Lockheed Martin battle management system supports Iraq air war

Before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. Air Force mission planners had to hand carry aerial battle plans on disks via helicopter to air command centers at bases or on aircraft carriers.

But this changed three years ago when Lockheed Martin Mission Systems Inc. deployed the Theater Battle Management Core System, which is now managing thousands of flights a day in Iraq.

The system enables Air Force personnel to send the plans via a secure network to theater commands with the push of a key.

The principal purpose of the system is to enable the Air Operations Center, the command responsible for planning, managing and executing complex air battles, to issue a daily joint battle plan known as the air tasking order for the military services.

The multimillion-dollar battle management system, which was under development for five years before it was made the system of record for air battle command and control in 2000, was purchased by the Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts. Lockheed Martin built the system under a $475 million contract to support the Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. Lockheed Martin's teammates on the project were BAE Systems Plc, Farnborough, U.K., DynCorp., Reston, Va., and Northrop Grumman Corp. of Los Angeles.

The origin of the system can be found in lessons learned 12 years ago during Operation Desert Storm, according to military officials. During that conflict, the previous system, known as the Contingency Theater Air Planning System, revealed myriad shortcomings in the military's air battle planning and execution capabilities. The shortcomings centered on matters of connectivity, interoperability, speed, flexibility and reliability.

One of the most glaring shortcomings of the old system was reliability, military officials said. They reported that under normal operating conditions the previous system had to be rebooted about once a day.

The new system allows planners to generate daily air tasking orders with three times the targeting and unit information, with a third less staff, in half the time, said Matt Kramer, a company spokesman. It has enabled air mission commanders to react to what is unfolding on the battlefield much quicker than before, he said.

"The old system didn't give you the best shared picture of air, land and sea operations," Kramer said. Planners using the system "are literally looking at a map of the battlefield with friendly units laid out in real time or near real time," he said.

The new system can generate air tasking orders in just 24 hours as opposed to the 72 hours required under the old system. The system has been stress tested to ensure that it could support as many as 4,500 sorties a day, Kramer said. The U.S. military is currently flying about 3,000 sorties a day over Iraq, he said.

The system is on what is known as a spiral development cycle, which means that additional functions are added every six months in small patches that don't require technicians to take the system down during upgrades.

Lockheed Martin is currently working on several key enhancements, including enabling authorized users to access the system via the Web through a laptop or browser, an enterprise application server that supports the deployment of advanced applications using XML and other languages, and a patch upgrade process that reduces system administration time and effort without disrupting operations.

"The upgrade can literally be done in about two hours," Kramer said. This makes it less disruptive to day-to-day operations."

Lockheed Martin Mission Systems, which is a business unit of Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Md., has about 2,500 employees and offices in Gaithersburg, Md., Colorado Springs, Colo., and Santa Maria, Calif.

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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