An Air Force system designed in the wake of Sept. 11 to provide comprehensive air surveillance and defense for North America recently got even better.
The Battle Control System-Fixed program reached a major milestone with the full deployment of Increment 3. The BCS-F, produced by ThalesRaytheonSystems, is a modern real-time battle management command and control system. Fielded at the North American Aerospace Defense Command’s Air Defense Sectors, BCS-F provides NORAD commanders with a highly interoperable and reliable platform in support of the nation’s homeland defense air mission.
Following the 2001 terrorist attacks, NORAD and its force provider, Air Combat Command, realized there was an enormous need to upgrade the legacy equipment in the sectors to provide their commanders with an increased capability to see not only the traditional air defense approaches to North America, but also as much of the internal airspace over the continent as possible.
NORAD Sectors are located in New York, Washington, Alaska, and in Canada. There is also a BCS-F System in Hawaii that reports to the Pacific Command commanders.
“BCS-F is the sole tactical command and control system for North America’s air sovereignty and air defense missions,” said Lt. Col. Lisa Tucker, BCS-F program manager. “And Release 3.2 brings several mission critical improvements to the system.”
Some of the enhancements include: a new hardware suite of equipment improving system capacities and processing, significant data links improvements that expand the quantity and quality of data shared with other DoD systems, and improved interoperability with systems in the National Capital Region.
Additional improvements are increased capacities for a sector to “cover” another sector’s area of operations and an ability for the sector operators to automatically receive, process and use the Air Tasking Order and Airspace Coordination Order, significantly reducing the operator workload. Previously, the ATO and ACOs would have been performed manually.
“From my perspective as a sector commander, the deployment of Increment 3 allows the sector to finally normalize operations with our primary C2 system, the BCS-F,” said Col. Dawne Deskins, Eastern Air Defense Sector commander. “Operators and maintainers from the sector have been intimately involved in the testing and development of the latest software every step of the way. The successful deployment is a direct result of the partnership between those of us in the field, ACC and the program office.”
To get to Increment 3, the team faced some significant challenges along the way.
“We had schedule constraints, funding cuts …,” said Tucker. “The team met with the stakeholders, creatively thought and strategized opportunities to do parallel testing and took advantage of collaboration to field the capability on time and with reduced funding.”
As NORAD is a bi-national organization, the U.S. and Canada strategically partner together on the BCS-F program. In fact, Canadian personnel are integrated into the BCS-F team. One example of the cooperative nature of the work was a development solution to provide multi-day flight plan data. When it was discovered that there may be an issue with the plan the U.S. team was working, they were able to switch to a plan that the Canadians were using.
“We’re constantly looking at best practices and where we can synergistically work together to best affect the warfighter,” said Tucker. “They have been great to work with.”
Since the fielding of BCS-F Spiral 1, which replaced the legacy equipment that was fielded in the 1980s, to the operational acceptance of Increment 3, Release 3.2, the program team here has increased the capabilities, capacities and usability of the BCS-F for sector operators.
“We have a great relationship with our stakeholders,” said Tucker. “We are constantly communicating with NORAD, ACC, our test community, our sectors, our contractor and others that have a vested interest in the BCS-F mission and in consistently bringing more capability to our warfighters.”
And even though the system currently has an operational availability of 99.98 percent, the team is always looking for improvements.
In fact, program managers already have another set of capabilities in test for delivery later in 2013. As the program moves into sustainment, there are several additional improvements under way, including an improved information assurance and security posture, an increased training capability for the operators with the Auxiliary System Suite and a number of fixes to improve the operator’s mission effectiveness.
“As the NORAD mission evolves and technology moves forward, I am working with my stakeholders to position BCS-F to respond to changes for years to come to be a critical part of protecting our nation’s sovereign airspace,” said Tucker.
Coordination and cooperation have been the keys to ensure a successful program.
“I am totally impressed with the teamwork displayed in providing this operational capability to the warfighter,” said Col. Scott Owens, Theater Battle Control Division chief.
“In addition to the tremendous effort by Lt. Col. Tucker and her program office team, this accomplishment could not have happened on schedule without the commitment and shared sense of urgency from the developer, user, acquisition and test communities involved in the BCS enterprise.