Technology Takes Flight

June 2006
By Maryann Lawlor
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Warfighters examine technologies headed for Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment ‘06 during the third spiral leading up to the main event, which occurred at the end of April. The ground-laying work takes place on the main floor of the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.
Air Force aims to meet warfighters’ urgent communication needs at Mach speed.

The U.S. Air Force is applying lessons learned from current operations about how new warfighter technologies can build the best bridges between the operational, tactical and intelligence elements of warfare and increase information flow. But while putting more information in warfighters’ hands increases situational awareness, challenges remain about how to ensure that more data does not overwhelm troops but rather can be transformed into the applicable knowledge warfighters require.

Improvements in Air Force communication technologies to enhance information sharing began close to home immediately following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The service’s Command and Control & Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C2ISR) Center at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, worked with the 1st Air Force at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, to integrate radar feeds from across the continental United States (CONUS). According to Stan C. Newberry, senior technical director of technical integration and innovation at the C2ISR Center, prior to the integration, three radar sites tracked aircraft within their own regions, but there was no way to obtain an air picture of the entire CONUS.

“The software identified and implemented is still in use today. The technology was something we had been working on for some time but had been unable to field rapidly. As a result, we teamed with the ElectronicsSystemsCenter [ESC] at Hanscom Air Force Base and followed a streamlined process for delivering this critical capability,” Newberry relates.

But with military operations heating up outside the United States, center personnel immediately turned their attention to fielding technologies that directly support joint warfighter missions by helping stand up the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia. The CAOC is responsible for all air operation planning, coordination and tasking within the theater of operations. After identifying the baseline capability required, the C2ISR Center staff worked with the ESC to field it. The CAOC now is located at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.

Improvements to the CAOC’s capabilities continue, with the air component commander using them to build air tasking orders to support coalition commanders with air power, Newberry states.

In addition, technologies were introduced to facilitate communication with ground troops. The Joint Range Extension system, also developed in conjunction with the ESC, expands the range of tactical datalink networks to beyond line of sight. Using both ground and airborne nodes that act as relays, the system passes the tactical air picture to units in the field. The capability is being used in the U.S. Central Command area of operations today.

Although the C2ISR Center is an Air Force facility, personnel there believe in the benefits of working with members of the other services. Newberry explains that as part of the effort to ensure that the CAOC could support operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, center staff worked closely with the U.S. Army to field the Automated Deep Operations Coordination System, or ADOCS. The system proved to be a critical enabler for the time-sensitive targeting (TST) cell during operation Iraqi Freedom, he notes.

“ADOCS permitted the Air Force, Army and Navy to share data and coordinate on TSTs in near real time by giving the joint fires coordinator/coordination process the best asset/minimum time to strike. Actual programmers were deployed with the system to make improvements in theater. This created a configuration management and testing challenge where numerous lessons learned were identified and are now being applied,” he says.

ADOCS was part of an advanced concept technology demonstration (ACTD) sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The demonstration was near the end of its three-year status when it was fielded to the CAOC. However, that was not the end of the pursuit for similar but better capabilities. Incorporating operational lessons learned and working with the ESC and acquisition community, the C2ISR Center awarded a contract to migrate a capability similar to ADOCS into the Web-Enabled Execution Management Capability (WEEMC). The capability now is undergoing development and testing.

Newberry allows that much work remains to deliver the agile, dynamic C2 capabilities that warfighters say they need, and experience in the field most surely is being applied to meeting this challenge. For example, the center is migrating the Theater Battle Management Core Systems (TBMCS) to an environment that leverages Web technology and common services. The Air Force soon will be fielding TBMCS version 1.1.3 and is incorporating warfighter feedback in developing the next version.

In developing TBMCS version 1.1.4, the C2ISR Center is leveraging the Theater Battle Operations Net-centric Environment (T-BONE), an initiative of the Air Force Command and Control Battlelab. The organization, known as the C2 Battlelab, relocated recently from Hurlburt Field in Florida to Langley. The project began nearly two years ago. “We are working to again include operators from all the services as we develop TBMCS 1.1.4. T-BONE is really a packaging of several C2 Battlelab initiatives we have worked on and experimented with via our Joint Expeditionary Force Experiments over the last several years. This enhances the Air Battle Plan [ABP] process, becoming more adaptive and dynamic, in effect creating a collaborative ABP between the operational level and the tactical level,” Newberry explains.

Joint Expeditionary Force Experiments (JEFXs) began in the 1990s (SIGNAL Magazine, November 1999). JEFX ’06 continued the exploration process that began during JEFX ’04 to provide integrated, seamless solutions for the joint and coalition warfighter, U.S. combatant and combined force commanders, and national and civil authorities using network-centric technology.

 
In the CAOC at Nellis Air Force Base, the U.S. Air Force can combine real and virtual forces for Red Flag combat training exercises. Although the exercise focuses on training pilots, the center also gives ground personnel the opportunity to practice multitasking in a realistic but safe environment. In spring 2005, the event involved joint and international forces for the first time.
User feedback gathered during the early spirals of JEFX ’06 about the new capabilities was positive, and testing continued during the JEFX ’06 main event in late April and early May. Additional testing of TBMCS version 1.1.4 is scheduled to take place during the coming months, and the goal is to start fielding the new version in fiscal year 2007.

The C2ISR Center also has been working toward delivering an improved intelligence capability with the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS). Similar to TBMCS version 1.1.4, DCGS version 10.2 is the first step in moving to an architecture that makes data available to warfighters in a timelier manner, Newberry states. “This ties operations and intelligence together seamlessly by allowing warfighters to share actionable information,” he says. DCGS 10.2 is expected to begin fielding in 2007.

