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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

AF plan could enable Iraq air sovereignty, independence

by Chuck Paone
66th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

12/11/2008 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. (AFNS) -- Work being done here by officials of the Electronic Systems Center and its federally funded research and development center partner, MITRE Corp., is helping pave the way for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.

ESC and MITRE International Operations specialists, in concert with a number of ESC acquisition groups, completed work earlier this year on a comprehensive Iraq Air Sovereignty Master Plan, a roadmap that will help enable the Iraqi air force to operate without U.S and coalition assistance.

"We're helping to bring U.S. warfighters home by laying out a plan that will position, and properly equip, the Iraqi air force to operate on their own with regard to air sovereignty," said Charlie Bell, a MITRE engineer working with ESC's International Operations Division.

The team built an initial plan, dubbed Safe Eagle, which was intended only to outline the steps and equipment needed to rebuild Iraq's air traffic control infrastructure. However, the ESC team reasoned that the investment could be leveraged to benefit air sovereignty and air defense; a point which Iraqi military officials and coalition transition officials ultimately agreed upon.

"It made sense that they needed to concentrate on flight safety and landing planes at first," said Sal Pomponi, a senior member of the team. "But they also need to be able to defend their air space and be able to command and control their air assets."

The team realized that the Iraqis might not have the resources to build all the systems at once; nor would they have the manpower to operate them all, even if they could be emplaced immediately.

"So we developed the master plan that shows what steps they need to take over the next few years, and which ones could be deferred until the timing is better," Mr. Pomponi said. The plan's timeline stretches through 2019.

"But the exact timing isn't what matters most," Mr. Bell said. "It's that they have a logical, sequenced master plan to work from."

So, with assistance from officials of the U.S. Air Forces Central and from the Coalitional Air Force Transition Team, or CAFTT, the Iraqis have been moving out.

ESC officials have already received several letters of request for the center to begin providing air traffic control equipment and communication systems. The 853rd Electronic Systems Group and the 350th ELSG are already engaged. Other ESC units, including the 753rd ELSG and the 651st Electronic Systems Squadron, which provides weather systems, also expect to engage in Foreign Military Sales programs stemming from the plan.

Representatives from all of these units worked with the International Operations team that helped build the master plan. The team didn't draft the plan in a vacuum however. AFCENT, CAFFTT and, most important, the Iraqis themselves all participated.

"There was an initial perception that this coordination, involving civilians constantly traveling in and out of Iraq, could present a sizable obstacle, be costly and difficult," Mr. Bell said. "We therefore decided that it made sense to spend a little money on providing the Iraqi air force with video teleconferencing equipment. Once that was installed, we went ahead and met almost every week, via video teleconferences."

At first, language barriers -- partially solved by having an Arabic-speaking ESC program office member participate -- and other issues caused things to proceed slowly.

"The biggest thing was the military culture there," Mr. Pomponi said. "They were used to doing things the way they'd done them 20 years ago. That's what they were comfortable with, and that's what they wanted to go back to. But we kept stressing that they didn't need to go back to that, that technology advances now make it possible to do things more efficiently."

For one thing, new technology makes it no longer necessary to divide the country into air defense quadrants with separate command and control centers in each. With the power of modern computing and the ability to tie together widely separated radar feeds, only one centralized center, and perhaps a back-up, would be required to conduct air operations throughout Iraq.

"It took a while but they eventually came around to see that our suggestions made sense," Mr. Bell said, noting that the Iraqi officials grasped the advantages of being able to accomplish the same things with fewer resources.

The successful drafting, coordination and ongoing implementation of the Iraq Air Sovereignty Master Plan have led CAFFTT and the Iraqis to seek letters of agreements and a follow-on study. This study, which began in October 2008, will map out strategies for acquiring and operating intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms and systems.

"This will be another important step forward for the Iraqi air force, and for the United States, in terms of helping facilitate the transition to Iraqi autonomy," Mr. Bell said.





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