Future shock: Air Force conducts battle experiment
- By Dan Verton
- Sep 27, 1998
LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va.— The Air Force last week launched the first in a series of experiments designed to test cutting-edge information technologies that will help the Air Force completely reinvent the way it wages war in the 21st century.
Known as the Expeditionary Force Experiment (EFX) 98, the war game featured more than 200 individual technology demonstrations and tests that will help military planners and defense contractors quickly and efficiently develop and refine systems, software and communications architectures that are capable of supporting U.S. forces when they go into battle.
The experiments undertaken at EFX 98 will help the Air Force chart future courses of action and learn "how we might be lighter, leaner and more lethal," according to Lt. Gen. Lansford E. Trapp, commander of the 12th Air Force and the Joint Forces Air Component Commander for EFX 98. The Air Force of the 21st century "will need a way to move [command and control] forward," Trapp said. Right now, "we're pretty heavy."
Conducted from the Air and Space Command and Control Agency's new Rear Operations Support Center (ROSC) at Langley, EFX 98 focused on real-time command and control (C2) of an Expeditionary Aerospace Force. An EAF, equipped with advanced information and communications technologies, is a small force that can be deployed at a moment's notice to anywhere in the world.
By fiscal 2000, the Air Force will field 10 EAFs. Each will enable regional commanders in chief to tailor their forces to meet specific requirements for humanitarian or peace-enforcement missions or for full-scale regional conflicts.
An EAF will bring with it a mix of fighter, bomber and support aircraft and will rely on a small support staff using advanced air, space and ground-based communications and other C2 technologies to dynamically manage its aircraft in-flight.
One of the key functions of an EAF is to provide Air Force commanders with "situation awareness" in a battle theater— an accurate picture of the location and movement of friendly and opposing forces. According to the Air Force, the EAF will be able to provide its commanders with situation awareness in the battlefield using one-tenth the number of support personnel that were required during Operation Desert Storm.
In a speech earlier this month at the Air Force Association National Convention, Gen. Michael E. Ryan, Air Force chief of staff, said, "We believe we can cut the size of our Air Operations Centers by an order of magnitude...to do with 200 [people] what we used to do with 2,000."
According to Ryan, "A major part of being able to effectively execute the EAF concept is to reduce our forward footprint while connecting our forces to needed information and warfighting capability in rear areas."
On Day Three of the exercise all eyes were fixed on the flight of the Speckled Trout KC-135 C2 aircraft and the test to maintain the situation awareness of the Joint Air Force Commander while he flew from the United States to the national forward operations center in the Middle East.
The Speckled Trout aircraft acts as a test bed for developing and modifying new information technologies for use aboard C2 aircraft, according to Capt. Joel Hagan, chief of flight testing aboard Speckled Trout and program manager for EFX 98. According to Hagan, the configuration of the aircraft allows for 24-hour plug-and-play testing of new IT-based C2 systems.
New Face of Mobile C3I
In addition to new communications equipment, the aircraft also was equipped with a roll-on/roll-off palette of command, control, communications and intelligence (C3I) systems, including the Global Command and Control System.
According to Hagan, this is a first of its kind for the Air Force. For example, during the 15-hour flight to Saudi Arabia in 1990 during Operation Desert Storm, the air commander "had very little situation awareness," Hagan said. "We're evaluating the ability to maintain...command and control...so when [the commander] steps off of the jet he can continue to run the air war."
Another significant experiment undertaken at EFX 98 was the Integrated Planning and Execution Capability (IPEC) system, which provides a faster and simpler method of determining the availability of resources at a foreign deployment location, such as runway length, facilities and surrounding topography.
"IPEC allows us to access and integrate a number of distributed databases" that can provide the commander with 3-D visualization data for expeditionary air base planning, said Lt. Col. Greg Miller, commander of the Air Expeditionary Force Battle Lab at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho.
"With IPEC you can have a fairly complete base support plan [established] before you even put your feet on the ground.... This is a problem we've been trying to solve for a long time," he said.
The Air Force also experimented with its B-1B bomber force in a test known as Beyond Line of Site. During the BLOS test, secure satellite communications allowed commanders on the ground or in the Speckled Trout aircraft to change the B-1B's mission while in flight. Pictures of the new target area, location data and a brief description were sent directly to the B-1B pilot, Miller said.
It is clear from the experiments undertaken at EFX 98 that "reach back" capabilities are key to the Air Force's new expeditionary mindset, Air Force officials said. According to Ryan, these capabilities will significantly improve the Air Force's capability to respond to worldwide crises.
"Experiments like these involving our battle labs are a way to quickly incorporate smart ideas" into Air Force operations, Ryan said. "This is the kind of innovation needed today and in the future."
The Air Force also expects to see some more immediate payoffs from the exercise.
In preparation for EFX 98, the Air Force invested $40 million in new hardware and facilities upgrades, including more than 140 workstations, large-screen displays and advanced communications pipes, the majority of which went into the new ROSC at Langley.
After EFX 98, the Air Force plans to leave in place a significant portion of the hardware in the center to act as a central hub for C2 support during future real-world operations, said Maj. Rick Painter, the lead systems technician at the ROSC during EFX 98.
AT A GLANCE
Major Experiments of EFX 98
JFACC Enroute Information System: Joint Forces Air Component Commander Enroute Information System tests the ability of the JFACC to take part in C2 planning while en route to the theater of operations aboard the C2 aircraft.
ATO Viewer: Air Tasking Order Viewer will test the ability of C2 staff to employ visualization tools to pre-play and analyze campaign plans and make changes based on that analysis before missions are flown.
National Eagle: Visualization and simulation shelter that allows pilots to rehearse missions using 3-D simulation tools and commercial-based target-area imagery. Weather data and Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle imagery also can be viewed.