Experiment helps lay groundwork for post-Kosovo Air Force
- By Dan Verton
- Aug 29, 1999
An Air Force experiment designed to test cutting-edge information technologies and new warfighting methods is applying lessons learned during the air war in Yugoslavia to forge a revolutionary change in the way the U.S. military responds to global crises.
Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment (JEFX) '99, which entered the final full battle rhythm stage this week, is the second in a series of annual high-tech experiments designed to test new IT tools that hold the greatest promise of supporting future Air Force tactics and warfighting strategies. The experiment is scheduled to conclude this weekend at Air Force locations throughout Virginia, Florida, Nevada and California.
This year's experiments hold particular importance for the Air Force, which is in the midst of a major reconstitution effort in the aftermath of the 78-day Operation Allied Force in Yugoslavia and its province of Kosovo. The Air Force helped plan and carry out the lion's share of the more than 37,000 individual air sorties flown by NATO during the course of the war—a pace that led to great strains on personnel and equipment.
Although the official Defense Department study of lessons learned from Allied Force is still under way, the Air Force already plans to apply what it learned from the war to integrate more effectively all of its air, ground and space-based IT systems into a robust command, control, communications and intelligence architecture for the future. Estimates place the cost of JEFX '99 at more than $60 million. More than 4,000 active-duty, reserve and civilian contractor personnel are taking part in the effort.
Experts agree that the war in Kosovo was one of the first information wars, characterized by cyberattacks against NATO's online public relations apparatus, satellite-guided munitions, long-range unmanned reconnaissance aircraft and unconfirmed reports that the Air Force conducted cyberattacks against the Yugoslav air defense system. In addition, space-based systems played a key role in providing coalition forces real-time weather information, intelligence imagery, missile guidance and location data using Global Positioning Systems (GPS).
Lt. Col. Matt Mills, director of the exercise and employment branch at the U.S. Space Command, said the JEFX '99 experiments are having a direct impact on the way the Air Force operates and cited last year's experiment as a prime example. "There were some things that happened in Kosovo that also happened [for the first time] in JEFX '98," Mills said. However, Mills declined to go into details until the official study of Allied Force is completed.
During Kosovo, "we were integrated, but not to the extent that we wanted to be," said Col. Larry D. James, director of operations for the 14th Air Force, based at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Although "we would not have been as effective as we were without our space-based systems, there were several areas we think we can improve upon," he said.
In particular, James said, JEFX '99 will focus on integrating the entire process of using space-based systems to push time-sensitive information around the battlefield, for instance by providing real-time targeting data to pilots in flight.
Maj. Eileen Isola, chief of the Air Mobility Command's Joint Experimentation Branch, said one of the main projects in this year's experiment will focus on automating the laborious task of developing, writing and communicating the plan for managing the gamut of airlift support involved in an operation such as Allied Force. Such a plan, which can be several hundred pages in length, took the Air Force days to complete during Allied Force. However, by integrating two key systems during JEFX '99, the Air Force will be able to reduce the amount of time it takes to coordinate airlift from several days down to an hour, Isola said.
Because U.S. space-based systems played such a key role in the NATO air war, JEFX '99 also will concentrate on extending the Air Force's dependence on space-based systems. One of the main efforts involves the integration of a beta version of the Air Force's premier command and control system—the Theater Battle Management Core System --and the Space Battle Manager Core System. According to Mills, that integration, which did not exist during Allied Force, will allow TBMCS operators to pull critical information from SBMCS, including GPS accuracy data, satellite status information, long-haul communications pipe status , space weather data and orbit information.
"This is particularly important when you are pairing targets to airplanes to time on target [requirements for bombs]," said Mills. "This capability provides collaboration above and beyond a [secure telephone] and fax machine."
Mills also said representatives from various NATO countries will observe JEFX '99 in an effort to learn their own lessons—a key development, according to some experts. Although most major systems and equipment seemed to have worked well during Allied Force, the United States is far more advanced in using technology on the battlefield than other NATO countries, said John Pike, a defense and intelligence analyst with the Federation of American Scientists. "The U.S. seems to have outstripped the other NATO countries across the board on IT and smart weapons and everything else bright and shiny," Pike said.
Daniel Kuehl, chairman of the Information Operations Department in the School of Information Warfare and Strategy at the National Defense University, said technology is only part of the answer when it comes to carrying out an effective information operations campaign. Regarding information operations, Kuehl said, "We got our butts kicked in Kosovo, and it has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with planning and organizing for information operations and thinking about how to manage global perceptions." From a global perception standpoint, "we got killed," Kuehl said, citing the Serbs' ability to counter NATO's bombing effort by transmitting pictures worldwide of so-called NATO bombing runs that missed targets.
"This isn't about military information warfare tactics and technology, it's about a strategic understanding of the power of information in today's Internet world," Kuehl said.