Air ops centers get net-centric

System configurations improve info sharing

Now that we've got them up to that standard configuration, [the task is] assuring that keep them linked together.' ' Lt. Gen. Charles Johnson

The Air Force's air operations centers are making network-centric warfare a tangible function and extending their reach into cyberspace.

The Defense Department has worked toward net-centricity for years, but progress has been slow. The Air Force's decision to upgrade its AOCs is a significant step forward.

Lt. Gen. Charles Johnson, commander of the Electronic Systems Center at Hanscomb Air Force Base, Mass., said that, until very recently, the AOCs were limited to point-to-point information sharing.

'What the AOC has done for us now is to take us beyond that, so ' now we're allowing the technology to come on board that allows the machine-to-machine [connection] to move the data and information around,' Johnson said.

This approach turns the AOCs into a weapons system, he said.

That description, Johnson said, 'really resonated with not only many of us in the Air Force, but our sister services, because that is really what it is. That is an F-15 sitting there, an F-18 sitting there, a B-1. ' It is something that is that valuable to us that we need to consider as a weapons system.'

To get the weapons to operate to their full potential, as has been said thousands of times before, 'it's about the data,' Johnson said. 'But how do we get that data to them, the enormous amounts of data? How do you fuse that data together so they get a picture of that battlespace to help them now make the decisions they need to make?'

The Air Force in September awarded Lockheed Martin Corp. a contract to integrate and standardize the hardware and software at all 23 AOCs, many of which are very small and not necessarily manned around the clock. The contract is worth a potential $2 billion over 10 years, if all options are exercised.

'We're currently responsible for nearly 90 percent of all the air operations center infrastructures out there today, 48 percent of the air operations baseline systems, and about 60 percent of the worldwide interoperations center support staff,' John Mengucci, vice president and general manager of Lockheed's Mission and Combat Support Solutions Group, said during a recent briefing on the project in Washington.

Five of the major AOCs, dubbed Falconers, direct the use of air assets for the regional combatant commands in the airspace over troops stationed on the ground in combat. U.S. Central Command, which directs the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, has an AOC in Qatar that coordinates both American and coalition aircraft activities there.

Lockheed has completed standardizing the basic configuration of the Falconers, Johnson said.

'Now that we've got them up to that standard configuration, [the task is] assuring that we keep them linked together so that they can be a global operation for the U.S. Air Force,' he said.

But the standard configuration being doesn't mean it's checked off Lockheed's to-do list, Mengucci said.

'It's very, very important for us to take the 48 systems [at one AOC] which are out there today and make them operate as one. And today we can't say that,' he said. 'At the current level, every system resident at an interoperation center today has its own upgrade path, and a lot of the systems today do not fully [communicate] at a system-to-system level or machine-to-machine talking to each other.'

So, one of Lockheed's major responsibilities is keeping track of all the software on all the systems'including the formats and versions used, whether the different systems' architectures are open or closed, and the status of patches and upgrades.
Mengucci said Lockheed will approach modernization with four elements of systems engineering: incremental, spiral, out-of-cycle and emergency levels.

'Similar to the commercial operating systems that we all use today, you will see an initial version put out and'on a year- or year-and-a-half- or a two-year cycle'major additions or deltas in capability. You'll also see spirals,' he said.

Role of AOCs

The integrator also has to track how systems will interface with the smaller, non-Falconer AOCs as well as the air operations centers that belong to other militaries.

'Saudi Arabia, as we work on their [command, control, communications and computers] modernization program, the first question that they want us to address is, 'We want to make sure that we're going to be interoperable with you,'' Johnson said. 'And it's not just that the AOC is interoperable with their weapons systems,' but with their aircraft and ground stations, too.

As for the role of the AOCs in cyberspace, Johnson said the need is clear for battlespace awareness through information gathering.

'I would say it's like a battlefield. What are they doing, and what are we doing, and what are our capabilities, et cetera,' he said. 'You begin to see it is about information and data, and you can now begin to see the relationship to the AOC, and a relationship to the combatant commanders: Who is trying to break into our systems? Who are those guys? How are they doing that? What are they up to? What can we do if we need to take down something?'

But in terms of actually responding to attacks in cyberspace, Johnson said the Air Force, which just designated the 8th Air Force at Barksdale Air Force Base as the Cyber Command, still has a lot of policy questions and responsibilities to sort out before there's a clear answer.

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