By J.R. Wilson
HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. — The concept of "spiral development" is getting a solid workout as the U.S. Air Force prepares for Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment (JEFX) 99. This experiment is the second in a series of annual field tests of advanced technologies and new operational concepts that will evolve into the Expeditionary Aerospace Force (EAF) of the 21st century.
"Joint" became part of JEFX 99 because it will include participation by other service units as well as a more complete integration of space-based capabilities and space-derived information into aerospace operations.
In the notional wartime scenario, two Air Expeditionary Force (AEF) deployments will help defend a U.S. ally from military attack from a neighboring country. The AEF will face air-to-air and air-to-ground attacks, standard penetration threats (from small terrorists groups to special operation forces), standoff weapons (mortar, rockets, sniper, portable surface-to-air missiles), truck-bombs, and chemical/biological attacks.
The object of JEFX 99 the last two weeks of this month is not only to train the AEF to counter anticipated threats. The exercise also is to "right-size" AEF elements, transport them to the theater of operations, and provide them with accurate and timely intelligence information — all within the context of a new type of warfare envisioned in the Defense Department`s Joint Vision 2010. During the field experiment, some 1,200 players will test the combat capabilities of new technologies and fly about 2,000 missions in the air campaign — most of which will be in computer simulators
JEFX 99 will draw heavily on lessons learned in EFX 98. These lessons include things that did not work out as planned, such as the Theater Battle Management Core Systems — a set of programs designed to simplify air tasking order planning in contingency operations.
"It didn`t perform the way we wanted it to, but we are fully committed to using it in JFEX 99," says Col. Terry Thompson, director of the Air Force Experimentation Office. "We had it up and running in Spiral 2 and it seems to be performing well."
Spiral development allows the military to field a new system quickly using government-supplied gear or commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment with maximum user involvement throughout the process. The key is to maintain steady communications among system users, program office officials, and the manufacturer during all phases of development. It also enables military leaders to incorporate rapidly evolving new technologies, and helps create a common operating environment for future command and control systems.
In normal applications, the first spiral of the development cycle would see a system developed, put under contract, and delivered within 18 months. Subsequent spirals then would add capability and user testing, upgrade software, and enhance interoperability.
JEFX, however, accelerates this effort and gears it toward the planned stand-up of the initial EAF unit in January 2000 and the conversion a lean, U.S.-centered Air Force into a quick-response joint action force early in the new century. In this case, three spirals happen between each annual field experiment.
"EFX 98 showed that experimentation is a smart approach to defining the weapon systems architectures of the future," says Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish, commander of the Air Force Electronic Systems Center (ESC) at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass. "They proved that the Joint Air Ops Center can be independent of geographic location with the revolutionary implementation and use of distributed and collaborative C2 tools."
Kadish explains that EFX 98 represented the Air Force`s first tangible step in integrating space and mobility information into the air tasking order. In addition, he says, that exercise helped develop a joint forces air component (JFAC) command en-route capability that enabled the AEF commander to maintain command at all times. They also extended Joint Tactical Information Distribution System networking with the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft, with the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) aircraft, as well as with tactical fighters and bombers, he says.
The ultimate goal of the JEFX series is to bring the tactics, procedures, and equipment necessary for the 21st Century EAF into clear focus, Kadish says. This, he explains, is why the experiments focus about 80 percent on command and control. "C&C has to be expeditionary as well, a distributed, collaborative environment," Kadish says. "If you can establish a distributed architecture and talk to each other, it doesn`t matter where the individuals involved are physically.
The trick, he says, is to protect the information being passed so jam it or change it. That way, "I can lead people from the United States without moving forward. That means sending fewer people and less equipment forward and I can contract out some stovepipe functions that I otherwise would have to take forward."
