MITRE's Mission Planning Warehouse: Collaborative Development, Collaborative View

June 2010
Topics: Command and Control, Warfare, Collaborative Decision Making, Combat Service Support
Planning military operations in theater is more complex than ever, in part because of the mass amounts of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance data.
soldiers in the field

In modern warfare, field commanders need increasingly more sophisticated tools for capturing data generated from a multitude of sources. To effectively support command and control decision making, data must be combined in a way that both offers a unified picture of the battle space and can be displayed in a variety of static and dynamic forms. To meet this need, MITRE developed the Mission Planning Warehouse (MPW).

Just like a bricks-and-mortar warehouse, the virtual MPW acts as a collection point and clearinghouse. In this case, however, what's being collected and redistributed is the data that leads to increased military situational awareness. Combined with other software tools, the MPW can provide views of specific mission planning data sets via Google Earth. The data sets include intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) collection requirements, air tasking orders, and aircraft route plans in an aggregated form. This information allows operational users to gain broader knowledge of the battle space so they can dynamically manage aircraft in flight.

Unlike other capabilities that traditionally take years to be fielded, the MPW team introduced it into the field in only a matter of months. To reach this point so quickly, a team of MITRE employees and personnel from the Electronic Systems Center (ESC) at Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts traveled to a front-line command center. They worked side-by-side with in-theater "combat coders" to install, test drive, and improve the MPW under battlefield conditions.

This on-site collaboration also gave the team the opportunity to demonstrate the working prototype to high-level commanders for use in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ultimately, the MPW demonstrates a way to significantly improve situational awareness by integrating joint, interagency, and multinational capabilities for a unified view of battle space management.

Testing in the Desert

MITRE introduced the prototype MPW last summer at Empire Challenge 2009 (EC 09). At EC 09, held at the Naval Air Weapons Station at China Lake in California's Mojave Desert, participants demonstrated new and existing ISR technologies under real-world conditions. The exercises, held annually, help to identify any problem areas that need addressing.

Demonstrated at EC 09, a Google Earth screen shot displays how the Mission Planning Warehouse provides integrated ISR data for a more complete picture of the battle space. Geographic image ©2009 Google; ©2009 Europa Technologies; ©2009 TerraMetrics

Demonstrated at EC 09, a Google Earth screen shot displays how the Mission Planning Warehouse provides integrated ISR data for a more complete picture of the battle space. Geographic image ©2009 Google; ©2009 Europa Technologies; ©2009 TerraMetrics

The 951st Electronic Systems Group (ELSG) from ESC demonstrated the MPW. The work was a key part of a larger MITRE effort, the Collaborative Sensing Initiative. "Our participation allowed us to become more familiar with the customer community for which we provide systems support," said Hassan Terry, MITRE's 951st ELSG ISR subject matter expert and EC 09 officer of primary responsibility.

When compared with other tools currently in use at Air Force installations, the prototype demonstrated at EC 09 showed improved machine-to-machine communication. It also demonstrated enhanced integration and visualization of ISR and command and control data. This kind of data aggregation enables Force-level commanders to manage their air assets (primarily ISR drones, such as Predators) more effectively.

Following Empire Challenge 2009, personnel from ESC sought out Capt. Jamieson Pierce, a senior intelligence duty officer from the Combined Air and Space Operations Center (CAOC) in Southwest Asia, as a likely candidate to give first-hand user feedback on the potential for employing the MPW in the field. When Capt. Pierce visited ESC, he received an overview of the MPW and its subsets. His feedback helped the team gain a better understanding of how the system's implementation could be supported more appropriately through focused upgrades.

Capt. Pierce then assisted ESC in contacting the right personnel to get further buy-in for the Mission Planning Warehouse. When he returned to the operational theater, he strongly advocated for on-site support from ESC. In his view, the MPW prototype had the potential to be integrated with existing ISR planning tools at the CAOC to improve situational awareness.

Side by Side with the Combat Coders

With the opportunity to implement the MPW as a mature prototype into the CAOC, ESC engaged with three-star level commanders to work on fielding the tool in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. ESC assembled a team to provide on-site support. In October and November of 2009, the team—consisting of MITRE software developers, an enterprise integration expert, and an Air Force captain—deployed to the CAOC to conduct a fact-finding mission. Their goal was to address how they would integrate the MPW into an existing CAOC.

The fielded team with in-theater Combat Coders (AF Forces Staff/A63). Pictured l-to-r: Hassan Terry (MITRE), Capt. Casie Wolak (ESC), SrA Josh Miller, David Greeley (MITRE), SSgt Jonathan Kirby, Jon Jones, A1C Justin Daniell, Capt. Rodney Bagley, and Stephen Harrison (MITRE). Not pictured: SrA Armani Wilson, Steve Veverica, Capt. Jamieson Pierce (SIDO).

