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Air Force Testing Synchronization Tools (Aug. 4)

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev --- A new set of synchronization capabilities are being tested and experimented with here at Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment 2004, the fifth in a series of major chief of staff of the Air Force-sponsored experiments that test new and emerging technologies.

Global Concept-of-operations Synchronization means presenting information about aircraft and flight-path constraints so all interested players know where, when and how to interact in that airspace.

“GCS is a set of capabilities that enhances dynamic, global, synchronized Air Force warfighting responses,” said Col. Al Baker, the GCS initiative leader for JEFX. “We can’t control certain aspects of airspace usage, such as the domains of the Federal Aviation Administration. But what we can do is find systems and processes that better coordinate the five nodes in warfighting response.”

Those nodes include civil control, mobility air forces and combat air forces. Officials at the Tanker Airlift Control Center and at wing or combined air operations senters are also involved. Colonel Baker said the goal is to synchronize or link together these areas like gears in a machine, so everyone can accomplish their separate missions through a combined knowledge of the big picture.

The initiative being tested here just scratches the surface of what GCS will eventually be able to do, said Col. Richard Martin, the director of mobility forces for JEFX 04.

“This is the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “The improvements to situational awareness and the coordination between (mobility and combat air forces) in strategic operations will increase by leaps and bounds with this technology.”

According to the GCS mission description, the automated links of the system provide near real-time viewing of aircraft flight constraints and restrictions affecting an air tasking order. Parties can then work together for a solution.

“GCS is able to provide information by bridging the seams in control and awareness and directing the processes of the personnel in each of the nodes,” Colonel Baker said.

Maj. Robert Dreyfus, a B-52 Stratofortress electronic warfare officer, used the GCS system in a live-fly test July 29, during a sortie from Barksdale Air Force Base, La. He said that any situation-awareness picture that is beyond voice description helps execute the mission more efficiently and effectively.

“The GCS and cursor-on-target team is a diamond in the rough,” said the major who is assigned to Barksdale’s 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron. “It has the potential to be a blockbuster for technology breakthrough and situational awareness particularly in the bomber community.”

Major Dreyfus said the key to GCS is the Extensible Markup Language, or XML. The language is a simple, flexible text format originally designed to meet the challenges of large-scale electronic publishing, but is also playing an increasingly important role in the exchange of a wide variety of data on the Web and elsewhere.

Global Air Mobility Advanced Technologies, a work-centered support system for global weather management, is also being used. It fuses weather and flight information for weather situational awareness, basically alerting users at all levels to unexpected weather events affecting operations.

“GAMAT monitors the weather and notifies the operational duty officers on all the nodes of potential hang ups,” said Maj. Michael Miller, a B-52 pilot from the 49th TES, here supporting the GCS initiative. “When a weather event arises, an alert is sent to the tanker and bomber (operational duty officers) simultaneously, so they both know that a change may need to be made. In the future, GAMAT may be able to monitor threats, time-sensitive targets and changes to airspace control orders, which an individual human operator would never be able to monitor simultaneously.”

Besides weather notification, GCS provides global positioning of the different aircraft to the separate aircrews, allowing them to see each other’s tracks.

“The GCS uses existing systems such as Falcon View, our in-flight moving map, to be able to not only show us our own track, but also that of the tanker we are trying to rendezvous with for an air refueling,” Major Miller said.

Another advantage the GCS provides is retargeting, said Maj. Richard Auld, a KC-135 Stratotanker navigator and test director for the GCS system.

“With this system, targeting can be built for several different targets to be input into the same weapon, such as a cruise missile,” he said. “The bomber can leave the ground with a primary target in mind, but with different tracks already planned should another target in the area change in priority.”

If intelligence officials find a high-priority primary target has moved 100 miles to a secondary target, and the bomber aircraft is already airborne, the weapons officer can use GCS to re-enter the second target into the bomber’s missile route.

“In the past, the mission might have had to abort, or the missile might have had to run through a high-threat area and never reach the new target,” Major Auld said.

All together, synchronization allows the CAOC staff to see a much bigger picture than ever before. This makes predicting necessary flight and mission changes much more proactive and allows for multiple solutions leading to successful missions.

“The technology demonstrated in this experiment can be directly implemented in the field,” Major Dreyfus said. “This is significant because it can be immediately incorporated into the Combat Tract II system on the B-52. It offers a quantum leap in situational awareness particularly for the B-52 as a warfighter.”

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Synchronization System Brings Awareness to Warfighters