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Supplying the force
Ground forces receive airdropped supplies in Afghanistan during November 2011. Supplies are frequently airdropped to remote locations and the Electronic Systems Center is working on a program to ensure cargo aircrews have the information and communication they need to potentially redirect airdrops. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Grovert Fuentes-Contreras)
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ESC efforts help ensure safe delivery of supplies

Posted 6/20/2012   Updated 6/20/2012 Email story   Print story


by Patty Welsh
66th Air Base Group Public Affairs

6/20/2012 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- An Electronic Systems Center program to ensure cargo airdrops can be redirected in flight recently had its first mission in an area of operations.

The Dynamic Retasking Capability (DRC) Urgent Operational Need (UON) system allows for C-17 or C-130J aircraft to have threat awareness, weather information and text messaging capabilities to increase mission success and reduce loss of life.

"It provides for real-time retasking - a potential mid-mission redirect," said Capt. Tyson Bertmaring, program manager. "Previously if a crew got to a drop zone and there was an issue with that location, they would have to return home. Now they have the information and communications to possibly provide the drop at an alternate location."

Ultimately, the DRC ensures that airlift aircrews have a better understanding of the ground- and air-picture around them.

"It keeps them keyed in to what's going on, including other missions, such as close air support," said Bertmaring.

The requirements for the capability and its UON were validated in February 2011. Since then, the ESC team has been working hard to get this capability to the warfighter.

They created an Integrated Product Team to evaluate materiel or non-materiel solutions, deciding on a materiel solution in early March 2011. From there, the team evaluated two possible solutions, eventually choosing to go with a Real-Time Information in the Cockpit, or RTIC, capability that the National Guard and Air Force Reserves were already developing for the C-130H to maximize commonalities. In May 2011, a contract was awarded to Northrop Grumman Corp.

"Due to it a being a UON, all the standard acquisition gates had to be met," said Lt. Col. Nathan Elliott, Communications Systems Branch chief. "However, it had to be done in a much shorter period of time and the team went out of their way to make that happen."

The ESC team wasn't the only one dealing with different processes either. Their partners, some of which were the Air Mobility Command, Aeronautical Systems Center, 46th Test Squadron, Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center and the Air Force Spectrum Management Office, along with the contractor, also had to stay flexible to ensure program success.

Another unique aspect of the DRC UON program is that NGC is not the owner of the aircraft being modified so they had to work with Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

"Both the Air Force and the contractors had to step outside their comfort zones," said Bertmaring.

Within three months of contract award, the design phase was complete and ready for test. Unique A-kits would be designed and permanently installed on 44 C-130Js and 24 C-17s, while roll-on/roll-off B-kits, interchangeable between platforms, would also be produced. The production phase began this past February and is anticipated to run through July.

An operational utility evaluation took place in December and the program faced more challenges, including the loss of both of their trained command pilots, days before the evaluation, due to events outside the program's control.

"We only had the C-130J for the evaluation and two trained crews, but the need to maintain schedule drove the program to accept this significant risk," said Bertmaring. "We had to press ahead."

According to program officials, during the DRC's first mission overseas in May, the users were "ecstatic." The aircrew rerouted themselves around a two-ship formation of F-16s, reducing air traffic control workload. As users continually develop tactics, techniques and procedures, other unforeseen capabilities will be realized.

"This is the first time the airlift aircrew is able to see a moving map and have data link capabilities," said Bill Herbert, who provides program management support. "Before, they had to verbally pass information; now they have a fully interactive display which plugs them into the fight, and they love it."

Per the Air Force regulation dealing with quick reaction processes, the team has 180 days to do a field operational assessment. From there, the user will decide the fate of the system. There are three options. First is that the system is no longer needed or didn't work as intended and it will be disposed of. A second option is that the system works well for its specified purpose, and it will be sustained in the field for that particular requirement until it is no longer needed. Lastly, it could transition to an enduring program of record.

"With DRC, we're able to do close air support and resupply in tandem," said Bertmaring. "We're ensuring the warfighters can get their beans, bullets and bombs-on-target."

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