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224th ADS Participating in Agile DevOps of ERSA Software

  • Published
  • By Dr. Brian Tuttle
  • Eastern Air Defense Sector

The 224th Air Defense Squadron’s Master Sgt. Jeffery Coleman, Master Sgt. Brian Burgess and Master Sgt. Jesse Bucenec volunteered to support development of software that performs range-finding via a “triangulation” algorithm within the Enhance Regional Situational Awareness system. This capability will facilitate correlation of an ERSA image with a track on the Battle Control System-Fixed. Ultimately, it will improve the Sector’s track validation process, a critical step in the creation of an “air picture” (i.e., actionable information for tactical decision).

Although the requirement for range-finding from ERSA cameras had already existed, the “slow-moving blob” incident on November 26, 2019 underscored its importance. The reader can find more information about this event in former EADS commander Col. Emil Filkorn’s article in the December 2019 issue of The Sector.

The National Capital Region Integrated Air Defense System Program Management Office seeks both hardware (laser) and software solutions that offer range-finding capability. Toward that end, they fielded ERSA 6.8 software, which has a rudimentary “triangulation” solution late last June. The three EADS air surveillance technicians have helped develop it using the PMO’s Agile DevOps ERSA software development method. 

So, what is Agile DevOps and how does it work? The Air Force has adopted this relatively new way of developing software to “deliver performance at the speed of relevance” (borrowing a phrase from the now superseded 2018 National Defense Strategy). 

In general, Agile DevOps means attacking large-scale problems in bits by fielding software solutions that offer some small but immediate improvement called a “minimum viable product.” The customer continuously reviews system requirements to ensure that all needed capabilities are accounted for and prioritized. The developer then creates solutions for and fields the highest priority and/or easiest to implement requirements during a short development period called a “sprint.’ Thus, operators don’t wait years for one-hundred percent solutions to problems that are no longer relevant. Gradually, the system’s operational value will increase. The figure below models a sprint’s iterative process.
Just as Cloud-Based Command and Control (CBC2) developers employ Agile DevOps, so too do ERSA software developers. The NCR-IADS PMO, 224 ADG/Det. 1 and the ERSA software developer Trident Systems, Inc. began exploring this process in 2020. Their first attempt developed and fielded the ERSA Joystick. In the NCR-IADS PMO’s process, Det. 1 operators provided feedback to TSI as they developed a solution. Since then, the goal is to a new version of ERSA software each quarter to gradually improve user interface and system utility. 

Until now, Det. 1 ERSA operators have supplied feedback to Trident. In triangulation’s case, they instead asked for 224 ADS operators to help because the goal is to improve the Sector’s track validation process. Specifically, they asked 224 ADS operators to develop ERSA tactics, techniques, and procedures and to make suggestions for future software improvements. 

In response, Master Sgt. Coleman, Master Sgt. Burgess and Master Sgt. Bucenec have worked with DOM to develop the TTP for employing ERSA triangulation when validating tracks. These TTP state the triggers for employing it (vs. other tools), the actual (button pushing) steps taken by the operators, what can be expected as output from the ERSA, and how to report the information extracted from triangulation. The TTP are now at Weapons and Tactics for review. 

During operational testing later this fall, the test team will use the TTP to develop a test plan that ensures that the human-machine team can perform track validation with the triangulation software. They will determine the extent to which ERSA operators can guarantee that any object seen in the ERSA image correlates with the Battle Control System-Fixed track that they are attempting to validate—i.e., determine whether the BCS-F track represents a potentially threatening airborne object, or something harmless such as a radar anomaly, birds, or weather phenomenon. 

Knowing each step in the TTP will allow the test team to isolate problems areas within the process. As in any continuous process improvement project, if a step takes too long or yields undesirable results, it becomes a target for improvement. Any deficiencies they find can be addressed by the developers to ensure that the system is sufficiently effective and efficient.

Employing Agile DevOps depends upon frequent interaction between tactical operators and software developers. Because the Air Force increasingly employs this Agile DevOps method to rapidly increase its warfighting capability, 224th Air Defense Group personnel will be asked to assist in this process. It will be their chance to influence development of Sector mission systems so that they best suit mission requirements. 

DOM thanks the three ERSA triangulation Agile DevOps volunteers for spending their time and using their talents to make an important contribution to system development that will improve EADS mission readiness.