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Air Force Technologies

U.S. Air Force Races to Modernize Critical Battle Control System

August 1, 2013
By George I. Seffers

U.S. Air Force officials are upgrading the battle command system used for managing all airborne platforms, including fighters, bombers, tankers, unmanned aerial vehicles, helicopters and cruise missiles. The modernized system will provide warfighters with faster access to real-time operations and intelligence information, better planning and collaboration tools and enhanced situational awareness while dramatically reducing sustainment costs.

The Theater Battle Management Core Systems (TBMCS), which resides within an air operations center, first was fielded about 13 years ago after a five-year development effort. Technologically speaking, a lot has changed since then. The system now is being made over with modern components, improved network centricity and better graphic user interface features that will make the upgraded version faster, easier and less expensive to operate than the original. The upgrade should be completed by March 2015.

At the heart of the overhaul lies the Air Tasking Order Management System (ATOMS), which will allow commanders to plan, organize and direct joint U.S. air operations. ATOMS includes an updated command and control air operations suite that will allow warfighters to perform mission planning and re-planning quickly and efficiently and will completely replace three existing applications within TBMCS: the Theater Air Planner, the Execution Management Re-Planner and the Master Attack Planning Toolkit. “When push comes to shove, TBMCS is the most important software in the air operations center right now. It runs the air operations center. We’re updating all of the TBMCS source code, and ATOMS is the core piece of that,” explains Capt. Scott Gross, USAF, ATOMS program manager, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts.

A Joint Environment Changes Everything

July 1, 2013
By Max Cacas

Rear Adm. Robert Day Jr., USCG, assistant U.S. Coast Guard commandant for command, control, communications and information technology, sees the Joint Information Environment as an opportunity to resolve some of the most pressing information technology problems in the years to come as he faces a future with more challenges and fewer resources. He says a military-wide common operating environment will establish “enterprisewide mandates that programs cannot ignore.”

The admiral told the recent AFCEA Solutions Series–George Mason University Symposium, “Critical Issues in C4I,” the Joint Information Environment (JIE) will allow for more efficient system configurations and facilitate consolidation of the Coast Guard’s information technology work force. As the director of the U.S. Coast Guard Cyber Command, he also is mindful that the JIE will improve his ability to control what devices are attached to the network, giving him, for example, the opportunity to quickly detect and order the removal of an unauthorized USB thumb drive inserted into a secure network computer.

Hewing to the reality of doing more with less, the admiral also told conference attendees that within the next eight months, the Coast Guard is expected to move to the U.S. Defense Department’s enterprise email system. Adm. Day stated that even though this move initially may cost more in some cases, the long-term benefits to the service will mitigate and justify some of those costs. In addition, acknowledging the futility of reinventing the wheel, he noted that the Coast Guard is adopting the U.S. Air Force’s Virtual Flight Bag, which replaces nearly 300 pounds of printed manuals and charts carried aboard aircraft by crews. Apple iPads will be loaded with digital copies of the same material.

The Best Laid Plans Fly Awry

June 1, 2013
By Max Cacas

The U.S. Air Force’s migration to a new enterprise network known as AFNET will be at least two years late in completion because the project turned out to be more complicated than planners anticipated.

Joint Aerial Layer Network Vision Moves Toward Reality

June 1, 2013
By George I. Seffers

The concept connects disparate networks to provide greater information to warfighters.

U.S. military officials envision one day being able to network together virtually all airborne assets, providing data to warfighters in the air, on the ground and at sea, even under the most harsh conditions. Major milestones in the coming months and years will bring that concept closer to a fielded capability.

The Joint Aerial Layer Network (JALN) is not an actual program. “It is a conglomeration of a number of different programs. It is absolutely a vision of how we’re going to transport information across many domains—air, space, terrestrial and subsurface—and across many different environments—an environment that is totally permissive; an environment that is contested; and an environment that is anti-access and actively denied to us,” explains Col. Anthony Genatempo, USAF, senior material leader for the Space, Aerial and Nuclear Networks Division, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts. “The Joint Aerial Layer Network is a vision for pulling together lots of different existing networks and being able to route and transport required information to a much wider array of users.” For example, it would disseminate data from Link 16, a network primarily for fighter aircraft, or information gathered by drones, which currently is largely restricted to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance networks.

Razor Talon Sharpens Services’ Synergy

June 1, 2013
By Rita Boland

Integrating air land, and sea forces on a monthly basis saves money and creates continuity of operations.

Technology experts at the U.S. Air Force’s 4th Fighter Wing based at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, are networking joint units up and down the East Coast to provide unique training opportunities for the modern military. Through their efforts, advancements are being made to further the Air-Sea Battle Concept, simultaneously improving coalition interoperability. The events allow for interservice and international training without strain on organizations’ budgets.

These Razor Talon exercises are monthly large-force exercises that have grown significantly since their first iteration in March 2011. They evolved in part from an inability of units, because of timing or funding, always to send their assets to the major exercise of that type—Red Flag at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. “We needed a large-force exercise to essentially grow mission commanders,” explains Col. Michael Koscheski, USAF, 4th Operations Group commander. Though units from the East Coast can receive world-class training by attending annual, large-scale events, the home station training offered through Razor Talon ensures they can keep up-to-date. Sometimes units miss out for years on attending other exercises because of costs or mission schedules. Razor Talon planners lay out the yearly schedule for their monthly events, and groups see when they are available to participate based on their operations.