Newberry describes how DCGS used to be upgraded in the field. This approach impacted operations and training as warfighters were asked to wring out and learn a new system while simultaneously fighting a war with the old system. “We learned from that experience and established a Distributed Ground System–Experimental (DGS-X) here at Langley. DGS-X helps to ensure that DCGS improvements are integrated and ready for fielding without significantly hampering current operations,” he says.

Another project in transition is the Data Link Automated Reporting System, or DLARS. In the past, the Air Force primarily used datalinks to communicate between air platforms. As part of JEFX ’04, the C2 Battlelab developed a capability to mine this data and to make it available to ground nodes. Consequently, information about platform fuel, munitions availability, phase of flight and other time-sensitive data will be available in near real time to aid decision making. Newberry indicates that DLARS will dramatically increase situational awareness for operational planners and execution personnel in the CAOC.

The C2ISR Center also is expanding its exploration of new technologies. According to Newberry, one of the most exciting projects is the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN), which was examined during JEFX ’06. This airborne capability will serve as a gateway to translate data between the various communication links and formats available today. “It will also provide a publish-and-subscribe capability so data will be available to edge users across all services. In effect, it extends and relays critical communications and data to all portions of the battlespace. Too many times data is available only at rear echelons when it is the front-line soldiers, sailors and airmen who really need it,” he says.

BACN’s size, weight and power requirements are such that it could fly on an unmanned vehicle or similar platform, but a fielding decision has not yet been made, he adds.

Many military leaders view JEFX ’06 as a prime opportunity not only to explore new capabilities but also to get them into the hands of warfighters faster. Lt. Gen. Charles L. Johnson II, USAF, commander of the ESC, notes that the JEFX forum has evolved toward putting technologies on the fast track. “In JEFX ’06, we unite combat-experienced joint and coalition warfighters with premier acquisition personnel gaining both direct feedback and accelerated testing on our cutting-edge C2 initiatives. Essentially, we are putting tomorrow’s tools in the hands of today’s warriors,” the general states.

Even the highest ranking Air Force officials note the need for speed when it comes to fielding new capabilities. Col. Charles E. Parks, USAF, director of the Air Force Experimentation Office, relates that Gen. T. Michael Moseley, USAF, Air Force chief of staff, has established a goal of fielding at least 65 percent of successful capabilities that have been part of JEFX within 18 months of his post-experiment approval. “Today, with the proliferation of asymmetric threats, the move for the Air Force and JEFX is away from long-term concept development and more toward capabilities-based, flexible solutions,” the colonel says.

Because military experts agree that all future operations will include multinational involvement, U.S. experiments also must bring forces from other nations into the experiment forum, he adds. “U.S. and coalition personnel must be able to work shoulder-to-shoulder as equal crew members at the operational level of war. As a result, the chief of staff of the Air Force invited three U.S. allies—Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom—to participate in the experiment. In JEFX ’06, we had 35 coalition members from Australia, Canada and the U.K.,” Col. Parks notes.

And this interaction with foreign militaries is very important to other nations as well. Air Cdre. Tim Anderson, RAF, commandant, Air Warfare Centre, Royal Air Force, says that interoperability with allies is at the top of the United Kingdom’s military and political leaders’ priority lists. “Every experiment or exercise that makes interoperability easier for us and our allies receives our full support,” he states.

Interoperability also continues to be a challenge among the U.S. services, but Newberry maintains it is one the C2ISR Center is tackling. For example, the center has worked closely with the U.S. Navy and Army in maturing T-BONE to TBMCS 1.1.4. “They raised some valid concerns regarding future compatibility. We now have a plan in place to address those concerns,” he notes.

In addition, the center has been working closely with the U.S. Joint Forces Command on the BACN initiative, linking it with a ground capability that will ensure that ground troops can benefit from the technology as well.

Interoperability is not the only issue that concerns Newberry. Although new and emerging technologies are extremely efficient in passing information, the ultimate effect—information overload—also must be addressed, he says. “Situational awareness is really a daunting challenge for us. There’s so much data out there today, and there’s going to be so much more data out there tomorrow. Turning that data into information that the warfighter can use is really a big challenge, and we can’t afford to make many mistakes in that. We’ve got to make sure that information is in the right people’s hands so that it doesn’t affect the safety and success of whatever the efforts are,” he says.

This challenge can be compounded by the global nature of warfare today. Newberry points out that distributed and collaborative capabilities are even more important and must be accessible across the services, combatant commands, coalition partners and government agencies both inside and outside of the U.S. Defense Department.

To achieve this goal, JEFX ’08 will be the center’s first effort at pulling many of these organizations together. “We are looking at government and industry initiatives to do this right now. In some cases, we will evolve our current capabilities to address the broader requirements. In other cases, we will likely use something that we may have never even heard of.

“Realizing this, we are trying to keep from becoming wed to particular technology solutions at this point. Flexibility and adaptability will be key to ensuring we deliver what the warfighter wants. If all we do is force-fit our current programs and capabilities to the new requirements, we will have done an injustice to both the warfighters and taxpayers,” Newberry states.

 

Web Resources
Command and Control & Intelligence, Surveillance and ReconnaissanceCenter: www.afc2isrc.af.mil
C2 Battlelab: www.langley.af.mil/c2b
ElectronicSystemsCenter: www.hanscom.af.mil
Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment ‘06: www.jefx06-nsi.com