Air Force learning AI from Amazon, Delta Airlines
By DALE DENWALT | The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City | Published: October 12, 2019
(Tribune News Service) — Two U.S. Air Force officers spent time embedded at Delta Airlines and Amazon, and what they learned is shaking up how that branch of the military handles logistics.
Maj. Garrett Hernandez and Capt. Kelsey Smith were assigned to the companies through the Air Force's Education with Industry program. They both noticed they could take some lessons back to their chain of command.
Hernandez and Smith presented their findings at the Logistics Officer Association conference in Oklahoma City, where hundreds of Air Force personnel gathered for briefings and sessions on how to best maintain and equip the fleet.
"Our full-time job was to leave the Air Force to figure out how to make it better by learning from industry partners," said Hernandez, who worked at Amazon. "So this was our shot, and we took our paper and turned it into a business plan."
Their project is called Tesseract, named after the energy cube featured in Avengers movies. In an article for the Air Force Institute of Technology, Hernandez wrote that "Tesseract symbolizes an effort to harness the creative energies of logistics and maintenance Airmen that defy entropy through sustaining the readiness of weapon system fleets beyond expected service life."
At its core, Tesseract will push the Air Force toward using artificial intelligence to improve efficiency in its supply and maintenance roles.
Hernandez touted automated warehousing robots used at Amazon that decide on their own where and how to store items. Smith discussed predictive algorithms that streamlined Delta's maintenance schedule.
"It's the backbone to drive change, said Brig. Gen. Linda S. Hurry, director of logistics for the Air Force. "Most importantly, it's coming from the airman up with the sponsorship of the senior leadership. We need to meet the National Defense Strategy; the current assets that we have don't get us there, so we've got to think differently. And our airmen are the ones who have the ideas on how to do that."
Smith, who worked at Delta Airlines, said it was hard to translate the things she learned into something Air Force brass could understand.
"The analogy I use is we both speak the aviation language but two totally different dialects," Smith said.
Their ideas to introduce a more high-tech, agile workflow into the process stuck. It fits with the relatively new mindset pushed by Will Roper, the top Air Force civilian in charge of acquisition, technology and logistics. One of Roper's ideas was to create a "pitch day," where the Air Force could make deals with companies outside of the usual, long contracting process.
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