support to some joint service electronic warfare products, but the new facility affords the opportunity to accept additional joint and Air Force-unique workloads. The additional space also allows for an increase in the volume of software sustainment that is done organically (by government personnel instead of contractors), meeting the requirements of Title 10 USC 2466, which mandates that 50 percent of depot maintenance is performed organically to facilitate rapid wartime response.

The additional square footage will eliminate the space restrictions that previously have prevented the Air Force from producing more solutions by its own personnel. The C-5, for example, only recently was transitioned from contract to organic control. The in-house process maintains software support to weapons systems as a core capability. To make the transition viable, the Air Force must recruit top talent. Having the ability to show potential employees, such as recent graduates from Georgia Tech, a cutting-edge facility instead of a dilapidated building improves recruiting success.

In addition, the shift in support from contractor to organic decreases warfighter dangers associated with sole reliance on outside personnel. “Warfighter risks will be reduced, and electronic warfare support by Robins will be improved by the support capability expansion that the new facility affords,” says Ches Rehberg, chief, Engineering Division, 542nd Combat Sustainment Squadron.

The Secretary of the Air Force recently designated  the 542nd Combat Sustainment Group as the Electronic Warfare Product Group Manager (PGM). In that role, it serves as the executive agent to ensure an enterprise focus on Air Force electronic warfare across all research and development efforts and to sustain activity performed by government, industry and academia. The PGM assignment positions Robins to play a larger role in the greater Air Force and Defense Department electronic warfare communities. “The Air Force’s ability to successfully complete operational missions, and the survivability of its aircraft and crews, will be enhanced by the improved electronic warfare support that this facility will enable,” Rehberg states. The designation of the 542nd Combat Sustainment Group as the PGM creates a single focus point for electronic warfare and allows the group to extend its efforts and ensure that research and development is coordinated.

The PGM role does not focus all military electronic warfare with the group, however. Each military service has its own electronic warfare leadership, and acquisition and sustainment functions are accomplished by numerous organizations across the Defense Department, the defense industrial base and academia. Robins plays leading roles in support of most Air Force electronic warfare equipment on conventional aircraft and in support of some systems used by other services. “The PGM responsibility puts Robins in the key role of coordinating all electronic warfare acquisition and sustainment efforts by organizations across the Air Force,” Rehberg says.

 
James Arnette (l) and Augustin Dantes of the 577th Air Combat Squadron test an F-15 Radar Operational Flight Plan prior to release.
The new role will help the Air Force better coordinate across organizations to ensure that maximum electronic warfare capabilities are achieved at minimum cost and duplication while guaranteeing that important capability shortfalls are given the highest priority for resources. “The PGM at Robins will serve as the executive agency for this analysis and coordination and will provide its recommendations to Air Force-level boards at the colonel and major general levels for approval and implementation direction to all affected Air Force organizations,” Rehberg says. “The PGM will also reach out to the other services to achieve improved cross-service electronic warfare coordination.”

   The new construction and designation change comes as electronic warfare becomes increasingly critical to battlefield success. “Electronic warfare is absolutely essential to survivability in today’s operations,” Rehberg explains. This type of combat is required to counteract the ever-present threat of the shoulder-launched infrared guided missile in current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Those systems are small, require only one operator, can be easily hidden and can be used as surprise attack weapons against many of our aircraft operations,” Rehberg shares. Electronic warfare devices supported by Robins detect missile launches and deploy flares or emit active radiation to degrade missile guidance and increase survivability. Radar warning receivers and active countermeasure systems are essential to success in any operation where troops must enter territory that has not been cleared of radar-guided threats, which is the case for any future combat operations, according to Rehberg.

In addition to combating shoulder-launched missile systems, the electronic warfare equipment at Robins also detects and degrades integrated air defense systems (IADS), which comprise enemy systems-of-systems including search and acquisition sensors, surface-to-air missiles, anti-aircraft artillery, airborne interceptor missiles and the communications among those elements. The systems operate in radio frequency and electro-optical regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. The majority of aircraft have low probability of mission success or survivability if they enter regions protected by IADS without having effective electronic warfare systems that warn of these threats and jam them as necessary. Jamming reduces IADS effectiveness.

Suchan says the most important elements of today’s battle environment are electronic warfare and special operations. “Electronic warfare is important because its ability to thwart the enemy’s ability to take our capabilities out through electronic countermeasures is critical,” she says. The military protects pilots through electronic warfare methods that allow pilots to elude foes. To remain effective, electronic warfare must be adaptable because threats can change on a regular basis.

While the new facility will focus largely on Air Force missions and house Air Force personnel, Suchan expects to have the capability to accept and induct work from other services. Though the ability and expectations to support programs from other military branches and allies exist, Suchan doubts non-Air Force personnel will work in the new facility except as customers.

In the past, work has been conducted for the Navy and on foreign military sales, and the 402nd Software Maintenance Group currently supports F-15s of the Saudi Air Force. With the extra space, the potential for joint service projects increases. A potential modification for the CV-22, for example, could be conducted in the new building.

The Air Force currently acts as the only service supporting tactical communications systems such as Link 16, which offers a secure communications link to all the military branches and also NATO allies. The Air Force does not plan to move that particular service to the new building now; however, if the work increases, it could expand into the new building to obtain extra space.

The single integrated complex likely will connect individual subsystems that are currently disparate. Currently, electronic warfare, special operations and tactical communications are in different buildings or on different floors, each in a stand-alone laboratory. In the future, personnel can connect any of the laboratories to any others if they need to interact, making it easier, for example, to test an electronic warfare capability on a special operations platform.

The new building is actually designed to encourage the tumbling of stovepipes. The interior walls are reconfigurable, enabling residents to adjust floor space as necessary for various missions and operations. Having integrated avionics capabilities all in an integrated construct allows personnel to have more integration testing among the individual subsystems on any aircraft. “The real world is becoming integrated, and we have to be more integrated, too, to support it,” Suchan says.

With the great ability for integration, experts at the facility will work more as a conglomerate than as separate businesses. That bodes well for incorporating new capabilities and continuing to support older systems. Engineers with certain expertise will not be pulled off of a project to support a new program exclusively.

In addition to meeting additional aircraft and electronic warfare needs, the new facility also will position the tenants to support current and future trends better. Ten years ago, when the military began thinking in terms of digitizing the battlefield, the technology in the current environment seemed like a distant goal. Now the military is anticipating the next major changes to mission operations. In the future, Suchan expects every troop and piece of equipment to have Internet protocol addresses that enable them to be located and tracked. But whatever concepts the military deploys, Suchan says, the folks at Robins need to be in a position to support and enhance them.

Web Resources
402nd Maintenance Wing/Software Maintenance Group: www.robins.af.mil/units/402mw.asp
542nd CombatSustainment Wing/Group: www.robins.af.mil/units/542csw.asp
C-5 Fact Sheet: www.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=84