by Michael Puttré
Feb. 1, 2001
If a nation is to project power effectively, it must plan to do so. Quality of manpower and materiel are not sufficient
for victory. Napoleon Bonaparte understood that if his first-class French soldiers were to stand toe to toe with a second-class
or even a third-class foe of comparable number, the casualties would be about even. Opportunities for an individual line soldier
to outfight his professional counterpart across that small, deadly space were limited. What l'Empereur also understood was
that superior planning would enable a first-class army to outmaneuver just about any foe, and ensure that it did not offer
or accept battle except on terms of its choosing.
The small deadly space is now a battlespace hundreds or even thousands of miles wide. And still it's the plan that
distinguishes those who write treaties from those who have to accept them. The Falklands War of 1982 is a near-textbook case
study in the benefits of doing mission planning properly and the pitfalls of not doing so. In the British plan, Argentina's
air-launched Exocets were not operational, there would be enough Harriers available to keep iron bombs off the task force,
and Atlantic Conveyor would supply nearly all the transport helicopters required to exploit the bridgehead. Like an argument
with a false premise, the whole operation nearly fell apart and hundreds died. Yet the British prevailed because they did
a better job of campaign and mission planning than their comparably equipped opponents, who relied on diplomacy and did not
have a campaign plan to speak of, although many Argentine air strikes were extremely well planned and executed. More thorough
and consistent planning up front, and it might have been the British with hat in hand.
"Mission planning is a continuous cycle beginning with tasking and ending with the crew debriefing after the mission
is flown," said Doug Poland, mission planning director for TYBRIN Corp. (Ft. Walton Beach, FL) working with the 46th Test
Squadron at Eglin AFB in Florida. The process, in a nutshell, is as follows: Specific objectives are picked by headquarters.
Those objectives are turned into tasking in the form of the Air Task Order (ATO). The tasking is split up into individual
missions and assigned to squadrons with the appropriate mission-capable aircraft. Each mission is planned and deconflicted.
The missions are flown. Results are analyzed and used to pick new objectives.
The required info doesn't stop with just knowing cloud cover over the target. What about seabottom texture under
bombing routes on the way to the target in case ordnance needs to be ditched and later recovered? That can have a major impact
on a flight plan for a bombing mission. Mission-planning procedures and the systems that have arisen to enable them have tended
to gloss over or even ignore the less purely mechanical variables that contribute to the success of a mission. Some of this
is by design: The warfighter should be primarily concerned with the task at hand, while staff officers and "subject mater
experts" (SMEs) in the rear echelons worry about the big-picture items. However, it is all too easy for there to be disconnect
between those who formulate mission statements and those who carry them out. And it is also easy for campaign planners to
overlook many of the variables that are in play with military operations today.
"It is harsh reality that missions where the application of force on force is not the goal are not part of the design
specifications of the mission-planning systems and applications presently in use," said Mell Stephenson, director of operations
at GreyStone Technology's Washington, DC office. A former commanding officer of VAQ-140 with over 2,000 hours in the EA-6B,
Stephenson said that force laydown and physical employment of assets are the results of classic mission planning. Classic
modeling and wargaming also do well here. However, variables such as ethnic boundaries, peacekeeping forces, religious sites,
etc., defy quantitative statistical analysis. "The operational focus shifts to increasing resolution of the situational awareness
of the on-scene decision maker," he said.
This is not a new problem, but it is a persistent one. The documentary "Give War a Chance," which first aired on
PBS's Frontline series in May 1999, illustrated how US mission-planning doctrine during the 1995 intervention in Bosnia recalled
in a small way the experience of Vietnam. Admiral Leighton Smith (ret.), former NATO commander, related a mission from his
days as a Navy pilot in Vietnam when he was assigned to attack the resilient Than Hua bridge with Walleye TV-guided bombs.
The weapon required precise mission planning so that the target contrasted sharply with its surroundings, and in the event
Smith's planes dropped the bridge mid-span. Yet, he was assigned to hit the same bridge three days later because, as he put
it, the policy-makers deemed that hitting something-anything-was more important than the military results it achieved: "The
problem is that we just keep bombing. That is stupid."
