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Dynamic Information Flow Strengthens Air Operations

July 2000
By Maryann Lawlor
E-mail About the Author

Battlelab employs might of the Four Horsemen to formalize tasking order processes, procedures.

Military and civilian command and control experts are exploring new ways to exploit one of the most powerful weapons in the U.S. Air Force arsenal—information. Processes, procedures and technologies currently under development are scheduled to be put into place later this year and in early 2001.

Recent operations in Kosovo revealed both procedural and technical shortcomings in air support tasking methods. On-site personnel concocted a patchwork of solutions that successfully met the challenge, but military leaders soon realized that future missions would require more permanent, standardized techniques. Military battlelabs, the incubators for growing ideas into solutions, are cultivating suggestions from the field by providing a discussion forum for subject matter experts, then testing theories in a variety of exercises.

Although both air- and ground-based missions have always relied on data to reach a successful conclusion, today’s abundance of information sources pose a growing challenge. Commanders struggle first to gather all of the available data in one location and then to convert it into the knowledge they need to direct the forces.

Information technology is considered one of the armed forces’ primary assets. However, systems that collect useful data from various sources such as radar, sensors and satellites often have their own individual formats. In addition, the variety and number of information centers that manage the information follow their own procedures and processes, which complicates the task of pulling together all of the data for delivery to a specific mission’s operations center.

Recognizing that new technologies will continue to proliferate the amount of information available to commanders, the Air Force set up the Command and Control Battlelab (C2B), Hurlburt Field, Florida. The 25-person unit, which is part of the Air Force Aerospace Command and Control and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Center at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, examines the feasibility of both technical and business process ideas. Proposed initiatives are received from people at every command level—from field personnel to mission decision makers.

Currently, the C2B is working on several ideas to identify innovations available both inside and outside the Air Force that demonstrate near-term military utility. According to Lt. Col. James H. Donnell, USAF, chief of the initiative management division, C2B, this year’s activity focuses on four core initiatives that address the problems faced in the air-tasking-order cycle. “The cycle first includes the planning, then the requirements are identified, the order is issued, and the aircraft and materials are organized and sent. This should go smoothly, but it doesn’t always because everyone has their own database, and everyone has their own applications. Now we know how it works, and it should be a matter of putting information down one time. It will make operations go smoother and iron out the difficulties,” Col. Donnell explains.

The primary projects, nicknamed the Four Horsemen, are composed of three process initiatives and one technical initiative that are interdependent and support dynamic planning, execution and assessment. Information from each process is required to support the other two, and the technology-related initiative will provide integrated information/knowledge displays that support each of the process initiatives.

The intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance battle management (ISRBM) process initiative is evaluating existing tools and procedures to develop an ISRBM joint air operations center concept of operations. The federated assessment and targeting enhancements (FATE) initiative is examining current commercial and government off-the-shelf software systems and procedures that facilitate the collating and tracking of information relevant to target development and effects-based assessment. The team working on the third initiative is developing and will codify a process for dynamic replanning of the air tasking order based on optimizing information flows within the joint air operations center (JAOC).

The only technology-focused initiative of the Four Horsemen is the JAOC information viewing environment (JIVE), which will integrate commercial and government components as a generic information management architecture and display system. The goal is to design a single environment that can support multiple processes within JAOC.

C2B initiatives generally follow the same pattern of investigation. A battlelab team draws a structural outline of the items that need to be covered. This information is sent to subject matter experts from the C2B as well as outside the unit, and the group meets for two- to three-day workshops. During discussions, the team gathers input from the participants and drafts a plan that is sent back out to the participants. The give-and-take continues, and the plan is refined. Whenever possible or appropriate, initiative work is incorporated into exercises such as the Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment or a Blue Flag. The C2B then issues its final report.

Currently, no ISRBM standardized process exists for JAOC. New technologies are being designed that will provide the necessary information to effectively support this effort. However, for warfighters to be able to take advantage of these new capabilities, processes and procedures need to be baselined with those tools and systems that best support the mission.

According to Col. Peter K. Raymore, USAF (Ret.), ISRBM initiative manager, changes between the Cold War era and Kosovo operations have left the Air Force searching for new ISR processes and procedures. “In the Cold War, there was a long lead time for intelligence. But in operations such as Kosovo, for example, there was a need for a much more dynamic flow of information. We want to marry up the ISR with the dynamic operational process,” he explains.

Col. Raymore says several useful ISR assets were employed in Kosovo, and information was downlinked and imagery provided at a much faster pace. Although mission objectives were achieved, the Air Force does not want to rely on creating solutions in the field but would rather design a set that can be employed continually. “The people there used what they had and made it happen. But now we want to take a look at this and determine the procedures and processes that can be used all the time,” he offers.

The ISRBM initiative outlines five objectives. A group led by the C2B is identifying emerging processes and procedures for JAOC. It is developing a concept of operations for execution of the ISRBM process and a straw man of tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) that documents the appropriate process and supporting elements. Third, the group is determining capabilities of existing tools that support both ISRBM and requirements for future capabilities. The team also is assessing these items and support tools for integration into JAOC. Finally, the team is aiming to provide concept of operations and TTP assessment results for transition into Air Force TTP and requirements documents.

