Air Force

Defense IT

Automation will streamline Air Force data processing, command control

The key to future command control is speed, and that speed will come from automation, according to Gen. Stephen Wilson, Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force. 

The Air Force must look to the latest innovations in automation from industry and younger airmen to maintain its superiority across domains, he said.

“How do we sense the environment? How do we understand it? And how do we become able to [implement] effects on the globe across all’s about speed and speed will be helped by the automation,” said Gen. Wilson, speaking at the 2017 Defense One Summit.

Automation in the Air Force is being implemented both in its own right and as a step in the process of developing artificial intelligence (AI). Automation uses software algorithms, but it does not have the “learning” and predictive capacities of AI.

Gen. Wilson emphasized the leading role that the newest generation of airmen play in automating the Air Force.

“The young people are already [technologically empowered] … airmen will reach out and say ‘check out this app that I wrote’ or ‘this code that does this’ ‘I was doing this and it took a long time, and it was very labor intensive, so I wrote my own app that did this’ and that’s the fact of this innovation, said Gen. Wilson. “It is a groundswell from the bottom that we’ve got to be able to unleash.”

There are some older generation airmen who will have to learn to use these technologies and automations, admitted Gen. Wilson, but the Air Force is ready to help.

However, one other potential stumbling block is what Gen. Wilson calls the ‘too problem.’

“Very often we are too slow, too regulated, too bureaucratic, we’re too risk-averse, we’re too stove-piped, we’re too easy to catch-up to. In the areas in the world where we are clearly number one, we know that area ends at this room. So we’ve got to stay number one, and to stay number one we’ve got to unleash this potential,” said Gen. Wilson.

The way to overcome this difficulty is to look at how big industries have incorporated automation into their processes, according to Gen. David Goldfein, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force. As part of looking at commercial industry models, Gen. Goldfein visited Bloomberg in New York City this summer and observed how their search engines could automatically sift through vast amounts of social media data.

This type of automation can contribute to processing the Air Force’s huge influx of data, which would help streamline command control operations. It would also ensure that human energy was not wasted on tasks that machine algorithms can do faster and more effectively,


“There are huge areas to explore just on logistics.” Gen. Wilson said, “the Air Force is scattered across the globe and we know there are smarter ways to do things.”

About the Author

Kris Osborn is a former editor of Defense Systems.

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