HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- Private industry is competing to provide aircrews with upgraded Electronic Flight Bag applications during a PlugTest event at the Hanscom Collaboration and Innovation Center here.
EFBs are used by aircrews to plan, execute and debrief flights. Applications on the tablets enable pilots and their crews to determine weather patterns, approach paths, flightline makeup and other relevant information used during both routine and combat missions.
“These applications must be secure, because the amount of information in them is a treasure trove for bad actors,” said 1st Lt. Kyle Palko, HCIC operations research analyst. “This PlugTest competition is all about getting private industry to give us their best, most secure versions of applications used by flight crews.”
During a visit here March 28 to 30, the Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein visited the PlugTest site and interacted with some of the submitted applications.
“Even small networked devices like this provide a great example of how frequently Airmen operate on multiple domains,” said Goldfein. “What used to be hard copy paper now exists electronically, and is networked. Getting networks like these secure and reliable for Airmen gives us an edge.”
The PlugTest lasts several months, and Hanscom hosts more than a dozen iPads on a military cloud, allowing industry to access their software and make tweaks securely, without making the trip to base. This saves both contractors and the Department of Defense money, according to the PlugTest team.
Air Mobility Command aircrews who operate C-130 Hercules, C-17 Globemasters and C-5 Galaxys' visited Hanscom to test the updated apps.
“It’s hard to overstate how much EFBs have changed the way we do business,” said Capt. Jamie Boudreaux, C-130 pilot with the Rhode Island National Guard. “Being able to fine-tune something we interact with as often as these EFBs means we’ll be able to work more efficiently and safely during flights. That, in itself, is worth it to me.”
The custom-built Hanscom milCloud gives vendors access to the IT systems and components needed to facilitate the PlugTest. In this case, the iPads are hosted on milCloud.
The opportunity is advertised to non-traditional vendors, ensuring smaller companies that may have never dealt with the DoD have a chance to compete. The top solution will be awarded the full value of the contract. According to the PlugTest team, relationships are built with new vendors that may go on to assist the DoD in development of other projects.
“We’re aware of how fast technology moves,” said Brittany Ridings, PlugTest and HCIC program manager. “Keeping up with it is a little difficult with the more traditional contract vehicles. PlugTests don’t just speed a process up for us, they give us access to a whole new category of vendors which can lead to other developments.”
The next step will be to compile scores from the week long evaluation, then have Air Force Academy cadets conduct a Bug Bounty, ensuring the applications are secure. The top solution could receive an award for up to $1.5 million on an Other Transactions Authority contract for continued development. The final solution will be fielded to AMC’s 18,000 tablets, which will operate as EFBs in the beginning of fiscal year 2018.