NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nevada – For the first time, an all-military team of cyber Airmen from the 388th Operations Support Squadron deployed the F-35A Lightning II’s Autonomic Logistics Information System to support the 421st Fighter Squadron at Red Flag, the Air Force’s premier large-force exercise.
While at Red Flag, the 388th Fighter Wing’s F-35s are providing offensive and defensive counter-air and suppression of enemy air defenses in combat scenarios, integrating with other fighter, bomber, command and control and tanker aircraft.
To do that, they need ALIS healthy. It is a network, housing both classified and unclassified applications. If it is not accessible or working properly, launching F-35 sorties is either difficult or impossible. Until recently, ALIS administration was done entirely by contractors, so this was a big test on a big stage.
“It’s all been running pretty smoothly. We have provided the pilots and maintainers with the systems they need and we haven’t lost a sortie due to an ALIS issue,” said Master Sgt. Lemuel Brown, who oversees the off-board mission systems.
To deploy ALIS, the Airmen set up two server stacks with dozens of servers.
“The networking piece was a crucial test. We’ve never done the networking to link back into the larger Air Force domain from a deployed location,” said Master Sgt. Casey Nunes, who oversees database administration.
These servers connect with various encrypted networks in a massive cyber river with smaller streams, carrying critical information to and from each jet. This stored, transmitted and encrypted information, and the associated applications, allow(s) pilots to mission plan, maintainers to track parts and maintenance, and schedulers and engineers to check on the health of the fleet.
“The number one goal is to make sure sorties fly, and we support that every day by making sure our servers are healthy, that every system is clear and working, and everyone can use ALIS applications and do their jobs,” said Staff Sgt. David Caldwell, who oversees system and network administration.
Contract support for ALIS was designed into the F-35 program. But, there was also an expectation that the Air Force would take over administration at some point – becoming more rapidly-deployable and agile in the process.
“With everything that is going on in the world and the mission of the F-35, continuing to build military ALIS support is critical for the Air Force to be able to support a contingency in a timely manner,” Brown said. “Airmen can be mobilized a lot faster and go places that a contractor may not.”
The Red Flag deployment is another step in proving they can do it successfully.
“I think there was a little hesitancy, because it’s never been done before and we can’t afford to lose sorties at Red Flag. But, we did it, and it’s the first time in Air Force F-35 history.” said Master Sgt. Casey Nunes. “It’s exciting to see how far we’ve come with this program in a year and a half. It confirmed all the time, effort and training we did back home.”
Red Flag is not only an opportunity for the 388th OSS to demonstrate and stress-test their deployed ALIS capabilities, but also for younger cyber Airmen to see their importance to the combat mission.
“They aren’t just stuck in a dark vault all day. They are 100 yards from the maintainers and 150 yards from the jets,” Nunes said. “They get to see everything from when the pilots step after mission planning, to when the maintainers are using ALIS work-orders to fix specific issues with a jet. They are seeing the full cycle of F-35 squadron life up close.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: ALIS is currently being utilized across the F-35 enterprise, but is being replaced by the Operational Data Integration Network (ODIN). The OSS ALIS admins will also administer the new system.