Air Force shifts C2 apps to PCs

The Air Force Air Mobility Command is porting one of its key command and control applications from a workstation-centric architecture to a PC-centric architecture which is expected to make the software less costly to deploy and easier to manage.

The Command and Control Information Processing System (C2 IPS) now deployed at about 80 sites allows Air Force commanders to plan and monitor airlift and tanker aircraft operations by tapping into a database for access to mission status and crew and cargo information. The system was developed to replace the labor-intensive process for maintaining information in hard-copy file folders at different Air Mobility Command sites.

However under the original architecture developed by Computer Sciences Corp. Air Force staff who wanted access to the database had to run a high-end workstation. With the new strategy that is no longer the case potentially opening up C2 IPS to a more users.

"Lots of senior command want information that is on C2 IPS but they don't want the hardware on their desks " said Col. Doug Ebner C2 IPS system program office director at the Air Force Electronic Systems Center Hanscom Air Force Base Mass. With the new strategy "we can install our software on existing PCs that are on everybody's desks " Ebner said.

The Air Force expects to begin testing the new software next month with a rollout to users some time around the end of the year. In addition to the 80 existing sites the Air Force will be rolling out the software to another 70 or so nodes with about 1 500 additional users.

The original software - developed in increments during the last eight years - required each C2 IPS user to have a high-end Digital Equipment Corp. workstation running the OpenVMS operating system. The Air Force called for a distributed architecture with a copy of the database residing on each workstation. The databases were coordinated by a server at each site which hooked up with other sites via a communications processor.

The Air Force will field the new C2 IPS software in a client/server environment. Rather than requiring each client to run the database - which requires high-end or "fat " clients - the new architecture calls for the database to run on a central Unix server which users tap into from Microsoft Corp. Windows NT-based desktop PCs. The architecture no longer requires a file server at all sites and eventually may eliminate the need for communications processors.

From the outset the new architecture will be less expensive to field because standard PC hardware is much less expensive to field than high-end workstations. The more costly Unix servers - from Sun Microsystems Inc. - will support up to 100 users per server.

Because the new architecture consolidates processing on the server the Air Force will have an easier time scaling up the system as its requirements grow said Ron Randel CSC's C2 IPS program manager.

For example to simplify the management of its C2 IPS systems the Air Force is looking to reduce the number of servers in the field supporting more users with fewer servers and "we need to size the servers to meet the added workloads they will now have " Randel said.

Having fewer servers is expected to make the overall C2 IPS program much easier to manage. The Air Force originally planned to have a systems administrator at each user site. But with the new architecture a large server might support C2 IPS users at multiple locations with systems administrators supporting many users remotely. "We are really interested in seeing what the performance is so we can see what the final configuration will be " Ebner said.

Additionally the new architecture calls for a Windows NT World Wide Web server making it possible to field C2 IPS as an intranet application. Initially the Air Force is looking to allow some new users to tap into C2 IPS in read-only mode.

For example an Air Force weather shop that is responsible for putting together weather briefings might check on C2 IPS for when a particular crew will be arriving Ebner said. However the Air Force eventually might use the Web to input information he said.

The new architecture also fits into the big picture at the Air Mobility Command. The Air Force organization recently developed a plan for migrating its key command and control applications to a common environment. In developing the C2 IPS architecture "we tried not only to look at IPS but to work with AMC and see how their enterprise is evolving " CSC's Randel said.

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