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B-52H Mission Planning Environment Team leads the way with solid software code

By Kevan Goff-Parker 72nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

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One of Team Tinker’s specialized software groups, the B-52H Mission Planning Environment team, is leading the way in developing new, solid software code and guidance for upgrades to the 1950s-era “workhorse,” the B-52H Stratofortress bomber.

The B-52H MPE team is made up of 35 computer scientists and engineers who are responsible for the software lifecycle of the B-52s for the U.S. Air Force. The team falls under the leadership of the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex’s 76th Software Maintenance Group and its 557th Software Maintenance Squadron.

David Renfroe, 557 SMXS mission planning flight chief, said 76 SMXG's B-52H MPE Version 7.1 went through a combined development and operational testing event at Barksdale AFB in northwest Louisiana.

Crewmembers and testers from the 45th Test Squadron and 28th Test Squadron verified that all nuclear mission planning software requirements were met with no issues or deficiencies. The MPE hosted on the Joint Mission Planning Software will replace the existing Air Force Mission Support System-UNIX (a multitasking software operating) system fielded in 2004.

Renfroe says his team has plenty invested in the B-52s’ software maintenance success, as well as upgrading software on other platforms, including the B-1, B-2, E-3 and E-8 platforms.

“For our very first release, we actually had cybersecurity red and blue teams come in and test the cyber quality of our code,” Renfroe said.

In military terms, “red team” is used traditionally to identify organized and highly skilled groups pretending to be fictitious enemies or rivals against the regular forces, which are identified as the “blue team.” The red team tests the force readiness of the blue team through simulated cyber-attacks.

“We had the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center come in and test and they found absolutely no deficiencies in anything we were doing,” Renfroe said “I think that attests to the character, the capabilities and the dedication of our personnel. Anything that we put into the software we want to ensure it works right the first time, that it is going to put the right weapon on the right target and that it is getting the aircrews what they need to complete their missions worldwide.”

He said demands of the B-52 continue to increase, whether it is for global or theater presence, to influence policy or for actual combat missions. The B-52H MPE team understands the B-52 is used every day by aircrews around the world.

“The B-52H MPE is a key component required to implement the U.S. Strategic Command and the Nuclear Warfare Center’s strategic nuclear plan because it provides B-52 pilots and navigators with the tools and information needed to execute their mission as a primary component of the Department of Defense’s nuclear triad,” Renfroe said.

“We take great pride in knowing that what we’re putting out for the warfighter is going to meet their needs, that it is going to meet their capabilities and it is going to get them what they need to accomplish their mission,” Renfroe said.

Clint Hladik, the director of 557 SMXS, said he believes that the organic support provided by 76 SMXG’s 557 SMXS and its B-52H MPE team means that each group that works on the B-52 is considered to have “a part in the mission, much like an everyday active-duty person.”

“Everyone works extremely hard and to have zero finds by an independent investigation, that’s pretty huge,” Hladik said.

He said the B-52H MPE team’s FY 2017-18 revision cost approximately $6 million.

Renfroe said B-52 bombers, flying since the 1950s, are still considered a “workhorse” in the USAF. Overall, that means constant modernization in its weapons, engines and all the technical upgrades that are needed as it is being updated, yet again, during its long mission life.

“Everything is changing on the B-52s now that they’ve extended its service life,” Renfroe said. “We are one of the very few entities that do mission planning software organically. Most mission planning software is contracted out to Northrop, Boeing or one of the other major contractors out of Hanscom AFB.

“About 10 years ago, we were doing software sustainment work on the legacy system in integration testing, when we were approached in 2010 to organically transition to a brand-new mission planning software called ‘Joint Mission Planning System.’ We were not asked to re-host, but to rewrite the software for the B-52. We took on that project and released our first organic release in 2014, integrating all the conventional weapons systems on the B-52.

“Our next major task working with Global Strike Command and USSTRATCOM was to integrate all of the nuclear capabilities for the B-52 into the JMPS platform.” He said the MPE team writes the software that allows aircrews to plan fuel loads, routes to get to their target areas, weapon loads, release points, target points and “anything you can think of to get the plane from point A to point B,” and drop their weapons on the correct target.

“We write the software that integrates all that for the B-52 and manage the B-52’s software requirements, including the management and design through integration and test,” Renfroe said. “The team’s Avionics Integration Support Facility provides a full set of testing tools that allows the team to integrate the planning products with the B-52 avionics and cruise missile hardware before being used on the jet. Everything we do has to be very, very precise.

“Fortunately, we have an incredible group of personnel of both computer scientists and engineers, who are very dedicated to making sure that what they write into the software is actually working and is of an incredible code quality."