Published Aerospace Power Journal - Fall 2001
Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited.
Dr. Louis S. Metzger
Col Donald R. Erbschloe, USAF
|Editorial Abstract: A recent bombing accident in Kuwait underscores the fact that the Air Force can benefit from clearer operational pictures and external aids. Ironically, however, the Navy rather than the Air Force has taken the lead on the Single Integrated Air Picture, an effort to improve defensive capabilities. In this article, the Air Forces chief scientist and his military assistant advocate that the Air Force become the prime mover in obtaining a better integrated surface picture in order to enhance operational capabilities.|
On 12 March 2001, during a nighttime close air support exercise at the Al Udairi Range in Kuwait, a US Navy F/A-18C accidentally dropped three 500-pound bombs on a manned observation post. Five Americans and one New Zealander were killed. Eleven individuals, including six Kuwaiti troops, were injured in the incident.
The report from the ensuing investigation listed three contributing factors: (1) nonstandard and misleading assessments of the aircrafts heading during its bombing run (by the forward air controller); (2) a loss of situational awareness by the ground forward air controller during the terminal control phase; and (3) environmental conditions at the range that complicated visual acquisition of the target.1
In short, because three key playersthe aircraft, the forward air controller, and the ground forward air controllerhad inconsistent "pictures" of what was happening that March evening, the resulting actions led to tragic consequences. Similarly, the accidental shootdown of two Army Blackhawk helicopters by two Air Force F-15s during Operation Provide Comfort in northern Iraq in 1994 provides another example of a "friendly fire" mistake caused by having the wrong picture.2
Military history is replete with the consequences of misperceived pictures, clouded by the fog of warnot only friendly fire incidents such as those noted above, but also battles and wars lost.3 Confusion, misidentification, and conflicts in tracking and reporting become increasingly likely as the battlefield grows larger and includes a greater variety of players (both joint and coalition). Today, the convergence of three factors is causing us to focus on achieving better, more consistent, and more accurate pictures to guide our military actions: (1) decreasing tolerance for casualties and collateral damage; (2) the ability of modern technology, if properly employed, to substantially improve the clarity of our shared situational awareness; and (3) our desire to enable war-fighting strategies that depend on having a clearer and more timely picture than our opponentsa building block for the revolution in military affairs.4
For all of these reasons, the Department of Defense is seeking a Family of Interoperable Operational Pictures (FIOP).5 The departments multiservice approach to managing the Single Integrated Air Picture (SIAP) represents a significant step forward. Rear Adm Michael G. Mathis, SIAPs system engineer, leads this effort. SIAP, fused from data inputs and fed from a variety of sensors and platforms, promises consistent, uninterrupted, and unique tracks for all airborne objects in the theater volume, forming a tactical air picture that everyone will share. Fully realizing this objective will not be easy, however. Operational shortfalls observed in exercises such as the Joint Air Defense Operations/Joint Engagement Zone and its successor, the All Service Combat Identification Evaluation Team (ASCIET), indicate the need for substantial improvement.6 We must accommodate migration from our legacy systemsand budget constraints pose a challenge. But substantial progress is possible and will be made.
SIAP activity, motivated primarily by the urgent needmost notably by the Navyfor a more detailed, accurate, and timely tactical air picture to enable improvements in missile defense, is preceding serious attention to the other tactical pictures, such as the one that we will dub the Single Integrated Surface Picture (SISP).7 One may reasonably ask why the Air Forcethe service to which one might naturally look for anything pertaining to the aerospace realmwas not the driving force in pushing for an improved SIAP. This article explores the answers to that question and, in the process, considers arguments for two conjectures:
