Air Mobility Command takes Panasonic Toughbooks into field

Air Mobility Command takes Panasonic Toughbooks into field

Portable units run multitasking and graphics on mission planning system software all over the world

By Bill Murray

GCN Staff




Maj. Ed Rosado, a navigator with the 126th Air Refueling Wing Reserves at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., uses a Toughbook CF-25 to access the Mission Planning System.


The Air Force during the past three years has been using 1,600 lightly ruggedized portable PCs to run mission planning system software around the world'including during Operation Allied Force'in locations ranging from cold deserts to air-conditioned cockpits.

The Air Mobility Command performs only unclassified work on the Toughbook CF-25 notebook PCs from Panasonic Personal Computer Co. of Secaucus, N.J., because the mission planning system lacks security accreditation, said Maj. Todd Brosz, AMC's mission planning program manager at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

'Our goal is mission planning no matter where you are: one-stop shopping for everything from weather to mission planning,'' he said.

During the past 10 years, AMC has fielded an Air National Guard portable-PC flight planning system, which replaced a Unix system, Brosz said. Although memory requirements had to be reduced, AMC officials found that PC processing speeds could adequately run the mission support software, he said.

The Marine Corps and Navy also run the Joint Mission Planning System, and the Special Operations Command also runs the software, Brosz said. More information about the AMC Mission Planning System is posted at www.mission-planning.eglin.af.mil.

AMC officials may eventually migrate the system, which runs under Microsoft Windows 95, to Windows NT Workstation 4.0, Brosz said. With Win95, users can hot-swap PC Cards holding navigation databases and other data, but with NT Workstation 4.0, users have to shut down the system to change PC Cards, he said.

Buying formula

In 1997, AMC officials chose the Panasonic Toughbook CF-25 for a three-year lifecycle for logistics and warranty purposes, Brosz said.

'We usually wait for the price to drop and then try to stay with a product line for two or three years' and then evaluate competing products, he said.

Panasonic's three-year warranty starts when the PCs are issued from the AMC warehouse, not when the company ships each unit, and command officials appreciated that service, he said.

The current CF-25 units have 6.4G hard drives, and many of the systems have 96M of RAM. 'On the new ones, we try to max out on the memory'' because of the multitasking and graphics requirements of the Joint Mission Planning System, Brosz said.

AMC officials bought the 1,600 Panasonic notebooks from Government Technology Services Inc. of Chantilly, Va., for less than $5,000 per unit through the Air Force Materiel Command's Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass.

One Panasonic notebook is issued per aircraft, but AMC officials want to eventually buy 2,800 notebooks so each air crew would have its own, Brosz said. Although budgets have been tight and Air Force officials have raided some programs to pay for Operation Allied Force, Brosz called that goal 'very realistic.''

Brosz wants to evaluate notebooks' ability to run 3-D fly-throughs. 'Current notebooks would probably choke on that. Processing speeds are very important'' for running such cutting-edge software for mission planning, he said.

For next fiscal year's procurement, program officials are evaluating Panasonic's Toughbook CF-27 and other PCs, he said. AMC is likely to buy lightly ruggedized units rather than heavily ruggedized ones because of budget considerations, he said.

Need shrink-wraps

Buying commercial units that aren't sealed is out of the question, however, because of constant exposure to humidity and wet conditions, Brosz said.

He gave Panasonic's technical support a high rating. He has used a Panasonic Toughbook CF-25 for 21/2 years and had only one problem'replacing a side door'which was solved with an overnight-delivered replacement part.

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