Service takes aim with air-planning app

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Sources for Inside Air Force include the Air Force and Input of Chantilly, Va.

'We thought, with all of this technology available, why can't we automate this process?'

' Col. Jon Krenkel

The Air Force has removed the large maps and yellow sticky pads that were tacked around the air operations center for its air warfare planning in Afghanistan. Now the service uses Web software to match weapons to targets.

Last December, after months of testing and certification, the Master Air Attack Plan toolkit debuted in Afghanistan. Air Force programmers built the application on top of the Defense Department's Web-enabled Temporal Analysis System, developed by Intelligent Software Solutions of Richardson, Texas, and Logicon Inc. of Herndon, Va., as a way to fuse information from disparate networks into a single system.

MAAP, which runs under Microsoft Windows 2000, is now the basis for how the Air Force assigns fighter, attack and bomber aircraft, said Col. Jon Krenkel, commander of the Command and Control Battlelab at Hurlburt Field, Fla. The C2 Battlelab is one of seven Air Force facilities assigned to identify, develop and implement innovative concepts in 18-month cycles.

Because of MAAP's success in Afghanistan, the application will be used in the event of a war with Iraq, Krenkel said.

'It all started a long time ago, as early as the Gulf War and then again in the Balkans,' Krenkel said of the planning that went into the MAAP system. Back then, he said, air planners used 'grease pencils, maps on boards and yellow stickies' and the air tasking order process consisted of 'a lot of people typing and typing, and it was very prone to error. We thought, with all of this technology available, why can't we automate this process?'

The mapping app searches various databases, including ones that hold weather information, battlefield maps, and lists of aircraft, munitions and targets. It lets air planners produce a near real-time picture of air assets on a monitor.

Map and targets

For example, the toolkit displays a map of the battlespace and a list of targets on the monitor. This information is updated frequently and provided by intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance agents, Krenkel said.

In a smaller window on the same screen is a list of available aircraft and munitions that can be assigned to attack the targets.

Air Force battle managers combine air assets and munitions to create an air strike package.
The toolkit lets air planners assemble the packages by 'dragging and dropping aircraft and munitions between menus,' Krenkel said.

Then they can assign packages to targets, he said.

'The way the process works is the joint force commander will provide guidance on what he wants to happen. Does he want to inflict [munitions] on the enemy in the next 48 or 72 hours? Based on that guidance, the air planners and the strategic planners will decide which targets best meet the defense guidance,' Krenkel said.

Lt. Col. Doug Combs, program manager for the MAAP tool kit, said the app reduces error.
Krenkel said the process also saves air planners time.

'What we've done is we reduced the timeline by half,' Krenkel said. 'We reduced the number of people required. Now we pull the information straight from the database.'

Air Force planners displayed the system's strengths at the 2002 Joint Expeditionary Forces Experiment at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Combs said.

'We were able to take a 24-hour cycle, 12 hours for MAAP and 12 hours for [air tasking order] production, and run them concurrently. Pretty much by the end of the exercise, we were getting them done in around eight hours,' Krenkel said.

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