Raising the bar: Software innovation, ACNS brings the Future Faster

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Ashlyn K. Paulson

After six months of planning and development, the 552nd Air Control Networks Squadron drastically improved their mission capabilities for the Airborne Warning and Control System fleet by creating a new system solution that can be transported by a six-pound laptop.

“This initiative and its recent success at Combat Sentry encapsulates the brilliance and innovation of the Airman in the ACNS,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Kettles, 552nd ACNS commander.

Known as a Micro Ground System, a laptop replaces a hardware suite that weighed 2,100 pounds, and needed to be shipped to every location the jet traveled to.

“The software product is used to separately capture mission information,” said Tech. Sgt. Jason Gillo, a 552nd ACNS software development lead. The laptop replaces a legacy planning requirement allowing real time adjustment to mission documents and secure, post flight analysis.

The original Deployment Ground System would arrive in six separate boxes at the location, needed five individuals for transportation and required 30 minutes for set up. The new system resides on a secure drive and a flight-approved laptop.

The new design offers several benefits: it can travel with the jet, fewer individuals are needed for training missions, the software is compatible with any AWACS, regardless of the jet’s upgrades, and it is exponentially faster.  A mission transfer now takes 20 seconds instead of 25 minutes.

“Since its conception in 2019, the development has been influenced by almost every Airmen in our shop,” said Gillo.  Having the more tailorable and user operable system has meant significant improvement in mission planning, execution, and post-mission analysis.

The new product was so effective that it was requested for operational testing. During EXERCISE COMBAT SENTRY in July, the MGS was originally approved for departure and return flights only. After witnessing immediate benefits, the detachment commander requested the MGS was used for every mission flown during the exercise.

The MGS eliminated setup time but also added critical integrity to the data retrieved from the mission. The smaller size saves the Air Force about $900,000 and removes the need to palletize and physically safeguard 12,000 pounds of equipment.

“I’m honored to serve with the innovative minds of the ACNS Airman,” said Maj. Edward Wilson Jr., 552 ACNS cyber support flight commander. “The team is working several projects to hone skillsets and capabilities that cannot easily be replicated. Gillo’s efforts answered the need of our force: a faster, leaner and lower profile solution.”

The 552nd Air Control Wing plans to use the MGS during EXERCISE ASTRAL KNIGHT in September for additional development and testing, and will continue to work it on local sorties.