The success of one-off missions, such as the 1986 raid on Libya, may reinforce the notion that mission planning is
largely about routes, waypoints, and weapons release. Certainly, the outcome of individual strikes remains a function of the
quality of the planning that precedes it. However, with even the US facing dwindling inventories of platforms and stores,
the importance of every mission in the grand scheme of things increases. The pressure to do more with less equipment is coinciding
with the need to process more data per mission. As it happens, the advent of portable computers and applications software
are providing the tools warfighters need to handle the most demanding mission-planning requirements.
From Paper to Portable
Somewhat astonishingly, the computerization of mission planning is really only a decade old. Donald Snelgrove, manager
of mission management at the Information & Electronic Warfare Systems unit at BAE SYSTEMS (Nashua, NH) and a former F-16
pilot, says that as late as 1991 individual missions in the US Air Force were planned exclusively on paper maps, same as it
ever was. "We did mission planning pretty much the same way as you see in World War II movies," Snelgrove said. "The bomber
flight crews would assemble in the auditorium with the big map on the wall and everybody would get an envelope with their
assignments." Think Twelve O'Clock High .
With topographical map, protractor, and navigator's slide rule ("wiz wheel") the individual crews-now individual
pilots in many cases-plan out the details of their particular part in the operation. Unarguably, this is a skill all pilots
should possess and military pilots should master. In addition to being an essential aspect of the craft, a combat pilot may
expect to operate from fields where no computers are available. Nevertheless, in addition to saving time-often lots of time-computerized
mission planning enables the pilot to take more parameters into account. It also produces information that can be shared more
readily with other pilots, with other services and coalition members, and with campaign planners farther to the rear.
The Mission Planning System (MPS) module of the Air Force Mission Support System (AFMSS), developed by BAE Systems
for the USAF, can do just about anything a pilot could do with map and marker. The software runs on Unix-based computers.
A ruggedized version for squadron field use features a large, color LCD that can display National Imagery and Mapping Agency
(NIMA) standard worldwide maps, digital terrain-elevation data (DTED), and photo-imagery. The pilot uses point-and-click,
mouse-and-keyboard interface to place waypoints and routes. The software enables the pilot to perform a wide variety of flight
and threat analyses. Terrain masking shows shadows in radar and air-defense coverage due to intervening ground that a pilot
could exploit. AFMSS will not accept altitude inputs below the floor indicated by the DTED, and will incorporate up-to-date
wind-condition data. A rudimentary 3-D graphics engine will combine image and DTED to produce a "flyby" view of the target
area for basic mission rehearsal.
As useful as many of these features are, they would not be alien to any student who logged hours on SU-27 Flanker
for the PC instead of studying for his statistics midterm. The key benefit to pilots, in pilot Snelgrove's view, is the ability
to copy mission-planning data created in AFMSS to a hard- disk cartridge and then slip that data cartridge into the computer
drive of his aircraft. Zip, and the glass cockpit provides a moving map with in-flight positioning via GPS. Another interesting
aspect of AFMSS is that it describes an architecture to which third parties can write aircraft-specific modules. Modules are
available for most front-line aircraft in the USAF inventory. These aircraft and mission modules plot details such as turn-radius,
munitions ballistic data, and safe-release altitude data that provide more information the pilot can use to plan missions
with great precision. The architecture is also designed to enable information to be exchanged with other mission and campaign
One major subset of AFMSS is the Portable Flight Planning Software (PFPS) suite, the components of which are developed
by the 46th Test Squadron using time and material service contracts with TYBRIN Corp. and Georgia Tech Research Institute
(GTRI). According to TYBRIN's Poland, PFPS is best described as a suite of Microsoft Windows-based applications that form
part of the mission planning solutions collectively referred to as AFMSS. Additionally, PFPS has a similar relationship to
the Naval Mission Planning Systems (NMPS) solution suite.
