Air combat planners, in the foreseeable future, can expect to use
sophisticated software tools that will help compress the so-called
“kill chain,”—the time it takes it to find, identify
and destroy a target, said Air Force officials.
Some of these technologies were tested this summer, during a series
of experiments designed to execute new air-combat planning concepts
embraced by U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper.
Among Jumper’s initiatives is the notion of a “global
strike task force” of fighter and bomber aircraft that would
be able to take off on short notice and attack an enemy’s
critical infrastructure—thus clearing the way for U.S. ground
forces. This task force, to be successful, would require unprecedented
levels of battlefield intelligence.
A continual flow of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance
(ISR) data around the clock is a fundamental prerequisite in the
global strike task force, said Lt. Gen. William T. Hobbins, commander
of the 12th Air Force. He served as the joint force air and space
component commander during the Air Force war-fighting experiment
conducted this summer, known as JEFX 2002.
In a simulation-based portion of the experiment, a global strike
task force made up of F-22 fighters and B-2 bombers relied on “persistent
24-7 ISR to kick down the door in a scenario where we don’t
have access, to enable follow-on forces,” Hobbins told reporters
during a news conference.
The JEFX command air operations center, or CAOC, at Nellis Air
Force Base, Nev., became the test bed for several new technologies
that Hobbins said will help “transform” the way air
operations are planned and implemented. The goal, he said, is to
“send information as rapidly as we can from the CAOC to the
war fighter in the air, so we can prosecute targets before we lose
Among the more useful technologies tried at JEFX were software
programs that help collect and combine data from multiple stove-piped
systems, Hobbins said. “We are using software in ways we never
did before, to facilitate machine-to-machine talk.”
Hobbins was particularly enthusiastic about the experimental MC2A-X
(multi-sensor command and control aircraft), known as Paul Revere.
This system is viewed as a “critical enabler” for the
global strike task force, its role envisioned as an information
hub that can help direct sensors and weapons.
The Paul Revere is a Boeing 707 equipped with communications links
and workstations that receive sensor information feeds from the
AWACS air-traffic control aircraft, the Joint STARS ground surveillance
radar aircraft, the Rivet Joint signals intelligence aircraft and
the Airborne Battlefield Command and Control Center.
A crew of 22 aboard the Paul Revere sorted the information and
figured out how to make the best use of the data in directing the
activities of sensors and strike aircraft. In a conflict, the Joint
Task Force commander would determine the “time critical targets”
that need to be prosecuted right away. The crews aboard the MC2A
would use the data available to help pinpoint those targets within
If the Air Force decides to build an operational MC2A, its host
platform will be a 767 jet. The plan is to field the MC2A aircraft
as part of a constellation that also would include unmanned aerial
vehicles, space-based radar, space-based infrared sensors and ground
During JEFX, the Paul Revere flew over the Nellis training ranges,
in order to “gain as much information as we can about how
we can use this aircraft in the future,” said Hobbins. The
aircraft is connected with the CAOC in real time, which facilitates
the exchange of data.
Despite his utter endorsement of the MC2A-X, Hobbins acknowledged
that the project has a long way to go in its technical development.
“We are trying to walk before we run with this concept,”
he said. “We need to figure out the manning, the type of information
we want ... determine what information we have to prosecute.”
Air Tasking Orders
To expedite the process of executing the air campaign, the Air Force
tested at JEFX the so-called Master Air Attack Planning (Maap) tool-kit,
a piece of software that retrieves and displays the information
needed to build the air attack plan.
Battle planners currently spend up to 12 hours figuring out which
weapon platforms will be matched up against what target, as prescribed
in the campaign blueprint, called the ATO (the air tasking order
issued by the theater commander). The air strike plan usually is
charted 48 to 72 hours before the fighters and bombers take off
on their missions.
“Intelligence folks currently plot the information on wall
charts, with a grease pencil and add Post-it notes with target information,”
explained Air Force Lt. Col. Douglas Combs, program manager for
the Maap toolkit.
During a recent exercise, said Combs, it took three people eight
hours to plot the information on a wall chart.
