Academy program helps aircrews better prepare for training, combat sorties.
A U.S. Air Force Academy program went Air Force wide recently, enhancing the situational awareness of aircrew preparing for training and combat sorties. That program is Warfighter's Edge - better known as "WEdge" - and is the latest product of the Academy's Institute for Information Technology Applications, exposing real time data never before possible in a briefing room.
This cutting-edge program has been funded by Air Combat Command, supported by Air Force Reserve Command and the Air National Guard. WEdge will be delivered throughout the combined Air Force. WEdge is a briefing room system built for operational flying units to enhance pre-mission situational awareness. WEdge enhances the briefing process by bringing near real-time information to the warfighter that is more accurate and easier to manage. The system accesses a multitude of net-centric data sources and then transports that data via the use of "data tags" into a customizable format, thereby dramatically reducing time spent manually retrieving, verifying, and organizing mission information. WEdge is the briefing room System of Record for ACC.
The Institute for Information Technology Applications began development of the project in mid-2005 when it was recognized that information flow into the briefing room could be dramatically improved. In today's increasingly technological world, the oldschool "pen and ink" system of mission briefings faced many limitations, including being difficult to change a briefing once one is prepared, and it being nearly impossible to maintain currency.
Individual flying units solved this by creating computerized briefing programs that worked well at home-station. But those local programs couldn't be used at a deployed location and were incapable of being shared with other flying units at any other base. WEdge fixed that.
"Many briefing room systems were evaluated throughout the Air Force and the Tulsa Air National Guard Briefing Room Interactive program was chosen as the best choice for pilots," said Lt. Col. Andy Berry, in a 2006 interview with the Academy Spirit.
Colonel Berry, Technical Lead in IITA's Unit Level C2 Research, along with Lt. Col. Mike Lattanzi, IITA's director of Unit Level C2 Research, were the primary researchers, leading the development of WEdge since the project's inception in 2005.
"WEdge is in a format that is pilot-friendly, easy to update and meaningful," said Colonel Berry. "It is a way to verify that your mission products are correct while reducing the preparation time for a mission briefing." A prototype was developed here and presented at Joint Expeditionary Force Exercise 2006, an Air Force Chief of Staff-directed experiment to evaluate new operational concepts, processes, and technologies and expand Expeditionary Air Force capabilities. The participating warfighters evaluated the tool and provided their feedback.
WEdge' s success at JEFX is only a small portion of the picture. ACC, recognizing the utility of the software, began sponsoring the program in late 2006 and there was a lot of demand in the field for an operational base to get WEdge integrated into squadrons.
WEdge was then run through its paces by the 54th Flying Training Wing at Luke AFB, Ariz., the Oklahoma Air National Guard's 138th Fighter Wing at Tulsa, the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman AFB, Mo., and the Air Force Reserve's 457th Fighter Squadron at Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, Texas.
The application that started in 2005 is now fully developed and was fielded Air Force-wide on Sept. 1 and is now enhancing the situational awareness of pilots and crews preparing for training and combat sorties. "That's a very quick turnaround of a product from the C2 Battlelab into the field with very low overhead," said Colonel Berry.
Research initiatives at the Academy such as WEdge would not be possible without the seed funding provided by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. AFOSR provides on-going seed funding to the 10 research centers and two research institutes here and supports the mission of providing cadets real-world experience in basic research.