In addition to supporting basic mission planning needs like those above, PFPS also supports specific military mission
areas, particularly air-to-ground weapon delivery (CWDS - Combat Weapon Delivery Software), airdrop operations (CAPS - Combat
Airdrop Planning Software), as well as the critical task of transferring mission- planning data to the aircraft. For the cargo
aircraft trying to drop food and supplies to civilian populations in Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, or Northern Iraq, PFPS provides
drop-zone overlays, GPS tracts, range and bearing, and wind effects to the loadmasters as they plan to push their cargo pallets
out of the back of their aircraft. For the pilot flying passengers into Tuzla or Sarajevo in a snowstorm, PFPS provides position
location data overlaid against a current, digital map giving that pilot range and bearing data along his planned route and
clear indications when he's drifted away from the planned route.
Since contract award in 1992, Lockheed Martin Sanders and then BAE Systems has fielded over a thousand AFMSS units
in nine different configurations. Designed to operate in a wide range of environmental conditions, AFMSS is supported by more
than 40 aircraft and mission modules produced by at least 24 different companies. Additional systems have been developed and
delivered for the governments of Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Italy, and Israel. The contract is anticipated to continue through
Logicon (Herndon, VA), a Northrop Grumman company, was awarded the Joint Mission Planning System (JMPS) Framework
and Integration contract. JMPS essentially represents the follow-on mission-planning system that will ultimately replace PFPS,
AFMSS, and the Navy's Tactical Automated Mission Planning System (TAMPS). Some of the objectives of JMPS are: a scaleable
framework for future mission planning systems, collaborative inter-service mission-planning, DII COE/C4ISR compliance, reduced
life-cycle costs, capability equal or exceeding that of legacy systems, and a smooth migration for existing weapon systems
to JMPS. The US Air Force and Navy directed the 46th Test Squadron (using TYBRIN and GTRI) to convert the source code of PFPS
to integrate into the Logicon-developed JMPS framework. TYBRIN's Poland says the components delivered by the 46th Test Squadron
will constitute over one half of the source code for JMPS v1.0. Logicon, its sub-contractors, and the 46th Test Squadron are
working to deliver JMPS v1.0 for an initial operational capability (IOC) in 2002.
One of the earliest automated mission planning systems is the AN/TSQ-142 Tactical EA-6B Mission Support (TEAMS) system,
which is used by US Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force EA-6B crews to plan, coordinate, and execute C2 warfare missions. Like
AFMSS MPS, TEAMS is a "military ugly" computer workstation designed for installation aboard a carrier or ground base. It also
outputs its planning data as a tape that can be inserted into the aircraft's flight computer. This functions as a data recorder
during the flight, and the tape can be loaded back into the TEAMS workstation to upgrade the database. Northrop Grumman PRB
Systems (Hollywood, MD) continues to support and upgrade TEAMS, which has the virtue of being the only mission planner for
a true EW aircraft in service. PRB is currently under contract to incorporate TEAMS into the JMPS framework.
Joe Hulsey, director of PRB's command & control warfare division and the former Navy program manager for TEAMS,
said EA-6B mission requirements have a whole other dimension that magnifies planning complexity. "All airplanes need fuel
status, charts, and threat locations; we also need parametric information on threats, so we know current it is," he said.
"We need the data in advance so you can reprogram the ALQ-99 to deal with threats effectively."
The mechanics of EA-6B mission planning require a particularly detailed level of coordination with other aircraft.
"Our targets are the radars in relation to the aircraft we are trying to protect," said Dave Nazarek, principal engineer and
a former EF-111 Raven EWO. "So we also need to know the planned routes of the other aircraft. Our planning really can't be
completed until the other people have done their planning. This means we have to be able to share data from many sources in
a timely way. This requirement also makes EA [electronic-attack] mission planning quite a challenge."
Too Much Information
Most of the current developments in mission planning systems focus on some aspect of data integration, also referred
to as "data fusion." Planners should not have to have a slew of tactical manuals, tactical pilotage charts, and paper orders
of battle on a desk with a pen and template. Those days are over.
"A good planning system must be able to display all different data types possible at the touch of a button," said
JJ Bowley, business development manager at TENET Defense Ltd. (Horsham, UK). "The user shouldn't be concerned about how it
happens, just that he knows where the data is from and who is controlling it. Only by combining the different data sources
visually can he gain confidence in the picture. For example, someone planning an AH mission to provide gunfire support of
deep theater recce must also have the latest satellite and aerial photography, the ATO/ACO and flypro, the weather information,
the COP, the intel feeds, and so on. He is going to be far more productive if he can have this available to switch on and
off in a single display."