“With the Maap Toolkit, we pull the information out of the
databases from TBMCS and plot that on a map and make them interactive
with the target information, in a span of about 30 seconds,”
Combs said at a Pentagon briefing on JEFX.
The TBMCS is the theater battle management command and control
system that the Air Force introduced two years ago and is now standard
equipment at CAOCs. It combines hundreds of applications that were
merged into one infrastructure, and contains most of the information
that the CAOC needs to conduct air operations.
With the Maap tool-kit, said Combs, “we can reduce the ATO
production cell from 19 to five people.” The software electronically
pumps the information that typically is handled manually into a
TBMCS application called theater air planner. Not every TBMCS database
is compatible with the Maap tool-kit yet, but Combs said that at
least 80 percent are interoperable.
During JEFX, the Maap tool-kit was tested in various exercises.
The goal was to figure out how it could be employed to help expedite
the planning process in the air operations center.
The system is easy to use, said Combs. “It’s all drag
and drop.” Planners can grab airplane icons on the computer
screen, for example, and drag them into a target location. A pop-up
planning window allows them to specify weapon choices for each airplane.
With today’s technology, it takes between six and eight hours
to map out the strike platforms on the battle zone. Another two
to four hours are needed to create a Powerpoint presentation that
is used to brief the Joint Force Air Commander and get approval
to execute the battle plan. “With Maap tool-kit, I can do
an export [of the planning charts] directly into the briefing,”
The tool-kit has not yet been approved for live operations. Combs
predicted that several Air Force units could begin using the system
Air Force officials at JEFX also experimented with a new Web-based
software system that consolidates numerous sources of battlefield
intelligence. This ISR (intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance)
manager blends the data received from sensors such as the U-2 spy
aircraft, the Global Hawk and Predator drones, the Joint STARS,
Rivet Joint, AWACS, the Navy’s EP-3 electronic warfare airplane
and national sensors.
Today, each ISR platform has its own independent processing and
control systems. The time it takes to correlate the intelligence
information delays the decision timelines, said Morris Johnston,
a Raytheon Co. engineer who helped design the technology.
The Web-based ISR manager creates a picture of the theater battle
space that combines data such as sensor location, collection plans,
targets and tip-off information from intelligence sensors.
Authorized users with the proper security clearance, for example,
can access the Web site and see the position of the sensors. Commanders
even can re-task the sensors remotely, Johnston said. Without the
ISR manager, he said, a remote capability would require high-bandwidth,
dedicated communications pipes, as well as specialized tools.
The Raytheon system was being tested at Nellis Air Force Base for
JEFX. During the experiment, “we would bring that data into
a common data base, along with input from intelligence networks
and tactical signals-intelligence data,” he said. “At
Nellis, we have the capability to retarget U-2 sensors in flight.”
An operator from any corner of the world hypothetically could request
that a sensor be redirected. A commander ultimately would have to
endorse the request. “Not every operator would be approved
to re-task, but would just be able to monitor sensors,” Johnston
The JEFX, meanwhile, saw the successful employment of the joint
en-route mission planning and rehearsal system (JEMPRS).
The JEMPRS essentially is a pallet loaded with communications systems
and computers that can roll on and off aircraft, so commanders can
plan and direct combat missions while in flight.
The joint task force commander of the Millennium Challenge multi-service
war-fighting experiment, Army Lt. Gen. B.B. Bell, used JEMPRS aboard
a C-17 cargo plan to conduct a live rehearsal and numerous meetings,
virtually, as he flew from Norfolk, Va., to the USS Coronado, off
the coast of San Diego. The picture of the battlefield that JEMPRS
creates can be shared with other commanders.
The head of U.S. Central Command, Army Gen. Tommy Franks, used
the system aboard a C-17 during Operation Enduring Freedom.
“While airborne, all the components (air, land, sea) were
connected to the C-17,” said Hobbins. He noted, additionally,
that the Air Force and the Navy were able to fine-tune joint war-fighting
techniques at Millennium Challenge and JEFX by combining their individual
air war blueprints into a single campaign planning document. Hobbins
said that the coordination worked smoothly.
“We de-conflicted the air space and coordinated the movement
of surface ships.”