AFRL Turns to Cloud Computing to Speed Pace of Research, Tech Transition 

05.02.20 06:57 PM By Anne

Written by Laura Dempsey:

At the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), it takes months – sometimes a year – to get new software certified for use in Air Force systems. This is at odds with our National Defense Strategy that demands “building a more lethal, resilient, and rapidly innovating Joint Force.” It’s hard to rapidly innovate when you’re waiting for the “latest” software. Recognizing that delays in new system implementation is a risk in itself, the Undersecretary of the Air Force created a “Fast Track Authorization to Operate,” in March 2019, speeding up the Authority to Operate (ATO) process.


The Fast-Track ATO proved its worth during pilot tests in 2019, when the Air Operations Center used it to certify a system in just one week, according to Frank Konieczny, Chief Technology Officer for the Air Force. The faster ATO process gives the Air Force the agility it needs to keep the fight unfair. Quicker software implementation means the researchers can work faster and the technology they develop can move to the warfighter in a timelier manner.


Under this authority, Wright Brothers Institute (WBI) is helping to get new software approaches into the hands and onto the computers at AFRL more quickly by championing the use of Cloud Computing. WBI is facilitating the training of a select group of researchers at AFRL’s Materials and Manufacturing Directorate (AFRL/RX). Should the program prove successful and the training applicable to AFRL’s needs, this team will act as AFRL “pathfinders,” leading the way for others in the Lab. 


Matthew Mills, a researcher at AFRL/RX, attended the training and found it beneficial. “It helped me assess, from my research perspective, another avenue for IT-related solutions at AFRL,” he said. “It was hard to grasp all the capabilities that were available through the Google Cloud Platform, but it is impossible to pack all said information in one day.”


Mills said that Dan Berrigan, who led the AFRL/RX trainees, was able to equip the group so they could tinker with the capability. “My potential use case would involve a common place to gather data to share with external collaborators and also run ML (machine learning) models on that data,” Mills said.


Two Google Cloud experts from Reston, VA, spent a day in Dayton, Ohio, at no cost to the Air Force or WBI. The plan was to spend their time here analyzing the issue, deciding the way forward and whether the effort would be effective. After quickly agreeing to forge ahead, time was spent in hands-on training on Google Cloud products. The plan is for the trainers to return to Dayton for further work with the RX team.


With this capability, teams within the Air Force can collaborate with academia and industry more quickly and easily, saving time for AFRL researchers by reducing software certification lag time and keeping AFRL software more in line with those outside the government. The use of Cloud services will also save money in computer equipment acquisition, use and disposal.