Looking for a better fit

The World Wide Web is giving new life to a critical command and control application that was on the verge of being obsolete before it even made it to the field.

The Theater Battle Management Core System was designed to integrate a suite of existing command and control systems and provide the military services and their allies with a single system for accessing all the information they need to plan and execute air campaigns.

The Air Force, the lead service on the joint project, had the system ready to field in November 2000, when Version 1.01 became the "system of record." But TBMCS was not designed to run on the Web. With migration to the new system set to begin this April, the Air Force decided that TBMCS required a Web facelift, to take advantage of the Web's ability to deliver information to just about any computer, anywhere.

Web-enabling "is probably what's going to save" TBMCS, said Gen. Patrick Gamble, commander of Pacific Air Forces. "If we were not able to do this, we would be locked into continuing this thing to maturity under an old paradigm and not able to field a system nearly as capable as what we need."

The system has ended up looking like a dinosaur born on the edge of extinction because of the lengthy development time required for such a complex project. Lockheed Martin Corp. is developing it under a six-year, $375 million contract.

When TBMCS was first envisioned in the mid-1990s—with a target date of 2000 because of a Year 2000 glitch in an existing system—the Web was not the ubiquitous platform that it is today.

Gamble, who once described TBMCS as a "museum-piece idea," said the system highlights problems with the Air Force procurement process.

"My point was not that TBMCS was bad, but that it was occurring inside a requirements and development and acquisition process that treats everything the same," he said. "We have to recognize [information technology] for what it is—a new breed of cat. We'd like to have goals of 18 months or less of development, and if we could get that down to four or six months, we'd really be doing something."

Gamble gets no argument from Col. David Chaffee, director of the Combat Air Forces Command and Control System Program Office, the acquisition and development oversight office for TBMCS.

"I don't think anybody would disagree," Chaffee said. "The world has changed a lot in just the last five years. Who would have thought even five years ago that everything in the world would be Web- enabled?" By the end of this year, a Web-enabled upgrade will be in the field, he said, and a second iteration of the upgrade will be out by the end of 2002.

Chaffee said he met with Lockheed Martin officials this month, with Web-enabling a major topic of discussion. Exactly what tack they will take, however, remains to be seen.

The bottom line is that a Web- enabled version of TBMCS will be easier to use and will allow commanders to more readily find critical battlefield information. "Anybody who knows America Online or CompuServe or Netscape Navigator knows you can do a search on anything you want to and pull up data from a whole bunch of places. That's where we're headed," Chaffee said.

Reese Delorey, Lockheed Martin's TBMCS program manager, said the company already has made large improvements, including a significant infrastructure upgrade and elimination of multiple outdated systems and databases. "That gives us a jumping-off point to go from here to a Web-based system," Delorey said.

TBMCS capabilities

The Theater Battle Management Core System will offer pilots, navigators, weapon control officers, planners and intelligence officers a common picture of air operations.

Testing of Version 1.02 is scheduled for completion in February. This version includes improved air tasking order capabilities, access to intelligence information around the clock and an improved user interface.

Military officials can create, assimilate and manipulate data, then quickly distribute it to others through wide- and local-area networks, servers and workstations. During a 10-day warfare simulation conducted last year to test the system, it executed more than 2,500 missions with 4,597 air sorties daily. It is required to handle 1,500 missions and 3,000 daily sorties.

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