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Infrastructure key to smooth CAOC operations

by 1st Lt. Christine D. Millette
Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment 2004 Public Affairs

7/28/2004 - NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. (AFPN)  -- The room is abuzz with the sounds of operators and technicians. People are either intently staring at the information coming across their monitors or discussing their next move with someone else in the movie theater-sized room.

They are part of Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment 2004, and Nellis' newest operations building, the Combined Air and Space Operations Center-Nellis, or CAOC-N, is in full swing.

"The CAOC is the weapon system designed to execute the air and space component of a war, combining operators and systems from all different air assets and coalition forces to make one integrated system," said Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson, 8th Air Force commander and JEFX 04 combined forces air and space component commander. "By having this single nerve center to prosecute the air war, we are able to see more of the picture at one time, allowing the air forces to avoid fratricide through communication with the land contingents and more quickly identify and dispose of enemy targets."

The building, opened in February, took JEFX operations out of trailers used during the four past experiments and consolidated them into one cohesive operation center. Not without some headache for those involved, however.

"When we first moved in during (the second of three planning stages of the main JEFX 04 experiment), we had flooding and wiring problems that needed to be worked through before we could even get into the weeds of the JEFX spiral itself," said Lt. Col. Martin Kendrick, JEFX Systems program manager. "It took the limited amount of time that we already had to work through details and changes to some of our initiatives, and shortened it even more."

Even with building problems to overcome, the systems team from Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., said they knew what they were working toward was going to be worth all the growing pains.

"The CAOC-N building was built to take the CAOC weapons system to the next level," Colonel Kendrick said.

The five divisions of the CAOC -- combat operations; combat plans; strategy; air mobility; and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance -- were all integrated to bring their part of the fight together in the most synergistic way possible, the colonel said.

Once the JEFX team was able to set up in the building, experimentation was the next step in creating the most efficient system.

"During (the second and third planning stages), we (rearranged) the floor plan as the 8th Air Force personnel asked us to, until the five divisions were in their most efficient setup possible," Colonel Kendrick said. "We've been through at least 100 changes since (the second stage). Basically, we build to order, it's 'your way, right away.'"

David Sandlin, JEFX profile manager, has been through every experiment since the first in 1998. He said the key to getting the most efficient setup is the communication between the systems controllers and the operators.

"Moving a desk from Point A to Point B may look simple on a map," Mr. Sandlin said, "but it takes lots of teams to make a move happen. There are things being worked at 100 miles per hour under the surface, and it takes someone like the systems manager to keep everyone playing nice."

The systems manager then works with both sides to provide a conduit for mutually agreeable solutions to problems that arise. The systems team then builds from those solutions.

"The goal of the systems team is to take the requirements of 8th Air Force and Command and Control personnel, and design the infrastructure to support their needs," said the colonel. "We develop the architecture, acquire the materials, build the structures and then test them for usability. From there we sustain that which works, and we change anything that doesn't."

The planning stages, known as spirals, that take place before the main experiment are where the systems team make most of their adjustments.

"We collected feedback during both of the spirals, then implemented the changes to the systems to support the operators during the main experiment," said Maj. James Headley, chief of JEFX initiatives. "The changes we make affect the flow of information on the floor, so our feedback helps to keep the floor configured in the most efficient way possible."

There are different levels of changes that the systems team must make through the entire JEFX process, Colonel Kendrick said.

"We did short, quick-fix changes during the spirals, taking the suggestions from the operators, reworked the systems in just a few minutes and then let them have it back with the changes in place," the colonel said. "The massive engineering fixes were implemented between spirals for use when the operators came back to the floor for Spiral 3 and (the main exercise)."

JEFX provides a great opportunity to cut out a lot of lag time between the identification of a system problem to the implementation of a plausible, usable fix, said Major Headley.

"Often, new systems will be developed and then lobbed over the fence at the operators, which then takes months to get feedback. Here it's instantaneous," said the major.

"We have the contractors literally looking over the shoulders of the operators, getting direct feedback and observing where the gaps between engineering and operations exist, and addressing that gap, right then and there," Colonel Kendrick said.

"JEFX is a crucible for rapid feedback and integration," said Maj. Bob Steindl, chief of AOC experimentation and infrastructure team lead. "The experiment provides more criteria to the contractors to tackle the systems interface, making a much more efficient improvement process."

The experimentation process provides an arena to hash out the systems differences, Major Headley said.

"The JEFX forum allows us to test the Joint Targeting toolkit, the Master Air Attack Plan toolkit and several other systems all at the same time, integrated with each other, which provides a much more realistic and accurate test of whether or not they can be worked together for real wartime usage," he said.

"While we are experimenting with the major initiatives," Major Steindl said, "we reduce the risk for the AOC weapons system, the program's more maintenance friendly, we are able to make small, new technical changes that don't actually make their own separate initiative and we push the ball forward in all aspects of development."

While consolidation of air operations has been an ongoing process since the beginning of air power, Colonel Kendrick said the CAOC has only been used as a weapon system since 2001. JEFX has fed new technology for the warfighters into the five in-theater CAOCs since.

"About 40 percent of the systems that were being used in the Prince Sultan Air Base CAOC during the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom came through JEFX. This means that what we are doing here has a direct impact on the frontline operations."

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