1. The Air Forces need for an improved SIAP is likely to increase in the future.
2. The Air Force should have a vital interest in the SISP.
The Air Forces primary air-superiority tool is the manned fighterthe F-15 and its successor, the F-22. One can summarize the Air Forces rationale for the current air-to-air operation of its fighters as follows: provide the fighters with a pretty good idea of where the enemy is,8 allow the aircraft to establish themselves in the area of interest, and then let the onboard sensors and pilots figure out the enemys exact location in order to execute the mission.9 In other words, the main air-to-air weapon for the Air Forcethe fighter and all it contains, including the pilotis relatively error tolerant and, hence, autonomous. Moreover, recent air-to-air engagements generally allowed enough time for the human-in-the-loop autonomy to work. Because of the success of this autonomy, the Air Force has not given high priority to providing tighter coordination between its fighter weapon system and other systems. This autonomy, fundamental to Air Force culture, underlies the reason why the service was not a driving force for SIAP improvements.10
The Air Forces apparent nonchalance toward operational pictures is reflected in its slow adoption of Link 16 (one of the key components of SIAP) in the past and its current low level of interest in going beyond Link 16 for air defense.11 To some extent, the Air Forces perception of Link 16s benefits suggests its cultural ethos of pilot autonomyproviding general situational awareness and deconflicting targets among wingmen, certainly important for formation engagements. Despite Link 16s ability to provide fighters a good idea of the enemys location, that benefit is plagued by latency and accuracy problemswhich accounts for the Air Forces reticence to buy into the system. If latency was so long or accuracy so bad that weapon system autonomy didnt have the time or ability to compensate, fixes (which are well within technical feasibility) would have been funded long ago.12
The Air Forces weapon system autonomy contrasts with the ground-based and ship-based antiair weapons of the other services that, once fired, provide little opportunity for assistance from humans-in-the-loop. Such weapons either proceed directly to where they were targeted (e.g., antiaircraft shells) or are tightly coupled to automated guidance of one type or another (e.g., surface-to-air missiles). They resemble munitions fired by the Air Force weapon of choice (the fighter) to the extent that they arent very tolerant of errors in latency or accuracy. To date, however, Air Force fighters have not needed an improved SIAP to provide targeting for their air-to-air munitions.
One can make yet another comparisonone between the current Air Force tradition of reliance on the autonomy of a fighter (and wingman) and the traditions of the other services. Army batteries have a long history of coordinating overlapping zones of fire and relying on external sources to tell them where to aim. One can make a case that a sea captains command of his or her ship in a fight provides a closer analogy to Air Force autonomy. But the Navys recognition of the critical nature of air defense for the battle group and its requirements with respect to platform interdependence provided the motivation for any needed cultural shift. In response to the overriding need to withstand airespecially missileattack, the Navy, most noted for its independence at sea, recognized the need for the interdependence of weapon systems at the tactical level. Its systems could not provide adequate defense against present and future threats without effective fire control and tight coordination, such as that provided across platforms by the Cooperative Engagement Capability systemthe survival of the battle group required it.13 Unsurprisingly, therefore, Navy initiatives were the driving force behind SIAP, and Army acceptance came easily.
The Navy headed the ASCIET working group that defined the joint war-fighting shortfalls which prompted the creation of SIAP. It also fostered relevant activities such as development of the Cooperative Engagement Capability system.14 Interestingly, this Navy leadership is reminiscent of their paving the way for an early operational picture with the Red Crown ground-control-intercept radar in Vietnam.15
The Air Force tradition of pilot autonomy evolved because it worked. After they are vectored to the right general vicinity, fighters rely on organic systems and well-trained pilots. Their success is due, in large part, to the aircrafts long (and generally uninterrupted) line-of-sight sensor range to the target. The balance among that range, the effective range of the fighters munitions, and the requirements of its air defense mission has allowed the Air Force to take little interest in a SIAP much improved over that from an airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft. Yet, history shows that this has not always been the case for fighter-intensive air defense, and the future could see this opportune balance upset once again.
During the Battle of Britain in World War II, British radio direction finding (Chain Home radar) turned out to be a crucial new technology because the Royal Air Force initially couldnt meet its mission needs without improving the combination of externally provided situational awareness and the fighters own sensor capabilities. Todays balance was missing.16 In the future, the balance we now enjoy may be upset by improvements in enemy capability (e.g., swarms of low-observable cruise missiles) or even by our wanting to take advantage of improvements in our own capabilities. Possible improvements such as uninhabited combat air vehicles or longer-range munitions, combined with better offboard, deep-look sensors, might fit the latter category. Such a shift in balance would stimulate the Air Forces interest in an improved SIAP.
Meanwhile, the other military services and entities such as the Joint Theater Air and Missile Defense Organization, which have a more immediate need for SIAP, are viewing the Air Force as a contributor to that picture.17 They want Air Force sensors to tightly couple into SIAP and Air Force airborne platforms to supply "high ground" line of sight for SIAP data relay. Envisioning a big bill to fully accommodate these expectations, the Air Force is asking that its contributions be justified as cost-effective. Each cost-effectiveness question should be answered not only in light of current circumstances, but also in anticipation of changes that may alter the Air Forces air defense balance, discussed above, and hence potentially increase the services interest in SIAP.
Like Air Force fighter aircraft in air defense, Army infantry, armor, and cavalry in ground combat also tolerate some errors in situational awareness and can autonomously compensate with their own onboard systems and human operators. On the other hand, Air Force ground-attack aircraft in environments such as Kosovo are more dependent on external help in finding, identifying, and tracking mobile or concealed targets. In addition, proliferation of long-range surface-to-air missiles as part of an enemys integrated air defense system may prompt the Air Force to seek improvements in SISP (and thus increase its chances of survival), analogous to the Navys interest in SIAP. Might the Air Force, therefore, purely for reasons of self-interest, become a driving force for a better SISP?
