Air Force soups up command center

The U.S. Air Force is establishing a new high-tech command center at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia to monitor the no-fly zone over Iraq.

The Air Force celebrated the initial opening of the new Combined Aerospace Operations Center in recent weeks and is racing to make it fully operational by mid-July.

The center integrates numerous intelligence and information-gathering platforms to give commanders virtually all the information they need at their fingertips. The facility is the new standard for Air Force command centers worldwide, according to service officials.

Air Force officials briefed two four-star generals — Lester Lyles, the commander of the Air Force Materiel Command, and John Jumper, who heads Air Combat Command — on the new facility's capabilities June 7 at a sister facility at Langley Air Force Base, Va.

"What we've developed here is the first large step in being able to do the horizontal integration of manned, unmanned and space platforms and coordinating that with command and control," Jumper said. This way, "the data we take in and suck up is now presented in a quality format that allows the commander to make decisions based on rational alternatives in various scenarios."

The Langley facility is known as the Combined Aerospace Operations Center-Experimental (CAOC-X). Although it could potentially be used in wartime, it is primarily a laboratory to develop the software and other technologies needed for other command centers, such as the Prince Sultan facility, now and into the future.

Among other things, the new command center automates about 80 percent of the process for sharing information with allied forces — a process considered by many military officials to be a major headache because of the plethora of rules, regulations and policies governing what information can be shared with which country. Officials are trying to fully automate the process.

"The bottom line is that we are intent on being able to operate in peacetime the same way we operate in wartime," said Maj. Gen. Jerry Perryman, commander of the aerospace command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance center at Langley. "You can't wait for the battle to start before you bring in these other countries."

The new command center also includes a "data wall" — a long, rectangular screen mounted on a wall and containing an array of information available with the click of a wireless mouse.

The data wall, for example, might show a map of the Iraqi desert with icons representing friendly and enemy forces. If a commander spots an air defense rocket that might spell trouble and needs to decide how best to take it out, he can click the mouse and learn whether an unmanned aerial vehicle or weapon system is available for action.

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