Air Force Imagery Exploitation System Readied For Operations

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force completed acceptance testing in August for the first of five upgraded imagery exploitation centers that will soon make it easier for military analysts to use and share different types of data, Raytheon officials said Sept. 2.

Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems of Garland, Texas, has been working since 2003 to upgrade the Air Force’s global network of Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS) sites. The first site at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., has been certified to meet all requirements, and it will enter operations in the next couple months, Tony DiFurio, Raytheon’s director of defense and civil mission systems, said in an interview.

The Air Force’s DCGS is the system that ingests, exploits and disseminates intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data from the service’s collection platforms, including the U-2 spy plane and the Predator and Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles. In addition to sites in California, similar sites are located in Virginia, Hawaii, South Korea and Germany.

The next-generation DCGS, called version 10.2, will enable Air Force analysts at sites around the world to connect, share data and collaborate in an environment similar to the global commons created by the Internet, DiFurio said. With the current version of the system, analysts at any given DCGS site do not have visibility into what information is being collected by the other sites and do not know when new data is added to the network. Once DCGS 10.2 is operational, Air Force data that is added to the network from anywhere in the world will instantly be accessible to all users, DiFurio said. The new system will also allow workloads to be seamlessly offloaded to any site in the global network.

The DCGS upgrade will increase speed and availability of data to U.S. forces around the world and enhance the security of transmissions, said Mike Wynne, a consultant and former secretary of the Air Force.

“What it will allow is a lot more backup support,” Wynne said. “If you have an air operations center in one part of the world, DCGS will allow you to access data from another part of the world in a much cleaner way. DCGS opens the pipe, and it also provides a lot better security to the transmission.”

The hardware for DCGS 10.2 is mostly identical to the previous version and resembles what could be seen in many workplaces: racks of servers, workstations and video processing units. But it is the new Raytheon software that is key to what the new system will enable, and the complexity of the development work is often hard to describe, DiFurio said.

“When you explain an F-16 to someone, they can visualize the complexity of it,” he said. “A lot of people have a hard time visualizing the complexity of DCGS because the hardware is not that complex. But you’re dealing with 200-plus software packages, some that are from the commercial industry like Oracle or Microsoft, some that are specialized software developed for the [Defense Department], and then there’s the specialized software for this program.”

In addition to upgrading the five core DCGS sites, Raytheon is also delivering the capability to three Air National Guard sites in Indiana, Massachusetts and Kansas. The DCGS development contract has brought in more than $560 million for Raytheon, and that figure could reach $750 million by the time the company’s work is complete in October 2010, DiFurio said. Air Force officials at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., where the program is managed, were unable to comment on the system’s development by press time.

The other U.S. military services have separately developed their own DCGS systems, and Raytheon is playing a key role in linking those systems together. The company developed and has delivered the DCGS Integration Backbone, which consists of software and a set of standards for other information exploitation systems to be built around. Raytheon will demonstrate by the end of the year interoperability between the Air Force and Army DCGS systems, and those systems will be fully interoperable sometime in 2010, DiFurio said. Systems being developed by other services and the intelligence community will eventually follow suit.

Raytheon now hopes the DCGS Integration Backbone will be chosen by the emergency management and homeland security community as the standard for which future information and communications networks will be built around.