Air Force takes aim at safety with satellite systems
- By Richard W. Walker
- Sep 21, 1998
Deep inside Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado, Air Force personnel in gray flight suits
gaze at computer screens 24 hours a day, looking for signs of unidentified aircraft and
Theyre eyeballing data from 220 North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) radar
and satellite warning systems, sent by two or more means to ensure delivery.
In peacetime, data is shipped to the Cheyenne Mountain complex, operations center for
NORAD and the U.S. Space Command, via commercial leased lines. In a state of high alert,
it is moved over military circuits.
For U.S. Space Command systems engineers who keep tabs on the NORAD network, managing
its configurations hasnt been the easiest of jobs.
Updating documents that provide technical descriptions of the networks 278
system-to-system interfaces was a costly, paper-laden process. The editorial, review and
coordination cycle took most of a year to complete.
We red-lined changes in the interface control documents, made the changes on hard
copies and distributed those hard copies to the [engineering] community, said Terry
Mick, chief of configuration management for the Space Commands Strategic Nuclear
Deterrence Command and Control system program office, system engineering division, at
Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.
All that has been consigned to the past as technicians put the final touches on a new
system that fully automates document management, stores and maintains the information in a
relational database and lets 1,400 authorized Defense Department users around the world
view the networks interface and data message documentation via the Web.
The new Integrated Weapon System Database (IWSD) was developed by CTA Information
Technology and Services of Colorado Springs, the Space Commands prime contractor on
the project, using shrink-wrapped products.
The heart of the system is Parlance Document Manager from XyVision Inc. of Reading,
It is client-server software that uses object-oriented technology to manipulate long,
complex documents that tend to undergo constant revision and are packaged in different
versions for different users.
When a Parlance user selects an object or collection of objects, the program launches
the appropriate editing or graphics tool associated with that object.
At Peterson Air Force Base, Parlance runs on a SparcServer 1000 dual-processor server
from Sun Microsystems Inc., using Informix Online from Informix Software Inc. of Menlo
Park, Calif., as the underlying database.
WebPorter, companion software from XyVision, packages and delivers Parlance documents
to a Web server. Authorized users need only a Web browserNetscape 4.01 or Microsoft
Explorer 4.0 or higher versions work bestto access the database.
The authors and editors who write, edit and review documentation use Standard
Generalized Markup Language editors and standard word processing software on PCs.
Heres how the system works:
As authors and editors revise master data, WebPorter updates and manages conversion of
data from SGML or its subset, Extensible Markup Language, to HTML, and stores the objects
in the Web database in the same relationships established in the Parlance database.
The Verity Search Engine from Verity Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., is bundled with
WebPorter and lets Web users execute full-text and meta-data searches.
The beauty of the system is that we are able to see different versions of
baselines, whether it be software or hardware, said Air Force Capt. Daniel Lambert,
a former Space Command systems program office program manager who recently left for the
It allows us to see previous baselines, the current baseline and projected future
baselines. Thats something weve never been able to do, he said.
That helps us in planning and doing system engineering functions as well as
Having one set of relational data also eliminates the redundant, and even conflicting,
interface documentation that can cause problems in the paper-based process, said Dave
Knitt, project manager for CTA.
For each of the 278 interfaces, weve always had two very thick paper books
with three-ring binders that describe how warning data is shipped from the sensors to
Cheyenne Mountain, he said.
For example, for Pave Paws radars at Beale Air Force Base in California,
theres a book that describes how Beale ships warning data to Cheyenne Mountain, and
then theres a book at Cheyenne Mountain that tells how Beale ships the data,
That led to a lot of confusion because some of the data in the two books was redundant
and contradictory, he said.
Although the database is not yet fully populated, the system is completely functional.
Cheyenne Mountain engineers, for instance, are using the system for configuration
management, Lambert said.
On the morning of Oct. 4, 1957, with the world in the grip of the Cold War, Americans
awoke to the news that the Soviet Union had launched the worlds first man-made
satellite. It was a shock.
The notion of a Soviet sputnik passing overhead once a day was alarming enough, for it
meant that the Soviets had vaulted ahead in the space race.
But it also demonstrated that the Soviets had the capability to launch nuclear warheads
from one continent to another.
Sputnik proved to be a wake-up call for the U.S. and Canadian governments, which had
just completed the third in a series of jointly operated defense systems, the Distant
Early Warning Line, a network of 57 radar stations along the 70th parallel, about 200
miles north of the Arctic Circle. The systems were designed to detect Soviet manned
bombersnot ballistic missiles.
Over the next several years, the United States and Canada moved swiftly to meet the new
threat, setting up the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD), which provided a
framework for cooperative defense planning and operations between the two governments.
NORADs mission expanded to include tactical warning and assessment of possible
air, missile or space attacks, and its headquarters moved to Peterson Air Force Base in
Colorado Springs, Colo. NORADs nerve center is in a hollowed portion of nearby
Cheyenne Mountain. Officials later added Aerospace to its name and dropped Air.
After the end of the Cold War, NORADs mission also included support of U.S. space
shuttle flights and surveillance of drug-smuggling aircraft.
Since the 1960s, the array of NORAD networks has undergone many changes, evolving over
the decades into todays Integrated Tactical Warning and Attack Assessment Network, a
digitized, global web of 220 radar and satellite sensors that transmit critical warning
data to Cheyenne Mountain.
Cheyenne Mountain has become the operations center for the U.S. Space Command, which
was established in 1985. n
Richard W. Walker