Air combat C2 made easier

The migration from a Unix server environment to one that is more PC- and Web-based is one of the main enhancements in the latest version of the military's main command and control (C2) system for air warfare.

The Defense Department's Joint Configuration Management Board (JCMB) last month designated the Theater Battle Management Core Systems as the "system of record," said Darcy Norton, TBMCS program manager at the Air Force's Electronic Systems Center, Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass. That means TBMCS is now authorized as the official system to be used by all of the DOD's combatant commanders conducting air operations.

In its latest point in the spiral development process, TBMCS Spiral 1.1.1 is easier for military personnel to use, thanks to a greater Web-enabling of the system, Norton said. Lockheed Martin Corp. is developing TBMCS under a six-year, $375 million contract.

"It's now point-and-click instead of hand entry," Norton said, adding that makes everything from execution management to mission planning faster and more manageable for commanders.

Maj. John Shafer, deputy program manager for TBMCS, agreed and said the ongoing migration "from Unix servers and clients to a PC-client scenario...has decreased the system administrators' burden in the program."

Frank DeLalla, TBMCS program manager for Lockheed Martin Mission Systems, said the latest spiral is a major step forward in realizing the Air Force's Web-based vision for the system.

"Air Force officials can now access TBMCS through an Internet-ready PC or laptop and, through a standard Web browser, view a timeline chart of mission information, manage airspaces, view air battle information on a Web-based map, and conduct remote planning from virtually anywhere in the world," DeLalla said.

Air Operations Center "Engine"

TBMCS has also been referred to as the "engine" for the Air Force's Air Operations Center (AOC), and Spiral 1.1.1 includes features that are enabling changes within the AOC in response to warfighters' needs, Shafer said. TBMCS now provides increased Web access to new applications and provides "information services" for Web-based data exchange using Extensible Markup Language (XML).

"We're trying to avoid point-to-point interfaces with a more open architecture so anyone with the proper access can tie in without [actually] accessing the database," Shafer said.

Spiral 1.1.1 also includes an enterprise application server that supports the deployment of advanced Web-based AOC applications using XML, HTML, servlet technologies, Enterprise JavaBean (EJB), Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), and other tools.

"Usually, you have to teach the application to talk to the database, and that takes a lot of custom engineering work that can get time-consuming and costly," DeLalla said. "The information services layer uses Java-based technology to allow external C2 applications to talk to the TBMCS database even if they speak different languages. Essentially, the new architecture allows for easier 'plug and play' capabilities with new or existing C2 technology."

TMBCS also features a "patch" upgrade process that makes installing new software components faster and easier, and does not disrupt the day-to-day operations of the AOC in the field, Shafer said. He added that a new software spiral can now be completed in about two hours as opposed to several weeks, which is "tremendous for folks in the field."

One example of a "patch" that was built into Spiral 1.1.1 is the Master Air Attack Planning (MAAP) Toolkit, which enables military planners to use electronic maps, rather than paper, so that they can graphically develop their plan on a computer. DOD personnel tested the MAAP Toolkit during an exercise earlier this year and immediately asked that it be included in the AOC, complete with TBMCS data, as soon as possible, Shafer said.

"We opened up the interface so they can use that tool within the AOC today," he said, adding that required doing it out of the planned cycle, which was justified based on the heightened need and demand for the application.

"We had a huge amount of mapping information that had to be transferred and managed in a limited bandwidth environment," DeLalla said. "To make the data more manageable, we broke it up into smaller chunks and fed it to the users on an as-needed basis, so that you're only pulling down the pertinent information and not eating up bandwidth with a lot of data that you're not going to use."

Challenges Ahead

The Air Force is the lead service on the joint TBMCS project, and the Air Force Command and Control, Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance Center (AFC2ISRC) at Langley Air Force Base, Va., is the customer representative for all of DOD, Norton said.

TBMCS 1.1.1 was designated system of record on Nov. 22, and the Air Force has 30 days to deploy it.

The service is now in the process of providing the fielding kits to users, and preliminary feedback from has been "extremely positive," Shafer said.

Spiral 1.1.2 is under way, with contractor testing scheduled for January and February, government testing in March and April, and fielding in the late spring or early summer, Norton said. She added that the first spiral took nine months to complete, but the goal is six months, and that timetable requires system developers and testers to work on two spirals concurrently.

Shafer said the "information services" area will be expanded to cover more program areas in the subsequent spirals, as will the effort to continue to increase the percentage of PC-client and Web-enabled applications, while decreasing the use of Unix.

Another challenge is integrating third-party products, regardless of whether they are from other contractors or government labs, because those tools often don't undergo the same rigorous testing as TBMCS, Norton said. She added that also means ensuring interoperability with the other military services' hardware and software.

DeLalla noted that the spiral process means that the government and industry partners must work closer together and faster than before. "The spiral process does require us to work very closely with our customer on some of the contracting details, and it means we both have to move quickly and stay responsive, but it's well worth the effort in terms of the capability we're able to deliver."


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