Air Force keeps IT tests on track
- By Dan Verton
- Jun 20, 1999
Despite the strain placed on its communications specialists during the three-month air war in the Balkans, the Air Force is forging ahead with preparations for a major information technology experiment later this summer because of its importance to the service's long-term strategy.
Scheduled to take place in mid-August at Air Force bases across the country, the Joint Expeditionary Aerospace Force Experiment (JEFX) 1999 will test a throng of cutting-edge information and communications technologies. The goal is to uncover those best suited to lead the Air Force into the 21st century.
During the two-week, $40 million experiment, the Air Force plans to test the ability to take a large mix of technology—including commercial satellite uplinks, line-of-site radios and commercial off-the-shelf software applications and hardware platforms as well as various communications and computer systems aboard moving aircraft—and integrate it into a seamless architecture that will allow commanders to exercise command and control from anywhere on the globe.
However, the crisis in Kosovo has taxed the Air Force, particularly its communications specialists, more heavily than expected, Air Force officials said.
In fact, because of the large number of personnel deployed to support Operation Allied Force in Yugoslavia, the Air Force had to purchase additional commercial Ku-band satellite equipment and network routers to support JEFX '99, according to Col. Stephen Carr, deputy commander of the Command and Control Training and Innovation Center at Hurlbert Field, Fla.
Despite this and the allocation of the 48th Fighter Wing for Balkan operations, Carr maintained that the impact on JEFX '99 will be minimal.
Air Force officials are anxious to keep JEFX '99 on track because they see it as playing a vital role in shaping future battle strategies.
"As we fight in Kosovo, [JEFX '99] is the single event which can give us the most insight into how we can and should fight in the future," said Lt. Gen. Lanny Trapp, commander of the 12th Air Force and the joint air forces component commander for JEFX '99, in a recent message to senior Air Force leaders. "Even with ongoing events, we're still looking to conduct JEFX '99, albeit with a scaled-down core experiment focusing on getting the right assessment of the initiatives," he wrote.
The goal of the experiment, according to Brig. Gen. Dale Meyerrose, director of communications and information for JEFX '99, is "to demonstrate distributed operations anyplace on the face of the earth." A complementary goal, and one that was first introduced last year during EFX '98, is to be "light, lean and lethal, and to move information, not people," Meyerrose said.
But the technical vision is to "create a distributed and redundant architecture that is protected," Carr said. "We're using JEFX as a laboratory to experiment in how to build that architecture," he said.
According to Meyerrose, Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., will serve as the "center of gravity" for the command and control portion of JEFX '99, while the Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force Base, Va., will be the same for the architecture and networking piece.
Communications pipes will range in size from an OC-3 line, which transmits data at 155 megabits/sec, at Langley, down to T-1 lines, which transmit at 1.544 megabits/sec, deployed at the various locations, Meyerrose said. "We're trying to anticipate bandwidth support that will be available in 2003," he said.According to Meyerrose, JEFX '99 has three primary objectives:
* To ensure that Air Force doctrine and warfighting concepts keep up with IT being fielded throughout the battlefield.
* To work out the kinks in the Air Force's spiral development process, which looks to enhance the timeliness of fielding equipment and make use of lessons learned to adjust existing infrastructure.
* To continue experimenting with collaborative software applications, security tools and high-bandwidth communications systems.
For example, "for the first time, we're looking to bring large amounts of commercially available bandwidth to deployed locations," including the Defense Information Systems Agency's strategic network entry points and Milstar satellite communications, Meyerrose said.
Front and Center
Several experiments will take center stage at JEFX '99, according to Col. Terry Thompson, director of the Air Force's Experimentation Office. These include integrating a network of strategic intelligence sensors; moving an air tasking order—a multimegabyte file that lays out the details of an air campaign—from Langley, Va., to forces in South Korea; and using "time-critical targeting," which focuses on moving time-sensitive data to pilots in the cockpit.
Results of the tests will form the nucleus of the Air Force's Integrated Command and Control System, an umbrella term that describes the "system of systems" Air Force officials said they hope to have in place by January 2000, when the Air Force hopes to field its first Expeditionary Aerospace Force. The EAF, equipped with advanced information and communications technologies, will be a small force that can be deployed at a moment's notice anywhere in the world.
"In experimentation, we have to look beyond current-day operations and toward concepts that are longer-term in focus," Thompson said. In fact, most of the technologies that will be tested during JEFX '99 were selected based on the Air Force's ability to field them within 18 months, he said. Still, "the majority of the technologies have not been used before," he said.
One of the primary tools for collaboration that will be used during JEFX '99 is GTE Corp.'s InfoWorkspace, one of the graduates of EFX '98. Fielded within four to five months after EFX '98, InfoWorkspace is in use in Bosnia as a command, control and intelligence collaboration tool and is scheduled to be released to users throughout the U.S. Central Command in the near future, Thompson said.
Other experiments include the integration of the Experimental Operations Center aboard the USS Coronado, which was the centerpiece C2 center for the Marine Corps' recent Urban Warrior advanced technology experiment.
In addition to the Coronado, the Air Force will rely on modeling and simulation technologies to provide virtual cockpit scenarios to make up for the shortage of actual aircraft, as well as Patriot missile models that will help work out the bugs of tying the Army into the common picture of the battlefield. Most of the modeling and simulation support—more than 300 models total—will be managed at Hurlburt Field, Carr said.
Security also will be a primary focus area for JEFX '99, according to Carr, and holds particular significance to pilots, planners and commanders in the aftermath of Serb cyberattacks during Allied Force. In fact, the process of "red teaming," or attacking networks to uncover vulnerabilities, has been slated to be a central part of the experiment, particularly because real-world networks will be used to support the operation.
"If the vision is going to work, we have to be able to protect the architecture," Carr said. "JEFX's red team plan includes the best pros that we have in this country."
Select JEFX '99 Participants
* Combined Air Operations Center, Andrews Air Force Base, Md.
* Command and Control Training and Innovation Center, Hurlbert Field, Fla.
* C2 Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Center, Langley Air Force Base, Va.
* Tanker Air Lift Control Center, Scott Air Force Base, Ill.
* Space Operation Center, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
* Elements of 509th Bomb Wing, Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho
* Electronic Systems Center, Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass.
* Battle Control Center, Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.