To accomplish these tasks, the C2B is detailing all current processes and procedures that pertain to the ISRBM. It also is researching and assembling available tools that could potentially support the ISRBM for demonstrations to subject matter experts beginning with the joint services workstation (JSWS). The JSWS will be used as a visualization tool because it will be part of the Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment architecture in August and September 2000.

Maj. Tracy B. Lunt, USAF, program manager, FATE, agrees that recent operations revealed shortcomings in various areas. “Several senior-level Air Force officers have adeptly pointed out that we can very effectively plan, produce and distribute an integrated air tasking order,” he says. “However, our ability to dynamically execute our plan is lacking. Many processes required for integrated dynamic execution and assessment are accomplished with stovepiped systems and inadequate knowledge of the downstream impacts of retasking. Enormous amounts of manpower are used in collecting and correlating data from different systems and then building the PowerPoint slides that support the joint force air component commander daily update briefings,” he explains.

The Kosovo mission highlighted some of the problems that were created by the lack of uniform processes. “There was a vacuum with nothing to do the job, and yet they had to do the job. … There were problems with delays in targeting. FATE will fill the vacuum. FATE will take pop-ups that some of the people in Kosovo were able to put together, because the people developed some user-friendly items, and take the best of the best,” Maj. Lunt adds.

The program goals include identifying Web-based target data management tools that could be used with existing U.S. Defense Department security communications networks; examining metadata, extensible markup language and Cold Fusion applications to ensure that organized, up-to-date data is available to intelligence personnel, planners and decision makers; and maintaining strategy-to-task links throughout the air-tasking-order process. In addition, initiative participants are searching for ways to pull data from several sources and display it with tailorable overlays on a digital map and ways to establish federal database storage to solve computer storage constraints within a theater of operations. A possible solution is hyperlinking to many different sites to retrieve information.

To accomplish this, the C2B will define current planning and application information requirements, identify and use the best elements of existing systems, make recommendations on the best fit between competing and redundant targeting and combat assessment programs, provide a generic architecture, and address information security issues.

This type of information coordination will be particularly useful for dynamic replanning, the third initiative. Participants in this effort are exploring ways to respond to the functions and opportunities of war in a more effective way, Eric B. Werkowitz, program manager for the dynamic replanning initiative, notes. “We start out with examining how to plan better, but in general we would reduce the time between when the plan is formed and when it begins. We want less time for things to go wrong, and we want to finalize the plan with the most current information,” he explains.

One possible approach to dynamic replanning is changing the planning cycle so that the air tasking order could be issued to the wings in projected increments that would provide a level of expectation over a 72-hour period. Although specific targets would not be identified at this point, this advanced notice would facilitate planning. Approximately 12 hours prior to a mission, the specific targets would be identified, Werkowitz states.

FATE would support this effort by determining a dynamic target list that would be updated continually. The commander in chief in the area would always see the priority targets list and, at the designated time, issue the order to hit those at the top of the list, he explains.

Although the C2B teams do not make recommendations about specific information technology products, it does identify required capabilities. Lt. Col. Stephen M. Matechik, USAF, is the program manager for JIVE, the lone technical initiative of the Four Horsemen. “ISRBM, FATE and dynamic replanning are all providing the information needs and putting in the data. We need to put information about things such as imagery and weather into one environment. JIVE’s objective is to share information and make it a well-greased system so that the commander’s intent is not lost through the cycle,” Col. Matechik relates. If the dynamics of war have an effect on the strike, it needs to be seen across the entire planning cycle, he adds.

To achieve this, the JIVE effort is examining several options, including large, high-resolution display devices that would allow commanders to view all of the available data in one environment. “There is so much information that has to be digested, and each server has some part of the information. The decision maker is correlating this information by looking at individual servers that have parts of the total picture. We need to grow the real estate of the device so that they can see all the information in one place with a common geographic or timeline overlay,” the colonel maintains.

Initiative participants are exploring several technologies to fulfill this requirement. One possibility is a portable data wall or glass panels. In addition, the environment could include touch screen, laser pointer, radio frequency and speech recognition capabilities. “We’re looking at what technologies are out there right now [so we] can decide what might work based on the requirements,” Col. Matechik says.

Display technologies are only the top layer of the effort. JIVE is more than the showplace for the resultant data from processes and procedures that the other initiatives are investigating. The layers go much deeper. “We have to figure out how to easily tap data sources that have historically not talked to each other,” the colonel states.

JIVE is being investigated with an option of a three-dimensional display; however, Col. Matechik says this format would be presented alongside the primary two-dimensional JIVE device. According to Lt. Col. Kevin Smith, USAF, deputy commander, C2B, the environment being examined in the current initiative may not include three-dimensional capabilities, however, and the evolution of JIVE will provide information aggregation and drive up the level of capabilities. “We can play back the information from what happened now, and in the future we will want to be able to possibly take the next logical step and play forward,” he offers. By pooling the data sources, commanders will be able to see the total picture, and the sum of the parts will be greater than the whole because commanders could see the relationship between data. That capability in itself provides additional information, he adds.

