After the MMWS project wrapped up, our team was then tasked to look at improving the user interface for the Tomahawk Cruise missile. The current system is quite odd. The entire process is broken into two major steps. There are two sets of two consoles each, with some interesting hand off between them. The officers themselves don’t have consoles.
This project was very different in a lot of ways. The biggest difference was the nature of the tasks. In the Air Defense project, each task is considered a point task. You do it and it is done. In the cruise missile world, tasks are MUCH longer (averaging 1-2 hours). Without giving away ‘secrets’, to launch a cruise missile, there are several steps along the way: get the target, plan the routes, power the missile, launch it, monitor it, and do post attack assessment. The process also can skip back to previous steps.
The UI was heavily based on the Air Defense work, so nothing too earth-shaking. One change was the reduction of the number screens from 4 to 2.
The development team doubled in size for this project. I was joined by a great programmer, Rob Adams. He handled most of the mapping issues. There was a modest amount of missile route displays stuff to handle. It was nice to hand these tasks off, while I focused on creating an engine that would mimic the processes of a cruise missile system.
The development cycle followed the same cycle as the task, so we started at the first task, and moved forward from there, in a nice orderly sequence. After each step, we would run a series of user testing, folding the improvements back into the design, then move on to the next step.
From a development point of view, one of the coolest things was the under-the-hood code that I wrote. It was uber-geeky, but made the whole process very sweet. The engine turned out to be nice OOP based timer system with a robust callback system. To give a sense of scope, each missile would have its own set of timing for each step. A group of missiles would be clustered into packages. The entire package had to complete a step, before the next step in the sequence could move forward. Since the user could drill down into each step and see the status for each missile, all this had to be exposed.
It was a fun challenge. All told, this project was lighter than the ADW, at just 30,000 lines of Lingo. I never did get to see a real launch. Once 9/11 occurred and we saw the number of Tomahawks strike Afghanistan (@ $750,000 per missile), we knew that the R&D budget was going to take a hit.