Air Force Cancels Northrop Air Operations Network Upgrade

Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, provides command and control of air power throughout Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and other nations. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Alexander W. Riedel)

“DOD BUZZ”

“The Air Force on Thursday canceled an already overdue project with Northrop Grumman to develop a critical network upgrade it needs to conduct air operations, and counter terrorism and humanitarian missions.

It was revealed in November that costs for the program surged from an original $374 million slated for the project to $745 million, Bloomberg News reported at the time.

The upgraded system in total was estimated to eventually climb to $3 billion, according to a report submitted to Congress in that month, Bloomberg said.

The Air Force on Thursday canceled an already overdue project with Northrop Grumman to develop a critical network upgrade it needs to conduct air operations, and counterterrorism and humanitarian missions.

The service “terminated the current Air Operations Center 10.2 contract with Northrop Grumman in order to more quickly develop and field AOC capabilities via an Agile DevOps process known as AOC Pathfinder,” said Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Emily Grabowski.

“The Air Force is working through funding options with Congress for the new approach,” she said in an email statement.

The technology is designed to enhance battlefield command and control in part by converting “raw data into actionable information that is used to direct battlefield activities,” according to a press release from Northrop.

“AOCs are the nexus of combatant command theater-level air war planning and execution, and must remain effective in order to deliver air superiority to the joint force while ensuring cybersecurity, Grabowski said. “The airmen operating AOCs provide airpower on demand to troops on the ground, responding to battlefield needs and humanitarian crises the world over.”

Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, head of Air Force Material Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, said Friday the service still plans to maintain elements of the program for future endeavors.

“There are elements of it that we will be able to use as we go forward,” she told audiences during an Air Force Association breakfast in Washington, D.C. “I don’t have all the details as to what all the money was spent on, but not all of it is going to be completely thrown away.”

Pawlikowski’s speech focused on the increased need for agility in software systems.

She continued, “I don’t even want to call it a program — that capability that we’re trying to get into, the AOC that 10.2 represented is one of the key drivers to tackling these issues.”

When asked how the cancellation would roll back the service’s efforts, Pawlikowski said, “Not at all. Because remember, the requirements are still there. So I have the opportunity to get after those requirements using an agile software development construct as opposed to a traditional, ‘OK, I have this [program] here that’s going to cost a bazillion dollars that’s going to take this amount of time,’ ” she said. “We’re going to start to get after those requirements.”

The Air Force said that Pathfinder’s approach implements industry “best practices” by allowing airmen to communicate software requirements directly to the developers throughout the life of the system, among other attributes.

“AOC modernization through a truly open systems approach will significantly reduce life cycle costs and enable the Air Force’s future operational concepts,” Mike Twyman, vice president and general manager of the Defense Systems division for Northrop Grumman Information Systems, said in 2013.

The AOC team consists of personnel from the AOC System Program Office, Air Force and Defense Digital Service, and Defense Unit Experimental, or DIUx, who work together to understand and apply commercial industry insight and best practices to the Defense Department acquisition process.

“The team will replace manual stakeholder processes with software automation to satisfy requirements, to the greatest extent possible,” Grabowski said.

How the Air Force plans to preserve the aspects of the program through this process is still being determined.”