AF unveils new IT-centric strategy

"This is how we're going to do business in the future. It's a new way of thinking." -- Maj. General Daniel P. Leaf

A soldier lies on the ground in unfriendly territory. Strapped to his leg is a digital screen called a Smart Knee Board that he can mark up with an electronic pen to alert commanders to his position.

Meanwhile, at a mobile Air Operations Center, soldiers sit at rows of computers capturing digital messages that come in from smart tankers, refueling aircraft that relay data messages across a battle zone.

The soldier on the ground is connected with the tankers and the operations center through Link-16, a message format that operates over the Joint Tactical Integrated Display System. The link works over radio waves.

By connecting these units, military commanders intend to develop a new approach to waging war that will let U.S. forces "kick down the door" to hostile territory and destroy enemy forces before they even know troops are knocking, said Air Force Maj. Gen. Daniel P. Leaf, director of operational requirements and deputy chief of staff for air and space operations.

The Air Force, which is developing the concept, calls its vision the Global Strike Task Force. GSTF's aim is to get U.S. forces access to enemy territory by being quicker, smarter and stronger than their opposition.

No threats

Advanced information systems can improve the way commanders manage battles. GSTF would reduce air and ground threats against U.S. and allied troops, Leaf said.

"This is how we're going to do business in the future," Leaf said. "GSTF is a concept of operations. It's a new way of thinking."
The task force is the brainchild of Gen. John P. Jumper, Air Force chief of staff. Jumper said command and control systems will serve as vital links in fielding the task force.

Jumper said the Air Force wants to leave behind the old method of collecting battlefield information, analyzing it and reporting on it. Under the new concept, the service will develop tools for analysis that can predict enemy movements on the battlefield. "We call it predictive battlespace awareness," he said.

Fielding such a capability will demand that space, command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems work in real time, Jumper said. That's necessary so that the military services can speed the chain of actions forces use to find and track enemy targets, engage them and then assess the results to determine the next course of action.

But exactly how this scenario would work is quite complex. A digital master display within the Air Operations Center would reveal a tip received from a signals intelligence or imagery system. A "time-critical targeting cell"--a group of command, control, intelligence and surveillance analysts--would lock on to the potential target in the same way an F-15 pilot locks on to an enemy aircraft, Jumper said.

Likely targets

Then, C2 systems "would go to work inquiring of databases and cross-queuing platforms both airborne and in space to confirm what the predictive analysis says the target most likely is," Jumper said.
Simultaneously, the service would dispatch aircraft and other weapons, relaying precise target data to them, he said.

The data would be transmitted via Link- 16, which works like a computer language. It embeds standardized information packets in radio transmissions to tailor messages to specific users. Army, Navy and Marine Corps transmissions use other data, which would be translated into a common format for GSTF users.

The Air Force is considering many technologies to improve the effectiveness of GSTF systems, Leaf said. Among them are ways to compress analog and digital information transmitted via radio to maximize bandwidth. Developers also are exploring archiving software that will let commanders amass battlefield data and then synthesize it to identify trends and make predictions about enemy operations.

With enemy forces in control of increasingly advanced weaponry, such as surface-to-air missiles and chemical weapons, the Air Force considers the GSTF concept crucial in getting U.S. forces closer to enemy lines quickly.

The Air Force has not specified a systems platform for combining all the data needed for GSTF, Jumper said.

The service is considering collecting information for manned and unmanned systems, satellites, and troops on the ground in an aircraft such as the Airborne Warning and Control System or at some other central command center.

The Air Force will be able to collect massive amounts of data from these sources, giving commanders better information to make decisions, Leaf said.

Once the information is gathered, Air Force officials envision deploying F-22 Raptor stealth fighters, which are still in development, to open up the airspace, then B-2 and F-117 Nighthawk stealth bombers to destroy enemy targets.

To implement GSTF, the Air Force will rely heavily on advanced technologies from its Science and Technology Division. Jumper said researchers are working on sensor, processing and architecture technologies to bolster the GSTF plan.

Hurdles ahead

Although Air Force officials are excited about the concept, they realize the service faces some hurdles in implementing GSTF. Besides cultural resistance and funding challenges, the lack of available radio frequency could hamper the development of the advanced communications systems.

Jumper said a short-term solution for the potential bandwidth problem could be to put up a small constellation of Global Hawks--high-altitude, long-endurance reconnaissance aircraft--to act as communication relays in place of satellites.

Jumper first started thinking about such an approach three years ago. Based on a review of the obstacles troops face in battle, he envisioned a force that would quickly take down enemy assets to gain a decisive advantage.

"Global Strike Task Force is not necessarily your war-winning force," Jumper said. "It creates the conditions for the war-winning force to get close enough to do their job."

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