CRF develops innovative solution to seismic array vulnerability
By Susan A. Romano, AFTAC Public Affairs
/ Published September 13, 2019
PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- A team of Airmen from the Air Force Technical Applications Center’s Central Repair Facility here used innovation to develop a solution to mitigate hardware failures to their seismic arrays around the world.
Under the direction of Doug Dale, 709th Support Squadron flight chief, six subject matter experts of varying technical backgrounds reverse-engineered a communications multiplexer – a device that converts and combines multi-serial signals into a single TCP/IP data stream – to extend the efficacy and life expectancy of AFTAC’s seismometers used to monitor nuclear activity.
AFTAC is the Department of Defense’s sole nuclear treaty monitoring organization that provides technical, analytical and evaluative support to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The center’s global network of sensors are positioned underground, underwater, in the atmosphere and in space, making it the largest sensor network in the U.S. Air Force.
A number of its 3,600 seismic sensors are at unmanned locations overseas, but still require periodic maintenance to ensure the signals from the equipment are effectively and continuously transmitted to AFTAC’s Operation Center at Patrick AFB.
But the maintainers faced a problem. One of the vendors that provided equipment to their geophysical field systems was no longer in business, and replacement parts were scarce – if not impossible – to procure. If they did find a vendor that could provide what they needed, it came at a high cost.
“One of the manufacturer’s software programs is specially encoded to each individual piece of hardware, thus limiting the software’s lifecycle to the hardware’s finite lifespan,” said Master Sgt. Joseph King, CRF superintendent and one of the members on Dale’s team. “Their list price for a multiplexer was $15,000, but the hardware itself was less than $1,000. So we had to figure out a way to decouple the software from the hardware.”
The CRF developed an organic solution to overcome the hardware limitation by reviewing the software’s 40,000 lines of code to remedy the immediate problem of failing compact flash chips. Their ingenuity allowed for full replacement of the entire hardware system, extending the lifecycle of more than 100 assets valued at $1.7 million.
“This effort dramatically increased our sparing posture and will enable us to maintain the geophysical field system for several years,” said Dale. “I’m incredibly proud of all the members of the team who worked hard to bring concept to reality. Their efforts will help ensure our legacy sensor support systems that are past operational life expectancy operate effectively until the next generation of systems are procured and deployed.”
Paul Talwar, 709th SPTS deputy, was equally impressed with the CRF’s resourcefulness and forethought.
“Under Mr. Dale’s direction, the CRF developed a solution that dramatically increases AFTAC’s sparing posture and will enable us to maintain the Geophysical Field System for several years, thus ensuring mission readiness capabilities until we field the next system.”
Members of Dale’s team include: King, Alan M. Yerington, Jimmy Jackson, Steve Dixon, Senior Master Sgt. Troy Main, and Staff Sgt. Josh Van Horne.