JIVE is closely related to another C2B initiative—the joint battlespace infosphere (JBI). Although not formally part of the Four Horsemen, the JBI (see page 43) shares some of the same objectives being examined in JIVE. However, while current efforts are aimed at systems that could be deployed during the next several months, the infosphere initiative, also called the Wright Flyer JBI, is looking at capabilities that will be available during the next several years, explains Maj. Douglas Clark, USAF, program manager for the project. “We’re heading down the same path but looking at it farther ahead,” he offers.

Each initiative is rated according to the risk involved. While the Four Horsemen efforts carry a low to medium risk, the JBI involves a medium to high risk because it is a revolutionary rather than evolutionary method of information management, the major says.

The JBI effort is receiving support from several Air Force organizations. Participating commands include the Electronic Systems Center, the Air Force Research Laboratories, the Command and Control Training and Innovation Group and the Air Force Experimentation Office as well as industry support from The MITRE Corporation.

Although these technologies are being designed with Air Force operations in mind, many of the tools could be used in the joint environment.

None of these initiatives involves investigating the coalition element that could be encountered during actual missions, Maj. Clark says. However, C2B personnel agree that policies about releasing information to allies need to be addressed during any operation, and this is still the hardest problem to solve, Col. Raymore adds.

According to Col. Matechik, participants in any of the initiatives continually examine available technologies that can meet identified requirements. Companies can support this effort by creating items that feature an open architecture and can be used by everyone. “They can have proprietary algorithms, but at the interfaces they have to be open and [able to] freely communicate with each other,” he offers.

Col. Smith agrees. “We demonstrate the capabilities, not acquire the capabilities. We see if something we’ve been dreaming up can be done. And if they [the companies] can do it with the government picking up at least part of the tab, it benefits everyone. We provide the avenues for their interaction,” the colonel says.

“Historically, the military approach to doing business has been in a specific way—the military way. This has to change. Now we have to do things the business way,” Col. Smith concludes.

Airborne Communications Capsule Hosts Mission Support Systems

While today’s U.S. Air Force technologists pursue new ways to gather and share battlefield information, a squadron with roots that reach back to 1945 continues to be an integral part of flexible communications in both small and large military operations.

Specially designed and equipped EC-130E Hercules aircraft extend the reach of command and control (C2) operations by acting as high-technology automated airborne facilities with computer-generated color displays, digitally controlled communications and rapid data retrieval. Where it can take days to position and set up ground- and sea-based C2 centers, the airborne platforms can be in place in a matter of hours.

The 42nd Airborne Command and Control Squadron (ACCS), Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, staffs and maintains the seven aircraft that have been specifically designed to carry the USC-48 airborne battlefield command and control capsule (ABCCC III). The airplanes also feature external antennas that accommodate the 23 fully securable radios, secure teletype and 15 automatic fully computerized consoles on board. The communications suite includes eight ultrahigh frequency, eight very high frequency, four high frequency and three satellite communications radios. The joint tactical information distribution system allows personnel on board to view real-time information gathered from E-3 airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft or ground- and sea-based stations.

According to Maj. Francesco P. Gregoretti, USAF, chief of enhancements, 42nd ACCS, and battle-staff operations officer on board the EC-130E, the key to the effectiveness of the platform is the battle staff because it includes specialists in a variety of areas. The C2 centers’ battle staffs consist of 12 core members and three mission-supporting members that come aboard depending on the operation, he explains.

In addition to an airborne maintenance technician, the core staff includes two radar operators, who support secure communications; four strike controllers, who supply information to personnel involved in conducting the operations; and a battle-staff operations officer, who manages the deployment of air power, communicates with external commanders and monitors information quality. Also on board is the director of the airborne battle staff, who is the overall manager of the mission and ensures that objectives are being met. An air intelligence technician and an air intelligence officer work with various agencies to acquire situational awareness data before entering the theater of operations and during the mission.

Although not considered a joint force platform, up to three people who support the specific mission become part of the battle staff during an operation.

The squadron has participated in operations since the Vietnam War, when it assisted in the evacuations of Phnom Penh, Cambodia and Saigon. Aircrews also supported the 1986 raid on Libya and the Gulf War. From July 1994 to earlier this year, the squadron had personnel and aircraft assigned to Italy in support of operation Deny Flight over Iraq.

The most recent version of the ABCCC was incorporated into the EC-130E in 1991. According to Maj. Gregoretti, the systems have been upgraded since then; however, there is a limit to the improvements that can be made to the current equipment.

“This is primarily an Air Force platform, but I would like to see that changed. When marines or soldiers are on board during an operation, the insight they provide in language and tactics is very useful,” the major says. 

In addition to service personnel interaction, the major says technical interoperability and compatibility must be made a top priority in designing and acquiring future equipment. “There is duplication in equipment [between the armed forces] but very little compatibility, so we have to look at C2 procurement as well. Joint procurement has to be a big issue,” the major says. The equipment acquisition process should begin long before purchases are made by individual services and should start with discussions about interoperability, he adds.

Although the C2 capsule currently is composed of proprietary equipment, Maj. Gregoretti would like to see a move to open systems with the next upgrade.