The new millennium began with advances brought about by the technological boom of the 1990s, and the Air Force now faced the challenge of how to maximize operations using these new technologies.
The primary focus was to integrate new technology into command and control while the Air & Space Operations Center fulfilled this C2 role for an air campaign. In September of 2000, then Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Ryan declared the AOC a weapon system. As we reflect on the 75th anniversary of the Air Force Network Integration Center, this article recounts my personal experience as a young Air Force officer from early 2000 to the end of 2002 working with the Air Force Communications Agency to test and integrate these new technologies into the AOC.
In 2000, the Air Force began its third iteration of its C2 exercise, Joint Expeditionary Forces Experiment 2000. JEFX was designed to exercise new technologies in the AOC, and I was assigned to the IC2S program office, part of the Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts. We were charged with JEFX planning and execution while the AFCA provided a new network design for the AOC. This new design departed from the multiple Fiber Distributed Data Interface rings to physically separate network traffic to a new Ethernet design using virtual local area networks to logically separate network traffic.
Another new design for the AOC involved consolidating about 20 unique mid-level servers into three high-end servers. The team spent months designing and implementing these new designs in a simulated harsh environment with the goal of supporting the mission of the AOC.
This austere environment presented a unique challenge, because although these new technologies depended on a clean and stable power infrastructure, JEFX was rife with simulated outages and electrical fires. Our success implementing these new technologies helped pave the way for the creation of the AOC Program Office and the designation of a new weapons system, the Falconer AOC. Our next challenge was to develop performance baselines for the Falconer.
My work developing baselines began while I was stationed with the 46th Test Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Although, JEFX 2000 successfully demonstrated a new AOC infrastructure design, no fielding had occurred because this new infrastructure had not yet undergone formal operational testing. AFCA and the 46 TS teamed to monitor and collect system performance metrics.
Our new challenge dealt with relating these metrics to the AOC mission of planning and executing the Air Tasking Order. This required the engineering test team to obtain a basic understanding of the ATO planning and execution cycles. AFCA and the 46 TS efforts produced an initial performance baseline for planning and executing a 1,500 mission/3,000 sortie ATO.
Relating these network metrics to the ATO cycle proved to be a greater challenge. While the AFCA-provided network monitoring tool, Sniffer, was excellent for packet analysis and troubleshooting, it was less effective with correlating network traffic.
It was essential to link the AOC applications to the ATO cycle, and we needed to identify the ports and protocols of each application so the network monitoring tool could categorize network traffic. Back then, documenting ports and protocols was not very common so we worked with the developer, Lockheed Martin, to accomplish this task. This provided us enough information to develop a network performance baseline that met AOC operational requirements.
AFCA provided engineering support for the first operational fielding of the new Falconer AOC network design (Ethernet vs FDDI) during Operation Desert Shift. Operation Desert Shift involved relocating the Central Air Forces Coalition AOC from Eskan Village in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to Prince Sultan Air Base (PSAB), Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, due to missing training requirements, the new server design was not part of the fielding plan. I was sent to PSAB as part of the 46th TS team responsible for the independent verification and validation. Partnering with 9th Air Force and the Electronic Systems Center, AFCA provided in-theater engineering support from late 2000 to mid-2001. Their successful efforts led to the first operational Falconer CAOC which began planning and executing missions supporting Operations Northern and Southern Watch. This all soon changed on Sept. 11, 2001, when the CAOC we built began planning the Operation Enduring Freedom air campaign.
Fresh off the success of the PSAB CAOC, CENTAF developed plans for an alternate CAOC to be located at Al Udeid Air Base (AUAB), Qatar, and I once again deployed as the lead test engineer. Although built by the same organizations, there were some key differences in each CAOC. First, unlike the PSAB CAOC, the AUAB CAOC would incorporate both the network and server design.
Another key difference from the two CAOCs was while the PSAB CAOC building was designed and built from the ground up, the AUAB CAOC was a converted warehouse. The architecture closely resembled what we implemented during JEFX. Conex containers were retrofitted to support the AOC systems and were designed to connect together. AFCA engineers supported the network build in the containers at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, and then supported their setup in-theater.
The lessons learned during JEFX proved more valuable to the AUAB CAOC build than the PSAB CAOC build because we were adapting existing buildings to meet our requirements. One unique challenge faced was maintaining data replication between PSAB and AUAB.
AFCA assisted with the design and implementation of the network infrastructure between the two sites. Because of the capabilities of the AUAB CAOC, we knew our implemented design was not intended as an alternate site, and in March 2003, the AUAB CAOC began planning and executing the Operation Iraqi Freedom air campaign.
By 2010, I was stationed with the 607th AOC at Osan Air Base, South Korea, when I visited the experimental CAOC at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia. I was pleased to learn that AFCA was still supporting the AOC. The new millennium presented us with new opportunities to improve C2 for the AOC and AFCA was a key player in integrating operations with new technologies.