Mission Possible: Software maintainers help warfighters achieve mission

  • Published
  • By Amanda Creel
  • 78th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
While the Joint STARS platform is celebrated for its ability to provide theater, ground and air commanders with real-time ground surveillance in support of attack operations the surveillance giant couldn't complete its mission without the support of the 116th Computer Systems Squadron.

"The J-Stars wouldn't exist without CSS," said Staff Sgt. Tiffany Baumgardner, a communication system technician with the 116th Operational Support Squadron. "There is no way you could show up and fly without them."

The 116th CSS provides communication support for the Joint STARS flight crews and is the only communication squadron in the Air Force that directly supports a flying mission.
"We are the only organization in the Air Force that does what we do," said Major Jeff Humphries, mission system flight commander.

The squadron's mission is to bring software to the fight and the squadron has had a continuous presence in forward operating locations during the past five years in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. The squadron provides 24 hours a day, seven days a week support to the Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System.

"Basically, they provide the software and we provide the button pusher," said Sergeant Baumgardner.

The squadron provided mission critical software for 787 combat sorties and 536 training sorties last year.

"What we do here is build the mission kits. We build a mission kit for each sortie they fly," said Master Sgt. Brian Golter, chief of operations for Joint STARS Software Operations Center.

The disks contain data that allows the flight crews to communicate with air or ground troops such as Marines or Soldiers, to take pictures and collect other data about the areas where the sorties are flown and to see data previously collected on the area where they are flying. Once the disks are built, members of the squadron then head out to the E-8C Joint STARS aircraft and load the software.

"The software is already on the jet, which makes my job a lot easier," said Airman 1st Class Richard Duarte, Airborne Radar technician with the 16th Airborne Command and Control Squadron. "We power up that entire system through that software, so we couldn't do anything without it."

Sergeant Baumgardner uses the disk to establish data links, which allows the warfighter to communicate with other platforms in the air and on the ground through a secure connection.

The Communications Security Office of the squadron is responsible for ensuring the air crew can establish secure communications.

"Without our office the jet could fly, but they couldn't communicate securely with other aircraft or guys on the ground," said Sam Vines, acting COMSEC manager.

The office provides communication security products such as secure voice and data capabilities. During training sorties, a member of the 116th CSS will fly with the crew to test the software and make sure it is functioning properly.

"I will actually fly on the mission and do the testing of the software," said Staff Sgt. Ryan Kleg, the only active-duty Air Force mission software tester for the Joint STARS. "Our squadron is unique that way - very few communication people fly on the mission to test the software."

Someone from the squadron meets the crew after every flight to see if there were any problems or complications during the flight.

"Our sole responsibility is for the software maintenance for the Joint STARS software," said Tech. Sgt. Christopher Faust, NCO in charge of analysis. "We are here to identify problem areas and try to prevent a bigger problem by watching the smaller ones."

Along with making small upgrades and changes to the Joint STARS software throughout the year, the squadron also made three major upgrades to the entire Joint Stars fleet last year.

Members of the 116th CSS also deploy in support of the Joint STARS to help ensure the software functions properly in a real world environment.

"They have other issues over there that we don't have here and can't have because they are flying real world missions," Sergeant Faust said.
In the end, the software provided by the 116th CSS allows the Joint STARS to continue its mission.

"The software allows the warfighter to conduct command and control and intel surveillance and reconnaissance," said Lt. Col. Tony Fournier, 116th OSS mission crew commander.