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AN/USQ-163 Falconer Air and Space Operations Center (AOC)

Air and Space Operations Center (AOC) AN/USQ-163 Falconer, senior element of the Theater Air Control System (TACS), is the weapon system Commander, Air Force Forces (COMAFFOR) provides the Joint Forces Air Component Commander (JFACC) for planning and executing theater-wide aerospace forces. When the COMAFFOR is also the JFACC, the AOC is also the Joint Air Operations Center (JAOC). In cases of Allied or Coalition (multinational) operations, the AOC is also a Combined Aerospace Operations Center (CAOC).

The AOC-WS program was new and without a funding line for FY03. Test activity was primarily limited to small, but high-priority improvements are needed to support Central Command efforts in the Middle East. Both TBMCS and AOC-WS are being combined to form GCCS-AF, and testing processes involving Service operational test agencies may need adjustment.

The AOC, manned by a dedicated cadre of trained professionals, enables the JFACC to exercise C2 of aerospace forces in support of the Joint Force Commander's (JFC) campaign plan. The JFACC will employ the AOC to maneuver and mass overwhelming aerospace power through centralized control and decentralized execution to produce desired operational and strategic effects in support of the JFC's campaign. The AOC LSI contractor will provide systems engineering and integration for the AOC, supporting fielding, sustainment, training, and management and integration of the AOC Weapon System. This is for information and planning purposes only and does not constitute a Request for Proposal (RFP) and is not to be construed as a commitment by the Government.

At a full Major Theater of War tempo, it functions 24/7 with many hundreds of trained C2 professionals working in shifts to plan and execute up to several thousand air sorties per day.

The air operations center, or AOC, is the command-and-control center that plans, executes and assesses aerospace operations during a contingency or conflict. A combined air operations center, or CAOC, is an AOC that supports joint, allied and coalition warfare, which is something the CAOC-X initiative has been designed to emphasize. A CAOC is the primary theater command and control, or C2, facility responsible for orchestrating an air campaign for a coalition combat effort.

CAOC-X, the Combined Aerospace Operations Center Experimental, is a key tool in standardizing aerospace operations centers around the Air Force as a single weapon system. CAOC-X is a joint effort between Air Combat Command and Air Force Materiel Command to team operators, acquisition professionals, testers, and industry to quickly field the newest technologies and processes for air operations centers. Historically, it has taken years to transition the latest information technology from industry to operational status. The Air Force goal is to use CAOC-X as the 'beta' environment for industry to work with operational C2 warriors and transition information technology in months instead of years. One change acquisition specialists would like to see is greater participation from non-traditional defense contractors.

CAOC-X was established to enable operators, acquisition professionals, testers and industry experts to quickly develop, assess and deliver the newest technologies and processes to air operations centers through a process called spiral development. Spiral development permits the insertion of technological upgrades in an incremental fashion, every six months or so. The ESC C2 Integration Office role at Langley is to orchestrate and integrate the efforts of many other organizations, including other program offices, development and battle laboratories and industry, to provide improved capability to the warfighter.

The initial focus of CAOC-X was to establish a new CAOC at Prince Sultan Air Base in Southwest Asia as the initial standard for the AOC weapon system. The new CAOC at PSAB was responsible for overseeing enforcement of the no-fly zone over Iraq as part of Operation Southern Watch. CAOC-X, with the help of CENTAF operators, was able to "wring-out" many of the technical and operational challenges that would have been experienced in the desert.

CAOC-X is focused on improving several capabilities that have historically been lacking in AOCs. CAOC-X has been successful in merging data from various sources into decision-quality information; improving the ability to find and destroy high-threat, mobile targets; and reducing the number of people and amount of equipment required in an AOC to make the AOCs more expeditionary.

One example of improved capability is the software engine of the AOC, the theater battle management core system, known as TBMCS. This system, managed by ESC's Combat Air Forces C2 System Program Office, generates and disseminates the air tasking order. A web-enabled version of TBMCS was included as an upgrade to the AOC Weapon System. This made it easier for information flow within the AOC.