Air Force Strikes at New
 Information Challenges

June 1, 2013
By Robert K. Ackerman

Costs, security and operations requirements share top billing on priority list.

The U.S. Air Force is looking to overhaul its networking capabilities to meet new taskings in the post-Southwest-Asia era. Limited resources are changing the way the Air Force moves information throughout the battlespace, so the service must confront its challenges through innovative approaches and cooperative efforts.

The Air Force has to determine which networking issues have organic solutions and which problems must be solved by others—government, other military organizations or even the private sector. It must make those determinations without knowing if it will have the funding to tap outside resources that could meet its needs. And, these issues have to be addressed as cyber and coalition interoperability assume greater emphasis in both planning and operations.

Lt. Gen. Michael J. Basla, USAF, chief of information dominance and chief information officer (CIO)/A-6, U.S. Air Force, is in charge of ensuring Air Force networks effectively support the service as well as the joint and coalition communities. His top concerns are built around space superiority; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR); rapid global mobility; global strike; and command and control.

Gen. Basla relates that, in a discussion with Defense Department officials, he suggested that investments in cyber and information technologies can offset costs in other areas. A nonkinetic effect might be less expensive than a kinetic effect and still achieve an operational objective. But even that option for efficiency faces hurdles, budgetary concerns among them.

Air Force Comes to Grips With Cyber

June 1, 2013
By Robert K. Ackerman

Roles are changing as the service reshapes its digital future.

The U.S. Air Force is subjecting itself to a cyber reality check with an eye toward restructuring the discipline both operationally and organizationally. A working group is parsing the service’s activities in this domain, and this effort involves interaction with the other services as well as the commercial sector.

The restructuring drive is being conducted in concert with other Defense Department changes across the realm of cyber activities. For the Air Force, it includes a shift from communications specializations to a cyber emphasis. Disparate disciplines are overlapping and may be combined. Some traditional Air Force career tracks even may serve as a model for training and promoting new cyber experts.

“We are hard at work trying to define what the Air Force future is in cyber,” says Gen. William L. Shelton, USAF, commander of the U.S. Air Force Space Command. “We are pulling the experts together from government and industry, trying to understand what this future looks like—what we need to build to. Rather than being confined by the past, we instead look ahead and try to determine what our cyber future looks like and how we need to posture ourselves to be much better in the cyber domain than we are today.”

The Space Command has the major command responsibilities for both space and cyberspace in the Air Force. This includes serving as core function lead integrator for both domains, so it is taking the lead in setting the scene for the Air Force in cyber.

This scene envisions the operational community being in charge of cyber operations, with the information technology community working on communications issues. A more efficient architecture with greater commercial involvement will enable a more secure mission-assurance focus in how the Air Force carries out its missions, the general suggests.

DISA Lays Groundwork for Commercial Cloud Computing Contract

March 26, 2013
By Max Cacas

One of the U.S. Defense Department’s top information technology officials says work is beginning on a multiaward contract for commercial cloud computing services, but the official says he has no timeline or total value for the business.

Obstacles Loom for Pacific Realignment

January 1, 2013
By Robert K. Ackerman

The shift of U.S. power to the Asia-Pacific will not be successful without an infusion of new technology and a dedicated effort to defeat a wide range of adversaries. The new strategic emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region poses a new set of challenges, mandating solutions that run the gamut from technological capabilities to cultural outreach and diplomacy.

On the military side, direct challenges range from dealing with cyberspace attacks to providing missile defense in a large-scale conflict. On the geopolitical side, centuries of conflict and confrontation among neighbors must be overcome if a region-wide security environment enabling economic growth is to be implemented.

The technological response will require moving game-changing—or even disruptive—technologies into theater faster and more effectively. Strategically, both government and the military must build more extensive coalitions among a large number of nations, some of which historically have not trusted each other.

These points were among the many discussed at TechNet Asia-Pacific 2012, held in Honolulu, Hawaii, November 13-15. Titled “Rebalancing Toward the Asia-Pacific—Challenges and Opportunities,” the conference featured a multinational roster of speakers and panelists from across government, the military, industry and academia.

One challenge that faces modern military forces anywhere in the world is cyberspace, and the threat in that realm is extending into new areas with potentially greater lethality. A new type of player has emerged among cyber malefactors, and many traditional adversaries are adopting new tactics that combine both hardware and software exploitation. These threats no longer are confined to customary targets, as even systems once thought sacrosanct are vulnerable to potentially devastating onslaughts.

Stepped Up Cyberthreats Prompt Air Force To Rethink Training, Acquisitions

November 30, 2012
By Max Cacas

Air Force cybersecurity training may be conducted 24 hours a day, seven days a week if needed to meet burgeoning demand for cybersecurity experts in the near future, according to the service’s chief information officer. Growing threats also may drive the need for adoption of rapid acquisition practices, which are being developed by a special corps of acquisition experts.

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