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New aircraft will maintain command, control advantage on future battlefields


Release Date: 11/05/2002

by Staff Sgt. A.J. Bosker Air Force Print News

11/05/02 - WASHINGTON -- The Air Force currently enjoys a command and control advantage on the battlefield thanks to its E-3 Sentry airborne warning and control system aircraft and E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft.

However, as future success increasingly depends upon an ability to rapidly engage fleeting or emerging targets and to counter the enemy's growing technological developments, the service is developing the next generation system -- the multi-sensor command and control aircraft -- to maintain its decisive advantage on the battlefield.

The service envisions moving the air and ground surveillance, battle management, command and control and targeting capabilities of the AWACS and Joint STARS on to the same or separate Boeing 767 MC2A aircraft, Air Force officials at the Pentagon said.

The Air Force Command and Control, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Center at Langley Air Force Base, Va., analyzed a variety of aircraft from different manufacturers before deciding upon one that met all desired requirements.

"In the end, (they) determined that the only aircraft with the power, space, range and load-carrying capability to meet the requirements of the MC2A was Boeing's 767-400 extended-range aircraft," said Lt. Col. Tracy Tynan, chief of the Air Force's command, control, communications and computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance future capabilities division at the Pentagon.

Once the Air Force selected the aircraft that would become the MC2A, the service chose to take a spiral development approach in the acquisition of the airplane, said Bobby Smart, deputy director of the Air Force acquisition directorate's information dominance programs at the Pentagon.

"The goal of spiral development is to get a capability to the war fighter as quickly as we can," Smart said. "We chose a spiral development approach because in the past, it's taken too long to deliver a complete capability to the field."

That method is preferred to the alternative of waiting years down the road for a more complete package, he added.

"Rather than trying to solve the whole challenge of putting both the ground and air capability on one platform, which would take us a few years to work through before we could begin the acquisition process, we instead are opting to field these capabilities in increments as current technology permits," he said.

The first increment, Spiral One, focuses on developing and fielding a ground surveillance, targeting, C2 and battle management capability similar to Joint STARS. It also calls for the installation of a fiber-optic backbone to accommodate future growth and ease the integration of added capabilities into the aircraft.

Spiral Two will focus on the integration of an AWACs-like air moving target indication capability on to the same or separate 767 MC2A aircraft, greatly enhancing battle management, surveillance, targeting and command and control capability.

The Air Force has received $4.5 billion in funding for Spiral One.

"This will enable us to field one test bed aircraft in 2008 and four operational aircraft by 2012," Smart said. "These four MC2As will augment the Joint STARS fleet, giving us (an additional 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week orbit) ground moving target indication capability and enhancing our ability to detect cruise missiles."

The MC2A test bed's mission is just as important to the overall program's success, but the requirement for a test bed has raised some confusion, Smart said.

"People have asked why we need a test bed when we have the Paul Revere aircraft, a Boeing 707, that has been used in joint forces exercises to evaluate battle management command, control and communications processes and procedures," Smart said. "Simply put, the radar that we're going to put on the MC2A platform physically won't fit on the Paul Revere aircraft. The command and control experimentation that we've done with Paul Revere has been and continues to be of great value, but it's just one piece of the overall program."

The 767 test bed is needed to do the kind of systems integration work that will be necessary for further spiral developments of the MC2A, said Lt. Col. Scott Handy, deputy chief of the C4ISR future capabilities division. It will also be used to test and evaluate any new capabilities or modifications made to the MC2A before they are put into the operational aircraft on the flight line.

Therefore, the test bed can't be a different aircraft than the MC2A that will be used operationally, Handy said. In fact, people at the Air Force Operational Testing and Evaluation Center at Kirtland AFB, N.M., the independent test agency responsible for evaluating all new systems under operational conditions, can't determine if the MC2A meets the war fighter's requirements if they don't have a representative aircraft to test.

Smart is confident that the MC2A will become the key enabler in allowing the Air Force to get to the fight quickly, serving as the combatant commander's eyes and ears, as well as being a lead command element.

MC2A will be horizontally integrated with current and future Air Force systems and have the battle management and command and control capability to serve as an airborne air and space operations center, he said

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