Battle-tested: Air Force battlelab's innovations prove themselves

Project at a glance

Who: Air Force Command and Control Battlelab

What: Automate the Master Air Attack Plan for developing the tasking orders that assign air assets to operations in a theater of war

What was: The old way was very labor-intensive, using wall-mounted maps covered with acetate, grease pencil marks and yellow sticky notes.

What's new: A planning toolkit connects the Theater Battle Management Core System's databases, visualizes the data and provides a machine-to-machine interface for transferring completed planning information. The toolkit didn't change the process, only how it works.

Users: The C2 Battlelab is one of seven Air Force battlelabs charged with rapidly identifying solutions for warfighting problems. The labs primarily try to fix system shortfalls at the air operations center level, although they also have taken up problems at the wing and squadron levels.

Impact: The impact of the planning toolkit is worldwide, providing accurate and timely information. The time required to build an air battle plan has dropped by almost half.

Duration: Eighteen months

Cost: $581,000 in total contractor costs

'We look for innovative ways to use new technologies, and if they have military applications, then we try to get them to warfighters as soon as possible.'

'Lt. Col. Doug Combs

Henrik G. de Gyor

'No organization has had more success in applying information technology to quickly increase combat capability.' 'Battlelab commander Col. Jon L. Krenkel

The Air Force Command and Control Battlelab at Hurlburt Field, Fla., may be thousands of miles from Iraq, but the facility helped wage the fight against Saddam Hussein's forces.

The battlelab's Master Air Attack Planning Toolkit rolled out to the Combined Air Operations Center in Southwest Asia within 60 days of a directive from the Air Force chief of staff, said Col. Jon L. Krenkel, the battlelab commander.

The kit is now the basis for assigning fighter, attack and bomber aircraft, officials said. It saved time for air planners in Iraq while reducing errors.

That's all in a day's work for the battlelab, which began operating in 1997 as one of a half-dozen facilities assigned to identify, develop and implement innovative concepts in 18-month cycles.

Studying applications

The lab tests applications from the Air Force research and acquisition divisions, the Pentagon, and from industry and academia. Some are suitable for rapid deployment and some need more work.

With an annual budget of less than $4 million and about 30 staff members, the battlelab has fielded new technologies to support Operation Noble Eagle for homeland defense, Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom, Krenkel said.

To prove the worth of innovative command and control technologies for joint warfighting, battlelab workers turn to a variety of methods to test and field new systems. Their tools range, for example, from Extensible Markup Language for automated data feeds to speech recognition software.
'No organization has had more success in applying IT to quickly increase combat capability,' Krenkel said. 'We look for great ideas in technology, concepts, doctrine, tactics, techniques and procedures to improve C2 for aerospace forces.'

In developing and improving technologies, the battlelab often builds on other IT.

The MAAP toolkit was built on the Air Force Research Laboratory's Web-enabled Temporal Analysis System as a way to fuse information from disparate networks into a single display, said Lt. Col. Doug Combs, chief of the Concepts Execution Division at the C2 Battlelab.

The MAAP toolkit has brought the Air Force planners into the online age.

'The old process for how we used to plan for war was with a map on the wall and targets plotted on a plastic overlay,' Combs said. 'It often took hours to plot them all.'

Officers marked up the large maps and made notations on yellow sticky pads that were tacked around the air operations center. Today, the planners have software to match their weapons to targets.

Krenkel said the MAAP toolkit uses the Temporal Analysis System software for information retrieval, visualization and planning to support warfighters.

The toolkit's mapping application starts by searching various databases. They store, for example, weather information, battlefield maps, and lists of aircraft, munitions and targets.

The toolkit ultimately lets the air planners put together a near-real-time picture of all their air assets and targets on a monitor.

Their information display also draws from intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance agents whose input is updated frequently, Krenkel said.

In a small window on the display is a list of available aircraft and munitions that the planners can assign to attack the targets. Air Force battle managers combine the air assets and munitions to build an air strike package.

The MAAP toolkit wasn't the only technology produced by the battlelab that went to Iraq.

Combs said the Speech Interface for Data Exploitation and Retrieval lets warfighters, even those dressed in protective suits for chemical and biological warfare, speak orders directly into a wireless microphone interface.

The battlelab's developers integrated Nuance speech recognition software from Nuance Communications Inc. of Menlo Park, Calif., with the Theater Air Planner application within the Air Force's Theater Battle Management Core Systems.

Lockheed Martin Corp.'s mission systems unit developed the core systems for the Air Force.

The SPIDER application eliminates the need for keyboards and other tools used to take dictation, lab officials said.

In battle situations, SPIDER has demonstrated a 40 percent reduction in errors associated with misunderstanding that results from the masks worn by military personnel when dressed in chemical and biological warfare suits, officials said.

History of innovation

The battlelab has produced other innovative technologies for Air Force users, including the Automated Coordinate Transfer application, which has improved the process of transferring targeting coordinates between an air operations center, a squadron and the attack aircraft.

Another lab initiative is the Fighter Aircraft Command and Control Enhancement, which increases the ability of the continental U.S. North America Air Defense Region to track commercial aircraft and communicate with the North America Command.

Still another is the Video Imagery Capability Enhancement, which enhances the usability of video images from unmanned aerial vehicle surveillance.

'The C2 Battlelab is a small organization. We look for innovative ways to use new technologies, and if they have military applicability, then we try to get them to warfighters as soon as possible,' Combs said.


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