In other words, it's not so much that the individual warfighter tasked with performing the mission need know all
the particulars of why the mission at hand came about, only that he have immediate access to all the information needed to
plan the mission. Furthermore, he needs to know that somebody is looking after the information he is entrusting lives to,
perhaps his own. "You must understand where the planning information is coming from, the age of data, last update, etc," said
Carl Beaudet, a former planner of EA-6B EW missions, recipient of the Operations Medal from the Association of Old Crows,
and current vice president for government business at GreyStone Technology (San Diego, CA). "This is very important today
due to the dynamic nature of warfare."
This is particularly true in EW and EA operations. "Detection, counter-detection, and risk are the staple of all
missions and EW assets are key," Beaudet said. "If EW assets don't know the strike plan then they aren't doing the mission.
However, strikers also need to understand EW - what it can and can't do - and clear up misconceptions. Mission planning for
EW needs improvements such as visibility into terrain effects, jammer bandwidth, HARM fields of view, etc. Mission-planning
systems of today address many of these, but in snapshot and time-delayed manner. Most strike- mission planners don't consider
EA in their route planning as regards to air-defense degradation. The pilot might have more flexibility in his route choice
if through visualization techniques he could 'see' the expected threat after degradation from the EA support."
As an example, the mission planning system with a visualization package could show HARM flight profiles; EA-6B radiation
patterns by frequency bands; use terrain elevation data aircraft radar cross- sections to determine and observe terrain masking;
and show the C2 laydown, enemy air defenses, and known flight-plan routing. "The high-fidelity models and simulation that
show sensor detection envelopes, weapon's engagement zones, terrain masking, and platform performance parameters (fuel usage,
speeds, altitudes, drag, weapons loading, etc.) have gained wide acceptance by the planners and operators who have used them,"
said Robert Mac Dougall, a developer integrated visualization applications for GreyStone's RAGE software. "But the modeling
and simulation applications that show the results of specific force-on-force engagements, especially in the Many vs. Many
regime, have a much lower level of acceptance by the warfighers due to the uncertainty of real combat."
TENET's Bowley said that the reliability of mission data is a fundamental problem, and one that computerized systems
are well-equipped to solve. Recently, the UK Royal Navy has been carrying out a series of trials of a prototype system onboard
the survey vessels HMS Roebuck and HMS Beagle aimed at the production of fused environmental products. The system, developed
by TENET, has been named HUGIN ChartLink after one of the Norse god Odin's two ravens, which circled the world collecting
information for him. The purpose of these trials is to assess the benefit, at both the tactical and operational levels, of
an advanced geospatial information system (GIS) on the collection, fusion, and dissemination of survey and environmental data.
The system allows the users onboard a survey vessel or at the Royal Navy Operational Headquarters at Northwood to combine
environmental data from many different sources and produce a single "fused product" for visualising the environment.
Bowley reported that the results of the trials so far have demonstrated the benefits of fusing different sources
of information onto one display, particularly in littoral operations, which are becoming the norm . "The area where the nautical
chart finishes and the land map begins is notorious for poor survey information, or no survey information at all," Bowley
said. "An example of this was seen in HMS Beagle's work off Southern Albania, where the coastline was seen from the fused
HUGIN product to be 1 nm in error from the 19th century chart of the area."
Bowley cited the recent British participation in support of the UN mission to Sierra Leone as a perfect example of
needing the right data at the right time for mission planning. "The British forces couldn't effectively plan the land operation
without knowing how far inland the naval support gunfire would reach, and they couldn't answer that question without knowing
how far upriver the ships could go, and they couldn't answer that question without being able to fuse the latest bathymetry
onto the out-of-date charts!" he said. What's more, the fusion of background and locally collected data allows the cross-checking
and validation with the ship's own data-collection devices: "During one stage of the trials, errors could be seen between
the bathymetry being collected and the frontal data of the area. It was then possible to immediately assess this as a problem
with the ship's own echo sounder."
