AFCENT Can Now Generate Air Tasking Orders in the Cloud

The 609th Air Operations Center at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, in early May became the Air Force’s first AOC to operationally use the Kessel Run All Domain Operations Suite to build an air tasking order. The new cloud-based system allows planners to build an air tasking order from anywhere and uses automation and advanced software to accomplish what usually takes dozens of personnel using stove-piped systems.

KRADOS, developed by the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Detachment 12, also known as Kessel Run, uses the same principles behind the Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System push to bring in new technology to improve the air war planning and execution process.

“This is an extremely important moment for the command and Air Force,” said Lt. Gen. Gregory M. Guillot, commander of 9th Air Force (Air Forces Central), in a release. “Improving the Air Tasking Order process makes AFCENT and our distributed command and control capabilities more efficient, and this innovation will also help improve AOC operations across the Air Force and in other combatant commands.”

The AOC has been using the Theater Battle Management Core System to build the air tasking order—the daily battle rhythm for fighters, bombers, and tankers in the area—for decades. The TBMCS needs large numbers of personnel and different computer systems, with walls of screens and dozens of workstations packing the large CAOC at Al Udeid.

This old system “was at the end of its lifespan,” 609th AOC Commander Col. Frederick “Trey” Coleman II said in an interview. Its systems were localized to the computers in the CAOC and based on old coding. “You put a comma in a wrong place, it would crash the entire system when you’re entering data,” he said.

Kessel Run began working on new systems to improve the ATO process, including developing Jigsaw, a software package that streamlines refueling tanker planning, and Slapshot, which is used for fighter and bomber operations.

KRADOS is the overall system that links Jigsaw, Slapshot, and others into a cloud-based system that can be accessed from anywhere like a website. “They’re all very intuitive. They’re all very simple. It’s like something you see on an iPad. They’re all connected,” Coleman said.

For example, by being able to access Slapshot and Jigsaw, KRADOS can link the range and armament of F-15s with the availability of KC-135s to quickly plan operations and build the ATO from anywhere with less people.

“[Kessel Run] took a 20-year-old software application that existed only on the computers at the facility at Al Udeid, and they gave us an operating system that is state of the art, is highly automated, and it is cloud based,” Coleman said. “And that’s the biggest thing about KRADOS for us is, it resides in the cloud. … So when we are planning F-15 sorties, or when we’re planning tanker sorties, or when we’re building airspace, all that is done as you’re working those systems. It’s all done on a website … and it’s saved automatically, and anybody can access it.”

The 609th AOC developed a close working relationship with Kessel Run and “asked them to accelerate” because of the operational need in the AFCENT area of operations.

“We took some risk in AFCENT because it’s not the system of record yet, not programmed as a system of record,” he said. “We’re taking a little risk or a little trial and error to get there, but it’s really effective, and it’s working.”

KRADOS was implemented in the 609th AOC in a beta version in December, with Kessel Run coders and software engineers on site to work with personnel to fix issues and brainstorm improvements. In May, the 609th AOC used it for the first time to do operational planning. It has not yet produced a specific ATO, though that will come in the near future. Coleman expects it to be fully operational in about a year.

Because the CAOC has several partner nations involved in planning, Kessel Run is “engaged in delivering a coalition solution via the mission partner environment,” though there isn’t a timeline for that development, spokesman Richard Blumenstein said in a statement.

While the 609th AOC is in the lead, other AOCs across the Air Force are also going to adopt the system. Kessel Run is focused on the CAOC and expanding access to the rest of the AOC enterprise. “There are a number of foundational steps we need to accomplish in order to make enterprise-wide delivery effective, and we are currently working through those steps,” Blumenstein said.

KRADOS comes as the CAOC and AFCENT are looking at more ways to disperse operations. For example, the 727th Expeditionary Air Control Squadron began full operations at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, after 10 years at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates. The 727th EACS, known as “Kingpin,” provides a real-time picture of air operations in the region.

Coleman said this ability to distribute is key as large-scale bases and systems in the region could be under threat.

“The need for distribution is incredibly clear today,” he said. “As adversary capabilities grow, as the operational environment changes, we cannot have all of our operational C2 housed in the same vulnerable facility.”

While KRADOS will make building an ATO faster, and require fewer people, there will still be a need for a team of experts in the loop, he said.

“There’s this notion that one day, a single person can sit in a Starbucks and make an ATO on their own. You still need people, you still need facilities, you still need a team of experts who can come together and advise the commander … who’s going to make the operational decision,” Coleman said. “You still need all those things. But, the ability to pick up and plan, produce, and execute your ATO … one day at Al Udeid and the next day at Shaw Air Force Base, or even between 8 a.m. and 3 o’clock in the afternoon from Al Udeid, then from 3 o’clock in the afternoon until 10 p.m. at Shaw, and then maybe you do it at Langley Air Force Base (Virginia) for the next shift. To be able to distribute those functions using similar systems with cloud-based data brings the Air Force an incredible degree of resilience that we’ve never had before.”