Online tools help quick strike

To respond quickly to time-sensitive targets on the battlefield, coalition forces are relying heavily on a pair of online collaboration tools.

The tools are housed at the Combined Air Operations Center, the primary theater command and control facility for orchestrating Operation Iraqi Freedom's air campaigns.

The $45 million CAOC facility is a two-story building with about 3,000 computer systems and myriad antennas, said Air Force Maj. Amy Dayton, chief of CAOC systems, adding that the systems there are designed to enable coalition forces to communicate completely in cyberspace when necessary.

Online collaboration tools housed there are enabling CAOC personnel to "communicate instantaneously with other operators and decision-makers, both on the other side of the room as well as on the other side of the world," Dayton said in an April 3 e-mail.

"In a wartime environment, seconds count," she said. "Previously, coordination on time-sensitive targets was done with standard communications media such as telephones and conference calls, but today's time-sensitive air operations are being fought utilizing two key systems."

The first one is the Automated Deep Operations Coordination System, which has reduced the time needed to identify and strike emerging targets. It also enables military leaders "to monitor the status of all air and land forces while providing ready access to a wealth of intelligence and weaponeering data," Dayton said.

ADOCS is a joint mission management software application that provides a suite of tools and interfaces for horizontal and vertical integration across the battlefield. It originated as a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program and had primarily been used by the Army.

The system has evolved into the "go to war" automated support system for deep operations in several theaters, and it includes a function that facilitates the integration of coalition artillery with U.S. tools, according to contractor General Dynamics C4 Systems, a unit of General Dynamics Corp.

The second key collaborative tool is InfoWorkSpace, which is used for online briefings throughout the planning and execution cycle. Developed by Ezenia Inc., IWS is used by military and government agencies, including the State Department, to enable virtual conferencing from anywhere in the world. It provides everything from private instant messaging to shared on-screen white boards, which far-flung staff can draw on to exchange ideas.

"IWS' strength for the CAOC is its integrated file sharing and conference briefing capabilities, and [IWS] is used very heavily ... to coordinate on time-critical targets," Dayton said

Despite the advanced collaboration being done by coalition forces, challenges remain. Bandwidth, processor speed and hard-drive capacity remain obstacles for implementing collaborative systems and many other air operations systems, she said.

The past challenge of joint interoperability among the U.S. military services has been largely overcome at the CAOC, but the challenge of coalition interoperability remains. Coalition releasable networks, which allow information to be securely disseminated to British, Australian and Saudi forces throughout the theater, have worked well so far, but more needs to be done, she said.

"Much of the military communications architecture mirrors the organizational relationships for the managing, owning and subscribing organizations," Dayton said. "The challenge for DOD in the future is that we must work to provide a communications mesh for all joint organizations without constraining ourselves to thinking within our individual services."

For operational security reasons, Air Force officials would not discuss the exact location of the CAOC or the number of people who work there.

The center has been used to coordinate air strikes in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, and previous media reports have said it is located at the Prince Sultan Air Base outside Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

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