Visualization will also be an important component of the US JMPS program. Autometrics (Springfield, VA), a Boeing
company, has a contract to build a developer option for applications based on its EDGE Whole Earth visualization technology
to support the development of the 2-D and 3-D visualization, map data management, and vector display components. All information
collected by intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) forces can be visually "fused" in EDGE's continuously
updated four-dimensional display (i.e., position in latitude and longitude, altitude, and time). EDGE will receive information
from a variety of sources, such as C2 radar, electronic intelligence, imagery, weather, and other data- processing systems.
Recent arrivals to the field are systems specifically for presenting EW information for mission planners. The flagship
military product of ADTI (Paris, France) is HTZ Warfare, a communications and EW planning tool for all technologies operating
in the VHF band and above. The system can be used on a laptop PC with an interface to GPS system. It can be configured as
a standalone planner or integrated into a network that includes direction finders (DF), intercept receivers, jamming systems,
and remotely piloted vehicles. For mission planning, HTZ Warfare can provide the ability to analyze operating terrain, examine
links between communications assets, assess the impact of communication site failure, assess the risk of interception or jamming
by known enemy EW assets, including intercept coverage, assessment and gap identification. The software includes tools needed
to plan DF deployments; with best-site searching, DF baseline- coverage assessment, and communications planning between assets.
The system can be integrated with DF systems so pings can be displayed directly on the planner's screen. Tools are available
for determining the vulnerable points in known enemy communications systems in order to plan offensive communications-jamming
missions and to prioritize targets for attack.
The Long Haul
Some operational roles usually, if not invariably, demand a continuous flow of linked sorties to be effective and
to meet their mission objectives (e.g. anti-submarine warfare, strategic and possibly tactical airlift, standing combat air
patrols, air-to-air refueling, and electronic warfare/attack). In such cases it is not only the number of aircraft that is
important, but what they are capable of delivering and how many sorties they can fly in a given period. It is quite possible
that smaller nations may be unable to provide sufficient assets to fully match the sortie-generation demands of a proposed
air campaign, even if they are working in concert with allies.
Derek Empson, MBE, Group Captain in the UK Royal Air Force (retired) and now a private consultant with his own firm,
AIRPLAN Software and Consultancy (Knutsford, UK), said mission planning can no longer be separated from campaign planning
and probably never should have been. He indicated that US doctrine of throwing planes at a problem has focused too much attention
on the "target of the day." In Empson's view, mission planning begins-or should have begun-several years before any particular
mission is flown or any campaign is mounted, particularly when the nation has scant resources to allocate to its armed forces.
"Mission and air-campaign planning should properly include action taken when a nation formulates mission statements for its
air forces, and for the operational roles and fleets constituting those forces," he said. "It should also include planning
action taken to define baseline missions upon which aircraft-performance and fleet-size requirements for new or replacement
aircraft are to be based. These early planning decisions and the quality of 'mission planning' carried out in earlier years
influences how well an air force can perform during an air campaign and how well individual crews will fare on their personal
A likely problem is a shortage of crews. This is especially true for air campaigns lasting several weeks or months,
when sorties may be mounted on a very frequent or continuous basis, possibly by day and night. Empson said his studies using
AIRPLAN campaign planning software show that most nations' air forces are under-established with crews. "In effect, a crew
shortage could nullify the point of having a significant proportion of an aircraft fleet," Empson said. "A crew shortage can
also reduce the potential sustainable sortie-generation rate and the mission-delivery capabilities of a force very considerably.
But it is not a simple task to calculate how many aircraft and crews may actually be required in any particular air campaign."
While the US, with its numerical strength, may need to pay less attention to identifying precise fleet size and composition
requirements simply by deploying what is almost certainly a more-than- adequate force, this is not a practical solution for
other, smaller nations. For them, such calculations should be made early in any developing emergency situation. It is common
sense to define the optimum fleet composition before deciding what forces to commit and before deploying them. In Empson's
view, despite their comparatively large numbers and the amount of airlift and sealift at the disposal of US forces, it seems
likely that budgetary and other pressures will increasingly encourage US decision makers to pay greater attention to the campaign
aspects of force planning.
Copyright 2001 eDefenseonline.com & Horizon House Publications