Software maintainers help warfighters achieve mission
by Amanda Creel
78th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
1/18/2007 - ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. (AFNEWS) -- While the E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, or Joint STARS, platform is celebrated for its ability to provide air commanders with real-time ground surveillance in support of attack operations, the surveillance giant couldn't complete its mission without the support from Airmen of the 116th Computer Systems Squadron.
"The J-Stars wouldn't exist without CSS," said Staff Sgt. Tiffany Baumgardner, a communication system technician with the 116th Operational Support Squadron. "There is no way you could show up and fly without them."
The 116th CSS provides communication support for the Joint STARS flight crews and is one of the few communication squadrons in the Air Force directly supporting a flying mission.
The squadron's mission is to bring software to the fight and the squadron has had a continuous presence in forward operating locations during the past five years in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. The squadron provides support 24 hours a day, seven days a week to the E-8 mission.
"Basically, they provide the software and we provide the button pusher," Sergeant Baumgardner said.
The squadron provided mission-critical software for 787 combat sorties and 536 training sorties last year.
"What we do here is build the mission kits. We build a mission kit for each sortie they fly," said Master Sgt. Brian Golter, chief of operations for the E-8 Software Operations Center.
The disks contain data that allows the flight crews to communicate with air or ground troops such as Marines or Soldiers, to take pictures and collect other data about the areas where the sorties are flown and to see data previously collected from the area where they are flying. Once the disks are prepared, members of the squadron head out to the E-8 and load the software.
"The software is already on the jet, which makes my job a lot easier," said Airman 1st Class Richard Duarte, an airborne radar technician with the 16th Airborne Command and Control Squadron. "We power up that entire system through that software, so we couldn't do anything without it."
Sergeant Baumgardner said she uses the disk to establish data links, which allow the warfighter to communicate with other platforms in the air and on the ground through a secure connection.
The Communications Security Office of the squadron is responsible for ensuring the air crew can establish secure communications.
"Without our office the jet could fly, but they couldn't communicate securely with other aircraft or guys on the ground," said Sam Vines, acting communications security manager.
During training sorties, a member of the 116th CSS flies with the crew to test the software. A member from the squadron meets the crew after every flight to see if there were any problems or complications during the flight.
"We are here to identify problem areas and try to prevent a bigger problem by watching the smaller ones," said Tech. Sgt. Christopher Faust, NCO in charge of analysis.
Along with making small upgrades and changes to the Joint STARS software throughout the year, the squadron made three major upgrades to the E-8 fleet last year.
Members of the 116th CSS also deploy in support of the E-8 to help ensure the software functions properly in a real-world environment.
"They have other issues over there that we don't have here and can't have because they are flying real-world missions," Sergeant Faust said.
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