The fielded team with in-theater Combat Coders (AF Forces Staff/A63). Pictured l-to-r: Hassan Terry (MITRE), Capt. Casie Wolak (ESC), SrA Josh Miller, David Greeley (MITRE), SSgt Jonathan Kirby, Jon Jones, A1C Justin Daniell, Capt. Rodney Bagley, and Stephen Harrison (MITRE). Not pictured: SrA Armani Wilson, Steve Veverica, Capt. Jamieson Pierce (SIDO).

Eric Nordman, project leader for the MITRE Mission Planning Advanced Development Team, chose the staff for this demanding assignment with care. "The team, which included Hassan Terry, Dave Greeley, and Steve Harrison, along with Capt. Casandra Wolak from ESC, blended a keen appreciation of real-world operations and missions with deep technical insights and opinions," Nordman says. Eric Koerner, MITRE's director of integration for the 551st Electronic Systems Wing, also accompanied the team to provide focus on possible broader ISR enterprise integration opportunities.

Team members quickly bonded with the CAOC combat coders. ("Combat coders" are Air Force airmen assigned to write the thousands of lines of computer code used for specific tasks at the CAOC and other operational sites.) Soon they were working together to improve a CAOC-developed tasking and management application called TEMPAL, while integrating it with a preliminary version of the MPW. Operational users saw immediate improvements to CAOC ISR capabilities, and the ESC team was applauded by the combat coders, who appreciated the collaborative on-site support.

The Air Force quickly made plans to carry out three more fielded versions by September 2010 under EMPIRE-A, an ESC-funded initiative that combined the enhanced MPW with TEMPAL.

Expanded Capabilities Now Available

Following the on-site visit to the CAOC, the team added key improvements such as visualization enhancements that more effectively manage full-motion video assets used in Iraq and Afghanistan. Based on feedback, operational users are pleased with the expanded capabilities they now have at their disposal.

MITRE and ESC personnel engaged directly with in-theater Combat Coders (AFFOR/A63) at the CAOC in Southwest Asia to conduct fact-finding and lend their technical and subject matter expertise. In 1) SrA Josh Miller, Stephen Harrison (MITRE), David Greeley (MITRE); 2) Hassan Terry (MITRE), Capt. Rodney Bagley; 3) Hassan Terry, Capt. Casie Wolak (ESC), SSgt Jonathan Kirby

MITRE and ESC personnel engaged directly with in-theater Combat Coders (AFFOR/A63) at the CAOC in Southwest Asia to conduct fact-finding and lend their technical and subject matter expertise. In 1) SrA Josh Miller, Stephen Harrison (MITRE), David Greeley (MITRE); 2) Hassan Terry (MITRE), Capt. Rodney Bagley; 3) Hassan Terry, Capt. Casie Wolak (ESC), SSgt Jonathan Kirby

The first full release of the MPW system, including the improved features, was delivered in February 2010. With its fully established linkage between the CAOC's own Predator/Reaper dynamic task request management site and the MPW, the system gave users a well-vetted task management capability.

Sean Mullen believes that the example set by the team was typical of MITRE's ability to address our customer's needs. Mullen holds the dual roles of 951st ELSG/EN chief engineer and MITRE program director.

"Hassan and the advanced development team were really able to bring the value of MITRE to bear within the CAOC," he says. "They applied extensive operational domain knowledge combined with rigorous software engineering skills and delivered an improved and hardened capability to the warfighter."

The ESC recently nominated the EMPIRE-A team for the Air Force Scientific and Engineering Team of the Year Award for responding to and delivering a critical operational need to the warfighter in Southwest Asia. The nomination package included an endorsement letter from Lt. Gen Gilmary Hostage III of the US AF Central Command. His letter stated in part that "this warfighter-focused team performed above and beyond my and my team's high expectations, responding to and delivering a critical operational need to the in-theater CENTCOM Combined Air and Space Operations Center....The EMPIRE-A Team's direct and close collaboration with our operators and our CAOC Combat Coders, from requirements development to code writing, has been nothing short of phenomenal."

Quick-Turn Support to the Warfighter

ESC Commander Lt. Gen Ted Bowlds has placed a heavy emphasis on making sure ESC develops suitable tools for the operational users who provide direct ISR support to activities in theater. The MPW serves as an example of ESC and MITRE's commitment to provide to the warfighter viable, value-added products that have been developed in close coordination with the end-user to ensure that what they're getting is what they truly need.

In March, along with other senior ESC and Air Forces Central Command leadership, Lt. Gen. Bowlds visited the CAOC and observed firsthand the expanded capabilities realized from the fielded Mission Planning Warehouse. Not only did he acknowledge the value of these new capabilities, he also reflected on the broader significance of the effort.

"It serves as a great example of quick-turn support to the warfighter," he said. "This initiative by the ESC team is laying the groundwork for some significant paradigm shifts in how we can provide support to our users."

—by Gordon R. Sherburne, Jr.

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