Air operations 'engine' running strong

The latest version of the Theater Battle Management Core Systems (TBMCS) recently became the system of record for use by all Defense Department combatant commanders conducting air operations, and it is now serving that function at an unprecedented level in support of the war, according to Air Force officials.

"It is the primary system being used by all components and supporting units to plan and execute coalition air operations in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom," said Peter Garcia, deputy systems manager of the Combined Air Operations Center, the primary theater command and control facility for orchestrating the Iraqi war air campaigns.

The latest version, referred to as "spiral 1.1.1," is easier for military personnel to use thanks to a greater Web-enabling of the system, said Darcy Norton, TBMCS program manager at the Air Force's Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., in a December 2002 interview. Lockheed Martin Corp. is developing the system under a six-year, $375 million contract.

TBMCS "provides all the supporting databases for intelligence, plans and operations necessary for all coalition participants to have a common view of the data," Garcia said in an April 6 e-mail sent from a desert air base in southwest Asia.

"The primary tools for planning at the force level are still there and some can only still be accessed via a UNIX platform, but the majority of them have been migrated to Web-based tools accessed via the [TBMCS] portal from any PC with the correct authorizations. The beauty of this, is that it has allowed many participating planning elements not necessarily co-located with the [Combined Air Operations Center]...to also participate in the planning and execution processes."

Air Force Maj. Jerry Vaughan, systems manager for the Combined Air Operations Center, said the system also lets planners create the "daily air battle plan" and track the execution of air missions.

The system "provides the operations and [intelligence] databases that host all the data necessary to plan and execute the air war," Vaughan said. "Further, [the system] and its databases enable tracking the execution of the air battle plan, storing information on mission and target status along the way, so that analysis can then be done.

"That analysis then allows closure of the loop back to the planning process," he said. "Given this cyclical loop of planning, execution, analysis, I can see why some liken TBMCS to the 'engine' of an [air operation center]. If you were to carry the analogy further and view the [operations center] as a car, then [battle management system] would be the engine, drive-train, steering, and brakes — the essential parts to operating and controlling the vehicle."

The battle management system is also used by all personnel, regardless of service or whether they are at an air base, on a ship, or in a fast-moving coalition ground forces unit to access the latest coalition air operations tasking messages.

The system "also works hand in hand with the [Coalition Forces Land Component Command's command and control] systems, which allows us to digitally receive their inputs to the planning processes as well as changes to adjust to the dynamics of the battle for Iraq," Garcia said. "This is an unprecedented capability we didn't enjoy during Desert Storm and is allowing us to produce more missions in support of the [Central Command] commander with a force that has been significantly reduced since the early 1990s."

Still, even though the system has significantly improved joint DOD interoperability and usability, coalition interoperability remains a challenge, Garcia and Vaughan agreed.

"We are still hampered to a great extent in our ability to operate with our most trusted allies in this war," Garcia said. "By definition coalition [air operation centers] are manned by a mixture of national representatives, and on any given [Combined Air Operations Center] position, it may be manned by any given coalition representative. It is imperative we develop our C4I systems so we can operate off the same system, sharing the same data, or we are driven to having multiple systems at each position to support each of the flavors of the coalition partners."

Bandwidth is another critical resource and an obstacle that must be overcome "with better architectural and application design," he said.

Due to operational security, the Air Force officials would not divulge how many air missions have been planned using TBMCS, but they did say the system has been used to plan and execute more missions, and of different types, than it did in Operation Desert Storm.

Vaughan added that the system "has allowed us to plan and coordinate more missions into a more-compressed time frame than ever before in history."

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