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Air Force Mission Support System culminates with almost three decades of warfighter support

AFMSS culminates with almost three decades of warfighter support

Steve Wert, program executive officer for Digital, addresses attendees at the closing ceremony for the Air Force Mission Support System program at the BAE Systems offices in Hudson, N.H., Jan. 9. The AFMSS program provided a family of systems that automated mission planning materials, preparation and post-mission debriefing capabilities for numerous aircraft. (Courtesy photo)

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – The Digital Directorate and BAE Systems commemorated the end of the Air Force Mission Support System program, which had supported Air Force and Navy platforms for nearly 30 years, in a ceremony at BAE System’s Hudson, New Hampshire, offices Jan. 9.

The AFMSS program provided a family of systems that automated mission planning materials, preparation and post-mission debriefing capabilities for numerous aircraft.

“The sun-setting of AFMSS recognizes a truly historic legacy of automated mission planning that had its roots in Tactical Air Command as early as 1979 and became a formal program at the Electronic Systems Center in 1991,” said Steve Wert, program executive officer for Digital. 

According to Wert, AFMSS had been modified and sustained by Hanscom and industry since 1991.

“That also raises an interesting comparison about the speed of change. Today, as we deploy the Joint Mission Planning System to replace AFMSS, we’re already initiating a cloud-based open architecture replacement for JMPS driven by the speed of technology and what it can enable,” he said.

Although not as fast-paced as today’s technological advances, the inception of AFMSS did usher in significant changes for the mission planning community in the early ‘90s, according to Jeff Pattee, a former AFMSS engineer and program manager and the current chief of product definition for the Airspace Mission Planning Division. 

“Tactical aircraft had a primitive, computerized system before AFMSS, but for the bomber community, this was the first electronic planning system they had,” he said. “They’d been doing everything before that with paper and grease pencils. AFMSS incorporated electronically all of the elements the mission planners had been doing before — creating charts, making knee cards and doing flight calculations.”

Additionally, AFMSS pioneered the development of a toolset that worked for multiple aircraft.

“Before AFMSS almost every aircraft had its own system of planning,” said Pattee. “It was really stovepipe, so it was hard to share things between different aircraft. But with AFMSS we built common tools and put them all into a single system.”

This system played a critical role in enabling communication between platforms.

“It was a tremendous leap from everyone doing things on pieces of paper and making phone calls to now having something electronic that could be passed around, so everyone could understand their role,” Pattee said. “This concept has become much more prevalent and much easier to do now with more sophisticated command and control systems, but AFMSS was the first try to put that together.”

The capabilities AFMSS offered revolutionized mission planning, but the technology available at the program’s inception was cumbersome.

“This being the early ’90s, there weren’t laptops or even PCs that could do the type of work that was required,” Pattee said. “We had to go to workstations and use a version of UNIX, because there just weren’t other things available to do what we needed.”

Although it may appear antiquated when compared with today’s technology, the AFMSS technology was leading-edge when the contract was first awarded, retired Col. Jake Thorn, a developmental tester for AFMSS at the 46th Test Wing and the first JMPS program manager, said.

“Today’s generation takes them for granted, but things like digital maps were almost unheard of in the ’90s, and we offered them through AFMSS,” he said.

The AFMSS program successfully met the mission planning community’s needs for many years, and as JMPS and future systems are deployed their program teams will continue capitalizing on technological advances to improve the user experience.

“The transition to JMPS gives us something that is cheaper, smaller and utilizes a more common operating system,” said Pattee. “And we’re now taking the next leap, which is how to move from a desktop or a laptop computer to something that is always connected in the cloud, so that users always have access to updated information.”