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ESC works to enhance air traffic control for Kyrgyzstan

Members of an Electronic Systems Center-led Regional Airspace Study (RAS) team receive briefings in the Kyrgyz civil military coordination cell at Manas airfield in September 2009. The RAS identified deficiencies with, and proposed solutions for, civil and military air traffic control in Kyrgyzstan.  (Courtesy photo)

Members of an Electronic Systems Center-led Regional Airspace Study team receive briefings in the Kyrgyz civil military coordination cell at Manas Transit Center in September 2009. The RAS identified deficiencies with, and proposed solutions for, civil and military air traffic control in Kyrgyzstan. (Courtesy photo)

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- The U.S. Air Force is now heavily engaged in efforts to relieve suffering that has resulted from ethnic unrest and a widening humanitarian crisis in Kyrgyzstan.

The current crisis is delaying Foreign Military Sales efforts led by the Electronic Systems Center here that would support the Kyrgyz Republic by modernizing its air traffic control capabilities. Officials from the 853rd Electronic Systems Group are now scrambling to assess impacts and to determine the best way to move forward with these plans, which would also enhance operational capability for U.S. Central Command operators who depend on Manas Transit Center.

Last year, Congress appropriated funds to be used for this effort, and a raft of government agencies, including the State Department, began discussing how to use the money to provide infrastructure improvements in the Kyrgyz Republic.

In concert with this, U.S. Central Command, which relies on Manas to ferry troops, equipment and supplies in and out of Afghanistan and for refueling operations, solicited a study to determine the nation's actual needs. Working through the Air Force International Affairs Office, CENTCOM turned to ESC's International Operations Division to conduct the Regional Airspace Study.

CENTCOM sought the ESC organization because of its prior experience in analyzing and proposing solutions to resolve air traffic management deficiencies in other parts of the world. That experience dates to efforts during the 1990s to bring Eastern European nations' airspace management capabilities in line with NATO standards and extends to present-day efforts in Oman, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Because of strategic interests involved with using Manas, and an initial indication that the funding would expire within two years, the ESC-led team moved forward very quickly. Members hit the road as soon as the team formed, landing in Kyrgyzstan at the end of August 2009 and spending the first week of September in country, said Neil Richarde, the RAS team leader.

There, the multi-faceted team -- consisting of engineers and operational specialists from ESC, as well as CENTCOM and Federal Aviation Authority officials -- met with Kyrgyz Republic civilian aviation authorities, members of the Ministry of Defense, U.S. personnel at the Manas Transit Center and U.S. embassy officials. In addition to the site surveys and meetings, the team conducted a questionnaire and online research to form its conclusions, Mr. Richarde said.

Not surprisingly, the team identified some key deficiencies.

"Even though some recent [air traffic control] modernization in the KR has been put into place ... much of the existing ATC and air sovereignty capabilities require upgrading or replacement," to be more compliant with International Civil Aviation Organization standards, according to the RAS executive summary.

The full report, which was delivered to CENTCOM in March, recommends a phased approach to upgrading the nation's air traffic control capabilities, Mr. Richarde said. The team provided near-term (within five years), mid-term (five to 10 years) and far-term (10-15 years) recommendations.

Funding will likely drive the air traffic control capabilities adopted under this strategic effort. Near-term capabilities identified as "high priority" are the ones most likely to be acquired by the limited funding, officials said.

While the RAS provided a solid foundational look at needs, it's "the 30,000-foot view," Mr. Richarde said. He noted that a lot of the critical information needed to make sound decisions has been hard to come by or is simply lacking, and that more detailed analysis is required.

"You have to look closely at communication infrastructure, power availability and security needs, in addition to radar coverage capabilities," Mr. Richarde said.

The 853 ELSG, which manages air traffic control development programs and installations across the globe, commissioned an analysis by the Department of Transportation's Volpe Center in Cambridge, Mass., to provide in-depth analysis of enroute air surveillance solutions for the mountainous terrain of Kyrgyzstan. The Volpe Center has some unique modeling tools that allow detailed analysis of air traffic control environments and capabilities in under-developed nations.

The 853 ELSG briefed CENTCOM officials on the status of acquisition efforts earlier this month. Those efforts have been hampered by several factors, including some delay with the initial release of funds and an April coup, as well as the most recent events.

The coup resulted in overthrow of the previous government and has led to foreign officials being denied access to the country.

Reengagement with country officials and access are critical, according to Lt. Col. Robert Gallup, acting director of the 853 ELSG Foreign Military Sales Division, because this effort "provides a synergistic partnership with the Kyrgyzstan Government that enables continued warfighter access to the Afghan theater.

"Until a country requirements survey can be conducted to firm up detailed requirements, the acquisition process cannot move forward expeditiously to support this crucial U.S. national interest," he said.

Once the requirements survey is allowed to proceed, the 853 ELSG will issue industry notices, eventually including a draft request for proposal. Depending on developments in country, officials hope to accomplish that later this fall.