TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- In today’s Air Force operations, chat is king. Using technology developed in the late 80s, AWACS aircrew members pass text line-by-line to other command and control agencies to make requests, update on developing situations or deliver results from completed missions.
"It doesn’t have to be that way,” Col. James Mattey said. Mattey is the commander of the 513th Air Control Group and has been working with a veteran-owned small business to develop a platform called Advanced Collaboration for Enterprise Services, or ACES.
Mattey’s vision was born out of frustration from using different applications and systems that weren’t compatible with each other, forcing him to walk across an operations floor to point out an air track of interest on another officer’s screen instead of highlighting it digitally to the entire crew.
“We’d see things like Iron Man or Minority Report, and we’d ask ourselves why we can’t have that at our jobs, on the jet or at the [air operations center],” he recalled. “So we built it. A Minority Report-like interface for the DOD. The genesis came out of warfighter requirements for multi-domain command and control, and the inspiration came out of Hollywood.”
In late June, the 513th and Hadron Industries, the industry partner behind ACES, completed its third milestone out of seven in an AFWERX-funded military use assessment that will test how ACES technology will improve data sharing between command and control agencies.
The third milestone was to build out six workstations that will simulate a partial crew on the AWACS. Hadron engineers integrated software that is used on board the aircraft and expanded the capabilities of air battle managers by providing more pixel space and the ability to share data and applications.
“We have a lot of great capabilities that are stovepiped, that are proprietary, and ACES allows us to bring them all together in a visual arena with almost zero integration cost,” Mattey said. “We can take apps or images, and move them to any device, any screen.”
The development of ACES and the build out of a dedicated environment to enable testing was funded through Small Business Innovation Research funds, which is a Congressional initiative overseen by the Small Business Administration. The program encourages domestic small businesses to engage in Federal research and development.
“The SBIR program has been instrumental in allowing us warfighters to go after CSAF Brown’s directive to accelerate change or lose,” Mattey said. “This prototype here was fragged to be an 18-month project, and we’re going to do it in seven.”
The 513th’s active-duty partner wing, the 552d Air Control Group, is also participating in the upcoming military use assessment to determine how to integrate ACES into current and future airframes.
“We knew we had something special here, and we needed to increase our circle of influence,” Mattey said. “We reached out to the 552nd, and found out they had just stood up an innovation cell. They brought AWACS requirements from active duty, making them a part of our SBIR effort. It’s a TFI effort with the 513th, the 552nd, the New Hampshire Army National Guard, as well as industry and academia.”