Airspace Information Service Safely Speeds Up Battle Rhythm

June 2011
Topics: Air Traffic Management, Airspace, Data Management
With the new Airspace Information Service, that was co-developed by MITRE, the Air Force and Army can now share the same airspace without interfering with each other's operations.

When the U.S. Air Force and the Army use the same airspace for their aircraft and rocket attacks on the enemy, how do they coordinate their "fires" to avoid getting in each other's way? Close coordination is crucial to avoid fratricide and maintain the pace of battle, or battle rhythm. Currently, a time-consuming process helps coordinate the use of airspace by both fires and aircraft. However, the Army and the Air Force use different visualization tools for showing the airspace and their planned munitions trajectories.

Now, a standard vocabulary and service definition—developed by a group with members from the military services, industry, and MITRE—promises a solution. The group, the Air Operations (AO) Community of Interest (COI), includes representatives from the Air Force, Army, and U.S. Marine Corps, as well as industry representatives such as Raytheon and General Dynamics. Interested stakeholders come together to agree upon standard vocabulary and techniques for sharing information to meet an operational need. An example of one of the products developed by this group includes the Airspace Information Service.

"The Airspace Information Service created by the AO COI enables more dynamic airspace management and a heightened battle rhythm," says Carole Mahoney, a MITRE principal systems software engineer who works with the AO COI. "It also enhances situation awareness and reduces potential fratricide."

Mahoney provides technical leadership for the AO COI's Data Management Working Group (DMWG), which designs standards for sharing air operations information. Part of her role is demonstrating how COI products enhance operations.

Improving Airspace Management

In an operational area, the Air Force controls the airspace above a specified height and the Army coordinates the airspace below. The two services have long discussed how they can improve airspace management. Until now, the discussions centered on everybody using the same tool, which means that one party has to give up its tool and learn how to use another. With the AO COI's Airspace Information Service, both the Army and the Air Force can continue using their own visualization tools by sharing data that works with each airspace management system.

The Airspace Information Service had a trial run last year in an Air-Ground Modernization effort involving three systems—one from the Air Force and two from the Army.

The Air Force uses its Theater Battle Management Core Systems (TBMCS) as its primary command and control system. TBMCS helps the Air Force plan and direct all theater air operations. The Army uses its Tactical Airspace Integration System, or TAIS, for its airspace management operations. The second Army system, the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System (AFATDS) is the Army's fire support system. It acts as a targeting, mission planning, and mission execution system for artillery.

The Air-Ground Modernization effort took shape with a number of partnerships and interoperability initiatives. (See "Partnerships Speed Modernization.") "We identified an opportunity for TAIS and AFATDS to leverage TBMCS's implementation of the Airspace Information Service," says Mahoney. "It allows sharing airspace information in near real-time."

The Air Force Electronic Systems Center's (ESC's) XRCI Enterprise Integration, Innovation Branch, supported the proposal. ESC/XRCI funded the Army to prototype and integrate the Airspace Information Service based on the standard developed by the AO COI.

"This effort not only enables common information sharing by using the standard, it also provides valuable feedback to the AO COI DMWG to help us evolve and improve the standard," notes Mahoney.

Enabling the Art of the Possible

Mahoney suggests that technology isn't the hardest part. "It's the social and cultural aspects—whether that means bringing stakeholders together to collaborate on a common vocabulary, work on process improvement, or helping them get past 'the way we've always done it.' Technology is the easy part.

"It's challenging to get people to agree to work together on a common vocabulary and services without the baggage of their current system implementation and with an open mind for change. Sometimes we must help people to recognize how technology can enable process improvement for our end users. This sometimes requires a shift in culture, which can be a big challenge."

In August 2010, Mahoney teamed with Maura Slattery, a MITRE principal systems engineer supporting ESC/XRCI, and brought the Air-Ground Modernization effort to the AGILE Fires operational exercise as part of a Dynamic Airspace Management initiative. "Airspace management operators were enthusiastic about the initiative with its enhanced situational awareness," says Slattery. "They liked the near-real time information sharing among the systems and across the military services and operational nodes."

Mahoney explained that, "Exercising the prototype information sharing this way enabled us to explore concepts of coordination and decision authority, permissions, and delegation of authority." These issues will be evaluated for future concepts of operations, and for tactics, techniques, and procedures.

Mahoney and Slattery share the opinion that "it's exciting to demonstrate to our user community how these new net-centric information sharing techniques support today's business processes and also enable future process improvements."

—by David A. Van Cleave


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