Much of the effort of CAOC-X is focused on turning the AOCs into a standardized weapon system that has a professional core of C2 operators and current and standardized technology and processes. The Air Force is focused on creating expeditionary CAOCs that have a small hardware and personnel footprint, employ certified operators, and provide decision-quality, actionable information that enables the commander and his staff to command aerospace power. All of the AOC's around the world had different configurations. The goal is to standardize them into a single weapon system configuration allowing for some minor variations based on mission needs.

In addition to the AC2ISRC and the Electronic Systems Center, the CAOC-X team has participants from ACC's Aerospace Operations and Communications and Information Systems directorates, 8th and 9th Air Forces, Air Force Research Laboratory, Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center, the Command and Control Battlelab, the 46th and 605th Test Squadrons, the 609th Air Communications Squadron, Air Mobility Command, the Air Force Command and Control Training and Innovation Group and Air Force Special Operations Command.

Worldwide, there are five Falconer AOCs (three considered deployable, two considered non-deployable). Additionally, scattered throughout the world, there are at least five functional AOCs through which the COMAFFOR supports functional Unified Commands. Though varied in size, the functional AOCs tend to be smaller, and have less functionality, than the Falconers. There are also multiple Training and Innovation Centers in support of the Falconers and functional AOCs. There are also about five Air Reserve Component units that have AOC augmentation commitments. The augmentation packages consist of personnel assets and training equipment only.

The Al Udied Air Base (AUAB) AOC in Qatar, used during Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), and the Hardened Theater Air Control Center (HTACC) in Korea, are examples of Falconer AOCs.

An AOC consists of a large number of related, yet independent, systems which must all interoperate to effect the capabilities required to plan, conduct, and monitor the air and space war. In addition, it must be scalable and modular across the spectrum of conflict; and readily able to accept innovation from any source.

The biggest challenge is the three-way balance of the competing demands for Standardization, Customization, and Modernization among all the current and future AOCs. This has to be done in an exceedingly complex and ever-changing environment. These diverse and competing demands are shown on the left side of the figures. This is a three-way balancing act.

Standardization, a measure of how much the AOCs are the same across locations, that is attractive for many reasons. A standard configuration reduces unknowns. The Air Force knows what it takes to buy, build, support, and train for the employment of a standard "system" (note that the concept of "system" when applied to an AOC suggests a level of definition, control, and predictability that, realistically, is not found). From the "outside," standardization makes the AOC easier to think about, talk about, and plan for. Additionally, the idea of training a cadre of C2 professionals who can go to any AOC and immediately be up-to-speed and perform effectively is compelling. On the down side, few (if any) of the employments of AOCs have resulted in a standard configuration. This is because the demands of specific AORs, missions, commanders, and coalition team composition, have required special treatment. In addition, the dynamics of environment have resulted in the emergence of new tactics and have matured joint doctrine. Often these require the AOC to change not just how it is configured and used, but what it contains as well.

Customization, a measure of how much the AOCs are tailored to the needs of the specific location, is attractive for many reasons as well. It is an explicit acknowledgement of the needs of those who are using the AOC. Customization also has its downside: What does one train to? What will it cost to build and sustain? To have a standard system that is also completely customizable is not possible, and even if possible likely not affordable (for example, how does one test it?). Nevertheless, calling our current AOCs "customized" probably captures the essence of where we are today.

Modernization, a measure of how "current" the technologies and tools are at the AOCs, has its attractive features, too. Commercial IT is moving towards solving many thorny problems: security and protection; easier creation, integration, and support of functionality; easier setup and management; better performance; and a host of valuable characteristics. In fact, the Air Force is forced to continually modernize. Vendors don't support specific hardware and software in perpetuity. Therefore, the Air Force needs to modernize for technology refresh purposes as well as to incorporate new functionality. The downside to modernization is the disruption it causes. Hardware and software must be taken out and changed; well-honed skills may be rendered obsolete. Things look and feel different. Within this environment the Government desires to treat AOCs as weapon systems.




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