The Army is pushing to digitize the battlefield, with the initial priority of providing a timely and accurate blue-force picture.18 Although the Army is also clearly interested in red-force situational awareness, as evidenced by its participation in and priority for the joint surveillance, target attack radar system (JSTARS) aircraft, the most stressful red-force SISP requirements (with respect to depth of coverage, timeliness, and accuracy) now derive from Air Force needs. This replicates the Air Forces acceptance of and tolerance for the AWACS air picture, whereas the Navy has more pressing SIAP needs, but with the relative roles of the three services intermixed. The Air Force may have the highest motivation for SISP today, but circumstances can change. What the Army now sees as balance will likely alter if that services transformation results in the introduction of much lighter (and more vulnerable) force units or new, longer-range ground-to-ground munitions.
If the Air Force did want to push toward SISP improvements similar to the Navys role with SIAP, would its approach to the operation of and future planning for surveillance platforms change? How would platforms like JSTARS, Rivet Joint, and uninhabited air vehicles be affected? Would the high priority the Air Force already gives to existing and future space-based surveillance components (e.g., space-based radar) increase further (similar questions apply to innovative sensor modalities such as hyperspectral, polarimetric, etc., as well as their fusion)? Would a drive toward a better SISP cause the Air Force to ask more of the other services or intelligence agencies in buying into and contributing to SISP improvementsand in what ways and according to what system-of-systems vision?
Fortunately, the Air Force is not ignoring surface-surveillance improvements. Air Force SISP needs are encompassed in a broad vision of finding, fixing, tracking, targeting, engaging, and assessing any target anywhere, as articulated in volume three of the Air Force Strategic Plan.19 However, the Air Force currently has no specific SISP initiative that explicitly focuses requirements, planning, activities, funding, and collaboration with others in this area.
Integrated operational pictures will provide the war fighters of the future with unprecedented capabilities to engage the enemy across all domains. Although the FIOP will be the foundation of effective offensive operations, the reality is that current efforts have predominantly defensive roots. Incidents of fratricide and possibilities of successful attacks against US forces have crystallized the need for shared views that are comprehensive and unambiguous. Potential threats and possibilities of an unclear picture of those threats make us feel vulnerable, which, perhaps, is whyon a gut levelthe Navy took the lead on SIAP and why the Air Force should take the lead on SISP. An improved SISP would likely enhance survival of Air Force assets against enemy attack initiated from the ground and increase the Air Forces ability to strike difficult ground targets successfully.
1. "Investigation into the circumstances surrounding the live-fire incident involving a U.S. Navy F/A-18 aircraft that dropped three 500-pound bombs on Observation Post 10 at the Udairi Range, Kuwait, on 12 March 2001, resulting in the deaths of six military personnel and injuring 11 others" (US Central Command report, executive summary, April 2001).
2. Aircraft Accident Investigation Board Report: US Army UH-60 Blackhawk Helicopter 87-26000 and 88-26060, vol. 1, Executive Summary (Washington, D.C.: Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, April 1994).
3. Consider the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbora radar outpost at Opana Point in Hawaii observed a formation of aircraft inbound toward Oahu on the morning of 7 December 1941 and reported this to the Information Center. The pursuit officer on duty "assumed the flight indicated was either a naval patrol, a flight of Hickam bombers, or possibly some B-17s from the mainland." See Report of the Joint Committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack, 79th Cong., 2d sess., document no. 244, sec. 140, 1946. Another example: Lt Gen Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson was injured during a "friendly fire" attack on his scouting party by fellow Confederate soldiers. Jackson lost his left arm as a result and ultimately died from ensuing pneumonia. Some military historians have recently speculated that this event was pivotal to the outcome of the Civil War. See "Friendly Fire That Changed a War?" American Forces Information Service, 2 February 1999, on-line, Internet, 7 June 2001, available from http://www.defenselink. mil/news/Feb1999/n02021999_9902028.html.
4. See Adm Bill Owens with Ed Offley, Lifting the Fog of War (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000).
5. "The Family of Interoperable Operational Pictures (we have called this FIOP) will bring together our battle management assets across all domains (air, ground, sea, and space). The FIOP will improve our joint and coalition forces ability to prosecute a coordinated strategy, to include battle management, fire support, counter-fire, logistics, and intelligence across all echelons of command, from the CINC and Joint Task Force Commander, down to the Soldier, Sailor, Marine, and Airman, across all domains." From the Honorable Jacques S. Gansler, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and technology, "Challenges and Changes in the 21st Century, Theater Air and Missile Defense Systems," remarks, Theater Air and Missile Defense Workshop, Norfolk, Va., 2 August 2000.
