Air Force uses network system for flight operations
- By Gregory Slabodkin
- Aug 31, 1998
Don Snelgrove, a systems engineer and former Air
Force pilot, plots a practice mission on the Air Force Mission Support System.
The Air Force is using an automated mission-planning software developed
from commercial technology and with an open architecture that lets air crews use software
to organize flight operations.
The Air Force Mission Support System encompasses every aspect of flight planning, from
the receipt of an air tasking order to post-mission analysis. AFMSS plots an optimum, 3-D
flight path through hostile airspace to minimize danger to aircraft and crew. The system
also provides weapons delivery and target area tactics, radar predictions, as well as
access to mapping, imagery and intelligence.
AFMSS copies the mission data to removable media drives, which are uploaded into
aircraft computers. The system supports a wide range of aircraft, including fighters,
bombers, airlifters, tankers, helicopters and reconnaissance and special forces aircraft.
A lot of the systems built by the military were on custom hardware
platforms, said Dave Herlihy, AFMSS program manager for Sanders, an operating unit
of Lockheed Martin Corp. in Nashua, N.H.
The Air Force selected Sanders in 1992 to develop and produce the Mission-Planning
System (MPS), which will cost more than $575 million, Herlihy said.
AFMSS is hosted on Sun Microsystems Sparcstation 10 and Sparcstation 20 workstations
running SunSoft Solaris 2.5. The service uses X Window System and Motif interfaces.
The service is in the midst of switching to Sun Ultra 2 servers with dual 300-MHz
Ultrasparc II microprocessors and up to 2G hard drives, faster CD-ROMs, Fast Ethernet
cards and 16-inch flat-panel displays, he said.
AFMSS core software, which consists of 8 million lines of commercial software
code and 800,000 lines of proprietary code, is written primarily in C and Ada. The core
software is combined with Aircraft, Weapon and Electronics (AWE) modules that are tailored
to each type of aircraft to reflect their missions: air interdiction, air reconnaissance,
electronic combat, air refueling, air drops and suppression of enemy air defenses.
Our code under a couple of smaller internal projects has been ported to
Hewlett-Packard Co. and Silicon Graphics Inc. workstations, Herlihy said.
Version 2.0, the latest AFMSS core software release, is deployed in Bosnia and
elsewhere around the globe. Version 2.1 is used by Air Force Special Operations Forces.
Version 2.2, the first year 2000-ready core software, was delivered to the Air Force in
late June and is in the test and evaluation process. The Air Force plans to ship Version
2.2 to operational units early next year.
In addition to the drives used for uploading programs to aircraft systems, MPS has a
Combat Mission Folder that includes maps, imagery and flight information.
AFMSS has a standard two-workstation configuration but can accommodate multiple
The system has two components: a ground MPS and a portable MPS. The ground system,
which is packaged in six self-contained shipping cases, is used at an aircrafts main
operating base. The ruggedized portable system, a 200-MHz UltraBook notebook computer from
RDI Computer Corp. of Carlsbad, Calif., with 32M of RAM and a 3G hard drive, is used in
But its not all good news for AFMSS. A June 1998 General Accounting Office
report, B-2 Bomber: Additional Costs to Correct Deficiencies and Make Improvements, found
that AFMSS malfunctioned frequently and was inflexible, too complex and time-consuming for
quick targeting. Operators at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., told GAO that AFMSS
developmental version took 60 hours to plan conventional missions and 192 hours to plan a
The goal of the AFMSS development program is to produce an MPS that can provide
specific B-2 mission plans in eight hours.
Sanders officials, however, said that AFMSS is a complex system made up of separate
subsystems developed by different vendors and blamed the poor performance on B-2 systems
Some of these mission-planning environments become very complex, like the B-2 and
the F-15E, Herlihy said. They have the Lockheed Martin-Sanders AFMSS core
software and then on top of that they have to put the aircraft-specific AWE