Soaring Success: Airbase is Transferred to Iraqi Forces

April 2011
Topics: Systems Modernization, International Relations, Air Traffic Management
Kirkuk Air Base in northern Iraq is now fully operational, thanks to systems engineering and support from MITRE in collaboration with the U.S. military.
Iraq air base

Last year, a triumphant occasion at one of Iraq's air bases marked a new beginning for that country's military forces. At a special ceremony, the U.S. military officially turned over the Kirkuk Air Base in northern Iraq to the Iraqi Air Force (IqAF), in support of the ultimate goal of independence for Iraqi forces.

A multi-party coalition of the U.S. and Iraqi governments, their respective air forces, and civilian contractors, including MITRE, has been collaborating for the past several years to help the IqAF become fully operational and self-reliant, as it carries out air traffic control and defense missions.

"There is an immediate need to be able to conduct air operations at Kirkuk 24 hours a day, in all weather conditions," explains MITRE's program Chief Engineer Peter Radzikowski. "That wasn't viable for the base in its previous state." Radzikowski was part of a team tasked with acquiring and implementing a complete suite of navigational aids, air traffic control, surveillance, and automation systems. As recently as last year, Kirkuk Air Base, which is located in a strategically important area of northern Iraq near oil fields and a refinery, wasn't operating around the clock.

MITRE provided systems engineering expertise in all phases of the program, for a state-of-the-art, digital airport surveillance system. (Systems engineering focuses on how large, complex engineering projects should be designed and managed, and how individual project components work together in the overall system picture.)

An Essential Mission

MITRE first became involved in the project when the corporation assisted the U.S. Air Force's Electronic Systems Center (ESC) in drafting a broad air modernization plan. The plan outlined how the Iraqi government could properly equip and train the IqAF to begin autonomous operations.

The challenge was immense. "The plan identified bases that needed to be upgraded—there's a candidate list of nine bases in all," Radzikowski says. "First, the team assessed critical components, such as the existing equipment and runways. Then, a timeline and strategic roadmap was created, with the goal of bringing each base into the modern era, one by one."

With new, modernized air traffic control automation systems at their fingertips, the IqAF has begun to safely, efficiently use its airspace, which is essential for Iraq's defense mission.

Full Speed Ahead

Upgrading Kirkuk Air Base and making it fully operational was originally scheduled to take four years. The working team, commonly known as the integrated product team, included the ESC, MITRE, and supporting contractors. The Integrated Product Team (IPT) committed to delivering the capabilities at the nine-square-kilometer site on an accelerated timeline, because of operational needs.

"Getting Kirkuk modernized was accomplished in half the time," says Radzikowski. Thanks to close collaboration among the U.S. and Iraqi governments, air forces, and a team of civilian contractors, the team overcame challenges like shipping equipment through a war zone. They also managed risks by getting information about their working conditions, such as the availability of base support and use of local contractors.

"There was a lot of overtime and persistence on the part of everyone involved," he says. "Especially the volunteer efforts made by deploying military members and engineering contractors."

MITRE's previous engineering expertise, especially for military needs, came into play in a number of critical areas. "I was able to tap into MITRE authorities on frequency management, to make sure there were no frequency interferences for aircraft," he adds. "Another challenge was integrating helicopters and all of the coalition aircraft. The specialists in that area were a great help."

Another reason that the project maintained its momentum is because the ESC/MITRE team helped acquire and integrate readily available commercial off-the-shelf technology and systems. "By using commercially available products, we could quickly identify vendors, generate specifications of performance requirements, evaluate proposals, award contracts, and go through the fabrication process," Radzikowski points out. "And the systems engineering processes we adhere to always take major factors into account, like quality assurance and risk management. These are the issues that help ensure program success."

Before Kirkuk became fully equipped, Iraq didn't have its own air traffic controllers, maintenance crews, or airport surveillance radars. Now, Kirkuk's distinguishing characteristics include approach lights on its two major runways, a modern air traffic control automation system, and various navigational aids, including a common radar format that makes future integration of the different military and civil radars possible.

The Sky's the Limit

The IPT is providing follow-up support at Kirkuk Air Base, which has become a sound model for future air base modernization programs in Iraq. It's also serving as an example for complete enterprise integration efforts for Iraqi's military.

"By delivering on-time, high quality air traffic control automation systems, we provided support to the U.S. Air Force's current activities, and it paved the way for the Iraqis to gain full capabilities and control over their own air operations," Radzikowski says.

The program included training IqAF personnel to take over the equipment's operational use and maintenance, which facilitates the departure of U.S. military personnel from the region.

"The work performed is ultimately in accordance with the president's plan that U.S. personnel leave Iraq by December 2011, while simultaneously supporting our military partners there," Radzikowski says.

—by Cheryl Scaparrotta


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