If the Defense Department had a better intelligence data network,
Capt. Scott O'Grady might not have been shot down over Bosnia.
That was the implication of reports, leaked in the days following O'Grady's rescue,
indicating that a U.S. intelligence agency had detected anti-aircraft missile batteries in
the area O'Grady was scheduled to fly over before he ever took off. For reasons unknown,
that information failed to reach him in time.
Whatever the causes, O'Grady's shoot-down highlighted one of war fighting's oldest and
most vexing communications problems: how to get fresh intelligence to the people who need
it, when they need it.
The Air Force, like the other services, has been using computers and networks to speed
intelligence distribution for years. Until recently, however, most such systems were
designed to reach only the upper echelons of the service's command structure.
"The rest of us still got intelligence the old way," said Capt. Chris Dillon,
a member of the Air Force's Combat Intelligence Systems Program Office, referring to the
combination of voice communications and traditional paper dissemination methods. "And
then we used grease pencils and acetate overlays to plan our missions."
In the late 1980s, each of the services deployed a variety of largely incompatible
systems that tried to take intelligence data further down the command chain and closer to
combat units. The danger in that approach became clear in 1992, during Operation Desert
Storm, when a thicket of interoperability problems kept crucial intelligence data from
reaching the Air Force mission support and combat units in the heat of battle.
Determined to avoid repeating that scenario, the Air Force set out to consolidate four
best-of-breed systems: Sentinel Byte, for situational awareness and office automation;
Intelligence Correlation Module, for integration of heterogeneous databases; Constant
Source, for near real-time electronic intelligence; and Rapid Application of Air Power, a
target planning and air tasking order program.
The result was the Combat Intelligence System (CIS), a means of seamlessly integrating
database management, imagery receipt and manipulation, joint communications, targeting
tools, message handling and office automation.
As seen at a recent Pentagon demonstration, CIS lets Air Force users pull intelligence
data in standard formats from a variety of DOD sources and automatically channel it down
"We can start by tapping the Defense Intelligence Agency's master database,"
Dillon said, referring to a global compendium of text intelligence on airfields, military
bases, anti-aircraft batteries and similar data that is continually fed by the dozen
principal DOD intelligence agencies.
DIA, along with a growing number of intelligence organizations, stores the data in a de
facto standard format known as the Joint Deployable Intelligence Support System, according
Another general source is Intelink-S, a secret-level network, based on the World Wide
Web, that lets users browse for intelligence data and imagery depending on their needs.
"Initially, there wasn't a lot of information on Intelink," Dillon said,
"but now the agencies have received direction to start putting their [intelligence
products] on there, and Intelink is becoming one of the primary means of disseminating
intelligence data in the Air Force."
Using Yugoslavia as an example, Dean showed how users quickly call up maps, photos and
text on the region and start selecting data that would be relevant to a squadron planning
air strikes in the region.
"All this data is forwarded electronically to the Air Operations Center run by the
Joint Air Force Component Commander," Dillon said. There, the Air Force's Contingency
Theater Automated Planning System (CTAPS) and the CIS are used together to shape raw
intelligence into a detailed combat plan.
"Just getting the data electronically has allowed us to eliminate around 50
typists from each Air Operations Center," Dillon said. "It also cuts down
enormously on the number of human errors."
CIS is designed to accept, along with existing data on enemy capabilities and
firepower, continual satellite-broadcast updates of images, weather and other data from
nearly any DOD source that would affect mission plans and the design of air tasking
The Advanced Planning System, a module within CTAPS, takes all the relevant
intelligence amassed and correlates it with the commander's battle orders, target data,
weapons options and logistics factors such as fuel availability.
The result is a list of options, presented under menus for various elements of an air
tasking order (ATO), that combat unit mission planners can click on to build an ATO. At
that point, planners also can call up detailed maps of the terrain to be covered in a
mission, overlay them with color codes denoting the range of enemy missiles and other
threat data, and print them on color laser printers.
"People who've spent any amount of time lugging around pre-printed maps and
working with scissors and grease pencils go nuts when they see this capability," said
Maj. Ron Deptula, an expert on the Air Force Mission Support System (AFMSS).
AFMSS is the last link in the chain begun by CIS. Here mission planners finalize the
ATOs, brief pilots with data and images compiled by the system, including photographs of
target sites, and store all crucial mission data on a hard disk cartridge loaded on the
mission aircraft. The cartridge holds the flight plan and precise target coordinates,
which are automatically loaded into any precision guided munitions to be used, according
CIS contractor PRC Corp. has installed 350 CIS workstations at Air Force sites
worldwide and plans to deliver 300 more by year's end. Follow-on versions of the system
will ultimately be fielded to about 5,000 Air Force users.
Nearly all the installed CIS systems run on Sun Microsystems Corp. workstations that
service organizations have bought through other Air Force contracts, Dillon said.
The Air Force is about to award a new contract for what it calls the Theater Battle
Management Core System to continue integration of Air Force command and control systems
and upgrade CIS capabilities. With this upgrade, CIS will support more detailed data for
new weapon platforms and allow for transmission of top secret data, the service officials
said. The current version of CIS is limited to secret-level content.