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Air Force Technologies

Army, Navy Hardware Influence Air Force Satellite Links

July 11, 2014
By Robert K. Ackerman

When the U.S. Air Force needed a new secure satellite communications system, one company was able to show up at the starting line with an 80 percent solution based on an existing product line serving the Army and the Navy.

Pockets of Resistance Threaten Robotics Funding

May 22, 2014
By George I. Seffers

The U.S. Defense Department is failing to invest in game-changing technology that could increase efficiencies and save lives, according to a just-released report from the Center for a New American Security, which also recommends funding more battlefield drones.

Military Satellites Send New Civilian GPS Signals

May 6, 2014
By Rita Boland

The U.S. Air Force is continuously broadcasting L2C and L5 civilian GPS signals. Though the changes make little immediate difference to the general population, the makers of GPS devices will use them to develop next-generation devices.

 

Military Evaluates Future Cyberforce

June 1, 2014
By Rita Boland

Cybersecurity remains a priority for the U.S. Defense Department, with officials protecting resources for it in the face of overall budget constraints. Guidance from the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 directs a mission analysis of cybercapabilities not only in the active military, but also across partners, to help forces maintain their edge in protecting the nation.

The Air Force Networks its Networks

May 1, 2014
By Robert K. Ackerman

The U.S. Air Force networking that links its air assets has extended its reach into the rest of the service and the joint realm as it moves a greater variety of information among warfighters and decision makers. This builds on existing networking efforts, but it also seeks to change longtime acquisition habits that have been detrimental to industry—and, by connection, to the goal of speeding innovative capabilities to the warfighter.

The Air Force has broadened some of its research to apply to other networks such as the Joint Information Environment (JIE). One vital effort is the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node, or BACN. It provides airborne links aboard crewed and unmanned aircraft, and future iterations may take the form of pods attached to combat aircraft. Other networks and capabilities are being developed or expanded.

This method is in line with the overall Defense Department approach to networking. “We’re starting to think much more ‘system of systems,’ but we need to graduate to ‘enterprise of enterprises,’” says Dr. Tim Rudolph, chief technology officer (CTO) at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center. “It is that much of an integration of different features of different platforms.”

Rudolph also supports the Program Executive Officer (PEO) Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence and Networks (C3I&N) as CTO and chief architect, and he is a senior leader/technical adviser for integrated information capabilities. He explains that networking air assets includes domains such as terrestrial, space and cyber.

“Networking is like plumbing,” Rudolph analogizes. “Most people don’t hire plumbers because they like cast iron or copper [pipes]; they do it because they want to move something through the pipes.” The Joint Aerial Layer Network (SIGNAL Magazine, June 2013, page 52, “Joint Aerial Layer…”) provides a construct that allows a great deal of interoperability among assets in various domains, he observes.

Crown Jewel Program Modernizes Air Operations

May 1, 2014
By George I. Seffers

A critical U.S. Air Force program designed to refurbish the service’s operations centers around the world likely will begin by upgrading the first site next year. The potential $504 million effort will automate services, improve interoperability, speed decision making, enhance cybersecurity and lower costs.

Air operations centers are the command and control centers for planning, executing and assessing joint air operations during a contingency or conflict. They support joint force air component commanders in planning and executing missions.

Those centers have been equipped with an operational baseline known as 10.1. With 10.2, the Air Operations Center Weapon System (AOC WS) modernization program is poised to better integrate data from more than 45 systems and applications that feed data into the centers. The upcoming improvements will facilitate machine-to-machine data transfer, allowing commanders to make decisions more quickly while reducing human error.

Lt. Col. Kyle Reybitz, USAF, AOC WS program manager, paints a somewhat hectic picture of contemporary AOCs. Because the various systems are not fully integrated, people call out to request targeting data, or they hand-deliver data. “Our putting together a common infrastructure allows these systems to be better integrated and share the data more securely. Ultimately, that results in speed of command. We get data in there; we can process it much faster; and we can have quicker actual plans on the battlefield as determined by the joint forces air combat commander,” Col. Reybitz states.

Air Force ISR Changes After Afghanistan

May 1, 2014
BY Rita Boland

The U.S. Air Force is emerging from almost 13 years of conflict in the Middle East with a different perspective on its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Lessons learned from those battlefields are leading to new directions that will entail abandoning traditional approaches and methods.