6. Note this comment from ASCIET 2000: "The biggest thing we can continue to work on is getting everybody the same picture. With all the older data links, the new links, the new equipment, and some stuff doesnt talk to the other stuff. Weve just got to keep pushing to get that common picture."
7. We consider the ground and maritime (excluding submarine) pictures together as comprising SISP.
8. Voice control from an airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft is the primary means for most Air Force fighters, even today, although transition to data links is ongoing.
9. This mission may vary from lethal to nonlethal, based on the desired effects.
10. Some people speculate that this aspect of Air Force culture is at least partially an adverse reaction to Warsaw Pact reliance on strict ground-control-intercept tactics.
11. Link 16 is a tactical, digital information link that provides enhanced jamming resistance and navigation features. The Air Force, now convinced of the utility of the Link 16 data link, is trying to accelerate its fielding.
12. A fix for the largest contributor to excessive latency (a buffer delay) has only recently been fielded, but mitigating other significant sources for latency and improving accuracy with a new AWACS tracker remain unfunded.
13. Comdr Robert S. Kerno Jr. and Mr. Michael D. Roberts, "Interoperability through Commonality," Surface Warfare Magazine, MarchApril 2000, 2731.
14. Lt Comdr Gary A. Gotham and Capt Alan B. Hicks, "A Fleet Perspective on Theater Air Warfare and Where We Are Headed," Surface Warfare Magazine 25, no. 5 (SeptemberOctober 2000): 1219.
15. Although the information from Red Crown was of great benefit to aircrews, its deep coverage was limited. The Air Force augmented this with its Teaball Weapons Control Center at Nakhon Phanom, Thailand. See Earl H. Tilford Jr., Setup: What the Air Force Did in Vietnam and Why (Maxwell AFB, Ala.: Air University Press, 1991), 24345; and Mark Clodfelter, The Limits of Airpower: The American Bombing of North Vietnam (New York: Free Press, 1989), 165.
16. For a fascinating, firsthand account of the science and engineering that fed into early radar and infrared detection, see R. V. Jones, Most Secret War (London: Hamish-Hamilton, 1978), 91105, 199, 228.
17. Herbert C. Kaler, Robert Riche, and Timothy B. Hassel, "A Vision for Joint Theater Air and Missile Defense," Joint Force Quarterly, no. 25 (AutumnWinter 19992000): 6570.
18. "The digitized battlefield is the cornerstone of the horizontal technology integration initiative. It is critical to ensuring Americas Army remains the premier land combat force into the 21st century. Digitization is the application of information technologies to acquire, exchange, and employ timely battlefield information throughout the entire battlespace. It enables friendly forces to share a relevant, common picture of the battlefield while communicating and targeting in real or near-real time." See Senate and House, the Honorable Togo D. West Jr. and Gen Dennis J. Reimer, A Statement on the Posture of the United States Army, Fiscal Year 1997, 104th Cong., 2d sess., on-line, Internet, 7 June 2001, available from "http://www.army.mil/aps/97/ch5.htm" .
19. Air Force Strategic Plan, vol. 3, Long-Range Planning Guidance (Washington, D.C.: US Air Force Strategic Planning Directorate, 19982000), on-line, Internet, 7 June 2001, available from "http://www.xp.hq.af.mil/xpx/afsp_c.htm" .
Dr. Louis S. Metzger (BS, MS, PhD, Massachusetts Institute of Technology) is chief scientist of the US Air Force, Washington, D.C. He serves as chief scientific adviser to the chief of staff and the secretary of the Air Force, providing assessments on a wide range of scientific and technical issues affecting the Air Force mission, and is a member of the Steering Committee of the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board. Prior to assuming his current position, he was vice president in MITRE Corporations Center for Air Force Command and Control Systems. He also served on the National Research Councils Air Force Studies Board Committee on Tactical Communications and in 1993 was a technical support group member for the Defense Departments Bottom-Up Review of military satellite communications. Dr. Metzger is the author of numerous technical articles and reports on command, control, and communications.
Col Donald R. Erbschloe (BA, University of Virginia; MS, University of New Mexico; DPhil, Oxford University) is the military assistant to the chief scientist of the Air Force. A command pilot with 3,900 flying hours in the C-141, TG-7A (motorized glider), and UV-18, he was the 86th Military Airlift Squadrons chief pilot during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. He has served three tours on the faculty at the US Air Force Academy, as instructor through associate professor in the Department of Physics and as director of faculty research on the staff of the dean of the faculty. The author of several journal articles and reviews, Colonel Erbschloe has also served as chief scientist at the European Office of Aerospace Research and Development, a London-based detachment of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
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