During EFX 98, a staff of 250 manned the rear command center at Langley Air Force Base, Va., working with 110 people forward deployed to plan a 10-hour operation. That compares to a staff of 1,500 sent to run the operations center in Saudi Arabia during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. "Operating in a distributed environment was a major objective during EFX 98," Thompson says. "We learned a lot about our `reach back` capability. Additionally, we were effective at keeping the JFAC situationally aware while he and his staff were en route to the forward area."
Following EFX 98, Air Force officials concluded that making an integrated command and control system a reality would require many of the technologies and processes examined during the experiment. These included:
- a distributed, collaborative aerospace operations planning and execution capability from stateside to overseas locations to minimize the amount of C2 personnel and equipment in the forward area;
- a deployable satellite communications system with adequate bandwidth to support distributed operations;
- information assurance capabilities that protect the information network;
- the capability to improve commander situational awareness while en route to the forward operating location; and
- en-route mission planning capabilities to support a rapid deployment of strike aircraft.
JEFX 99 will spend time examining new concepts of operation, including evolving technologies and processes, which will provide new information to the warfighter and the command structure. One example will be new operating procedures and equipment for the air operations center (AOC). This arose from an EFX 98 determination that the AOC, where the joint forces air component manager runs the air war, should be treated as a weapons system, similar in some ways to AWACS or Joint STARS.
"Because the JFAC has to run the air campaign and assimilate a lot of information, we had to develop what we call the AOC master caution panel, similar to the warning lights a pilot gets in the cockpit," Thompson says. We`re trying to reduce the time it takes to make decisions. If we can get the right information to the right people at the right time to make the right decisions, we can better prosecute the war. What we`re trying to do is develop an operational picture for the commander that allows him to make decisions," Thompson says.
The warfighter may not need all the information from AWACS, Joint STARS and so on, he says. That would be an information overload. "We have to determine what he does need, which may be different from what an air expeditionary wing commander might need to fly a mission," Thompson says. Much of the sorting process will be automated, but Thompson says some still must pass through a human filter: "Technology has no compassion and doesn`t always follow orders well, so you have to have the human factor involved."
While EFX 98 dealt largely at the command level, Thompson says the individual warfighters within the AOC will receive new tools to handle their functions and responsibilities — some of which airmen already used in Kosovo. JEFX 99 will see more efforts to bring new enabling technologies to all levels to increase speed and decrease man-hours.
One such effort will involve speech recognition for such things as generating air-tasking orders, which personnel today must type by hand. Army and Navy officials are conducting their own experiments toward these same ends as all the services work toward a lean, fast, mobile, flexible, lethal, and versatile 21st Century force.
"What`s important is that in 2000 all four services will be executing experiments at the same time, the first major integrated warfighting experiment," Thompson says. "There will be joint implications to that because we`ll have to do some integration to pull it off. So all that is moving in the right direction, because we will not only being doing this jointly in the future, but in a coalition environment."
There will be some joint and coalition elements to JEFX 99. German Maj. Gen. Peter Vogler will serve as the deputy combined forward air component commander. The command ship USS Coronado (AFG-11), meanwhile, will act as another node to which participants will push the air tasking order.
The Coronado, operating in the Gulf of Mexico, also will be part of the Navy`s contribution to JEFX 2000, in which the Army and Marine Corps also will be involved. That experiment, in September 2000, will bring the Air Force effort to integrate agile combat support considerations into the EAF environment into concert with an Army Advanced Warfighter Experiment (AWE) and Navy Fleet Battle Experiment. After JEFX 2000, current plans call for U.S. forces to conduct the joint experiments every other year.
Not all of the JEFX effort is technology; the fruits of JEFX and the conversion to EAF are significant cultural changes for the Air Force, the Defense Department, Congress and the White House. "Experimentation is a way for us to learn about things we`re not doing now," Thompson says. "We learned a great deal in 98. It`s a cultural change and it takes people with open minds to listen and evaluate with knowledge. That`s part of our job — to get out and educate people on that."
Kadish says he believes these exercises will change forever the way the Air Force and other services prepare for war — if industry, the military, and the government can accept that concept and work together to meet the demands of innovation and implementation.