Recent operations have demonstrated the importance of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) to coalition partners. As the missions wind down, officials in charge of such activities are focusing on a reset, determining what adjustments to make to keep the capabilities relevant moving forward. The Air Force has no plans to stop providing services across the military, though what that means with a smaller force in different environments remains to be seen.

Throughout the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, capabilities from various sensors became available at continually lower echelons even as support remained intact to the highest levels within the United States. Officials in the ISR community have learned to better integrate platforms, sensors, the network and the enterprise. The advent of the Joint Information Environment encompasses part of that effort, as the military creates a single, secure information-sharing environment across its branches.

Maj. Gen. Jack Shanahan, USAF, commander, Air Force ISR Agency, says the war in Afghanistan will be remembered as an ISR war as much as anything else. Incredible ISR capabilities were fielded to Iraq and Afghanistan during the past 12 to 13 years, but not all of them will transfer to the military of the future. Others will be revamped for a different fight. Some capabilities coming out of Afghanistan, for example, will be as important in new locations, but for different reasons, Gen. Shanahan states.

Modernizing Nuclear Bomber Command and Control

May 1, 2014
By George I. Seffers

U.S. Air Force officials are working to replace by 2019 aging command and control terminals that are part of the U.S. Air Force’s nuclear bomber mission. The new terminals will communicate with advanced satellite constellations and also will add capabilities not in current systems.

The Global Aircrew Strategic Network Terminal (Global ASNT—pronounced global assent) is a ground-based, three-increment program that provides persistent, survivable and redundant command and control (C2) communications to the U.S. Air Force strategic bomber fleet. The terminals also provide a C2 capability for the tankers and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft supporting the nuclear bomber mission. It is a part of the Minimum Essential Emergency Communications Network (MEECN) that passes messages from national command authorities—the president and senior leaders—to nuclear forces. 

The program will provide 45 fixed communication terminals for sites such as wing command posts, along with 45 transportable terminals to support dispersed operations. The first increment of the program will provide advanced extremely high frequency (AEHF) communications compatible with the new AEHF satellite constellation and will replace legacy Military Strategic Tactical Relay (MILSTAR)-compatible terminals. The AEHF constellation will be the military’s primary satellite system for highly protected communications following the launch of the fourth and final satellite in 2017.

The new AEHF terminals are required because of projected end-of-life issues with the MILSTAR satellite constellation and looming obsolescence of the currently fielded terminals. “It replaces unsustainable legacy systems. Some of the systems it replaces are getting toward the end of their life cycle, and they’re difficult to maintain,” says Lt. Col. Kenneth Decker, USAF, Global ASNT program manager. “It’s like when your car gets to the point where it costs too much to maintain it.”

Joint 
Information Environment 
Logs Successes, 
Faces Snags

May 1, 2014
By Robert K. Ackerman

The Defense Department drive toward its Joint Information Environment is picking up speed as it progresses toward its goal of assimilating military networks across the warfighting realm. Individual services are developing solutions, some of which are targeted for their own requirements, that are being applied to the overarching goal of linking the entire defense environment.

Early successes in Europe have advanced Joint Information Environment (JIE) efforts elsewhere, including the continental United States. Some activities have been accelerated as a result of lessons learned, and they have been implemented ahead of schedule in regions not slated to receive them for months or even years.

However, significant hurdles remain, and not all participants are equally supportive of the effort. Overcoming major cultural challenges may be the most difficult task facing JIE implementation. And, the omnipresent budget constraints facing the entire Defense Department may extend into the JIE, even though it is not officially a program of record.

Senior Defense Department leaders do not hesitate to emphasize the importance of the JIE to future military operations. David DeVries, deputy Defense Department chief information officer (CIO) for information enterprise, describes the JIE as a unifying effort to do “the largest wholesale information technology modernization in the history of the department.”

Lt. Gen. Ronnie D. Hawkins Jr., USAF, director, Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), avows, “The next type of enterprise that our Defense Department will be postured to utilize in the next conflict—be it kinetic or nonkinetic—the JIE will be an integral part of that environment.”

Big Data Tools Cut Through the Fog of War

April 1, 2014
By Henry S. Kenyon

The U.S. Air Force is using big data analysis tools to create a picture of a battlefield or area of interest that can be monitored in real time as well as stored and replayed. By merging sensor streams with data tagging and trend detection software, this capability will allow analysts and warfighters to observe, track and potentially predict enemy force operations based on their observed behavior.

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