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Air Combat Command’s U-2 first rapid, successful in-flight test of Platform One

Air Combat Command’s U-2 Federal Laboratory at Beale executed the first rapid, successful in-flight test of Platform One capabilities on an operational major weapons system with a U-2 Dragon Lady during a local training sortie March 23.

Platform One, the first DoD Enterprise DevSecOps Enterprise Service, offers a suite of tools that DoD systems can use today to continuously develop, integrate and deliver software on any Cloud or hardware systems from months and years to hours, days and weeks.  Fundamentally, DevSecOps practices combine software development, cybersecurity, and operations to quickly deliver top-tier, secure software functionality to end users.

“This partnership has proven the value provided by Platform One, the DevSecOps Enterprise Service and the immediate return on investment seen by adopting DevSecOps methodologies for all software innovation,” said Mr. Nicolas Chaillan, Air Force Chief Software Officer and co-lead for DoD Enterprise DevSecOps initiatives. “It also shows that combining Platform One capability with other forward-thinking organizations is unequivocally instrumental in swiftly delivering utility to warfighters at the tactical edge. This is a huge milestone of bringing a modern software infrastructure to the operational fleet of the Air Force.”

While this integration is not the first time for Platform One on a weapons system with previous success on an F-16 Fighting Falcon, the success of this iteration marked a DoD-first in that it was flown on an operational major weapons system where the F-16 proof of concept did not involve flight. 

Alongside the successful flight, this accomplishment is grounded in the lab’s speed of execution.

In addition to demonstrating how warfighters can leverage Platform One products and services, and affirming how DevSecOps can be rapidly integrated onto current systems, the flight further provides value in the lab’s embedded construct as a method to quickly bridge the gap between new technologies and fielded major weapons systems, according to Maj. Raymond Tierney, ACC’s U-2 Federal Laboratory Director.

“This model brings development and acquisitions in-house with operations, leveraging the insight of the warfighters throughout the process,” Tierney said. “In doing so, it enables a faster, more accurate delivery of capabilities that meet the needs of the boots on ground, which is further shown in our ability to achieve this integration for the SAF acquisitions team within 12 days from the initial request.”

A Proven Model

Federal Laboratories, like the one on Beale, offer agencies, like Platform One, an opportunity to garner peer-to-peer feedback regarding DevSecOps tools, which allows for quick adaption and deployment of those new products at the edge, Tierney stated.

“Our Chief of Staff, Gen. C. Q. Brown, is looking to Airmen to outpace key competitors’ decision cycles, to be empowered in our ability to accelerate change, and create asymmetric advantage over our competitors,” Tierney said. “The Federal Laboratory is doing just that, and proving that we can meet Gen. Brown’s ask of us through this embedded warfighter, developer, and acquirer model.”

The combination of Platform One’s suite of pre-approved products and services with the Federal Laboratory’s capabilities is not the only successful example of edge development led by the lab’s team, on behalf of Air Force-level offices.

In mid-December, the Federal Laboratory successfully flew artificial intelligence as a working crew member that was trained to execute specific in-flight tasks that would normally be accomplished by a human pilot. The team developed and flew this technology only 35 days after being challenged to quickly accomplish this task by Dr. Will Roper, former Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.

Approximately three months prior to the AI flight, the lab’s team successfully leveraged Kubernetes— an open-source container-orchestration system for automating computer application deployment, scaling, and management—another first for the DoD, and for the integration of DevSecOps tools onto a major weapons system.

“This flight is another win for the team, further proving that they can quickly take on problems for the Air Force and DoD, and find and implement rapid integration where the requirements exist—at the warfighter level,” said Col. Heather Fox, 9th Reconnaissance Wing Commander. “Just as they met Dr. Roper’s challenges to fly Kubernetes and conduct the first artificial intelligence flight in DoD history within a short timeline, we have another data point that this model for the Federal Laboratory is an asset for the edge development we need to outpace our adversaries.”

What’s next for this Federal Laboratory? 

According to Dr. John Matyjas, Air Combat Command Chief Scientist, the Lab has requested, and been approved by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, under the Department of Commerce, to change public policy and establish the 20th Laboratory Accreditation Program in the Federal government. 

“Through ACC’s partnership with NIST, this accreditation program will establish the competence, impartiality, and operational consistency required to institutionalize this, and future Federal Laboratories of this type, within the Command,” said Dr. Matyjas. “We are not interested in the alternative to accelerate change,” referencing Gen. Brown’s call to “Accelerate Change or Lose.” 

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