We need your innovative solutions!
The future of the US Air Force, the Joint Services, and our Allied Partners is dependent upon investing in solutions that will enable seamless Multi-Domain Operations (MDO). In some scenarios, MDOs will have less than 15 minutes to receive incoming data, orient data into useful information, make decisions, and then disseminate situational awareness to the relevant people who will perform multiple actions to create a dominant effect. MDO solutions provide a capability to interoperably respond more effectively to dynamic, real-time events such as defensive and offensive operations along with stability operations such as responding to humanitarian crises.
This Challenge aims to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the US and its Allies' integrated operations in the areas of air, space, land, sea, cyber and the electromagnetic spectrum. We must also resolve complicating factors such as how verified data can be shared and correlated across multiple security levels as well as geographic and military service boundaries. The innovative solutions uncovered in this Challenge will provide ways for data to be available to all relevant users and turned into coordinated action in a timely manner.
Another consideration for this Challenge is the potential for adversaries to attempt to disrupt MDO activities. We cannot simply trust any single sensor's data anymore. We have to validate the information before we use it.
In September 2018, the Vice Chief of Staff of the US Air Force, General Steven Wilson, challenged Airmen, Academia, and Industry to iteratively establish a Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) capability to support actions within 15 minutes or less as part of complex coalition actions. In a world dominated by rapid innovation, he challenged everyone to look around and find better ways to establish situational awareness, develop Courses of Action (COAs), and deliver effects at unmatched speed with Joint and coalition partners. Future areas of operation will be Joint, multi-national, multi-regional, inter-agency in varying locales, and will develop at extraordinary speeds.
We are looking for your solutions to a completely integrated MDO system, specific components of an integrated platform, or an integration layer that will create the basis for multi-domain operations designed for:
Real-time data collection, validation, and analysis
AI-based human augmented decision making
Data security, identity, and trusted access
Real-time communication to multiple players via a decentralized network
Automation is an important consideration as we seek to speed up decision support, decision making, and communication.
What’s in it for you?
Ability to showcase your solutions digitally in an open crowdsourced platform to gain visibility to potential collaborators and customers
Potential invitation to attend the MDO Challenge Showcase event in Las Vegas to meet peers and USAF customers at the AFWERX Fusion Xperience (July 23-24, 2019)
Chance to be invited to a demonstration event in September 2019 to showcase your solutions or how your technology can integrate with others
Access to an array of rapid innovation funds to demonstrate and/or develop and test your solution
Official recognition for your company and solution
Peer and customer collaboration with industry and the government
Selected companies will have the opportunity to secure a government contract, including but not limited to, prototyping, demonstration, and production efforts
Opportunity to work with customers within the US Air Force and other DoD agencies to further test and develop your solution, ultimately in real-life simulations or operations
The USAF is expected to be investing over $2B in MDO related solutions and infrastructure over the next few years, with the expectation of sustained or increased funding in future years. Your solution could be included in this investment
Note: In the past 12-months, the AFWERX Vegas Hub has already invested over $10M in AFWERX Challenge initiatives including prototyping and demonstration contracts.
Who are we looking for with this challenge?
Individuals, teams, academics, research labs, startups, small businesses, companies with little or no prior DoD or US government contracting experience, traditional DoD and government contractors, and government entities that make or have expertise in one component of the system, an entire system, or an integrator for an integrated solution.
You could be in the US or other Allied or Partner countries.
How can we better define MDO and break down the elements that support it?
Elements of the solution
We are interested in proposals for critical components of MDO systems as well as solutions that demonstrate frameworks for managing the entire process. To facilitate the integration of component solutions into larger MDO systems, components must support standard Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and protocols as much as possible. To control costs and simplify logistics, it is highly desirable for components to be software-defined and able to run on general-purpose hardware.
All systems must be adaptive and resilient. “Adaptive” means that the component is able to work in a variety of contexts with minimal skill or human intervention required to reconfigure the system to work in each context. “Resilient” means that the system is able to automatically reconfigure, reroute, and rebalance in response to component failures or unexpected loading conditions.
Artificial Intelligence enabling accelerated decision making and automated processes are likely to be key components of an integrated solution as we seek to enable the technology supported human operator.
Elements that could help us to Observe
PREPARE & VALIDATE DATA
Advanced Analytics that can assist with data extraction will be important. Data exists in many formats such as images, text, or from specialized sensors. Data extraction that produces useful information from a wide variety of types of inputs will be critical.
Advanced Analytics can also be deployed to filter out irrelevant or repetitious data and identify patterns that merit additional types of analysis as new patterns emerge.
All forms of advanced data translation, filtering, collection, security, delivery and organization to enhance information sharing will be key elements.
Elements that could help us to Orient & Decide
Artificial Intelligence, automated and machine-assisted methods, and other forms of sophisticated data analysis are expected to play a large role in MDO because the amount of data is vast, and these may be the only viable approaches for extracting information quickly that is relevant to warfighters and planners. Classifiers that sift through large volumes of data to highlight relevant information may include functions such as image classification or innovative methods that recognize subtle patterns between types of data not previously recognized to have connections.
VISUALIZE AND PRESENT RELEVANT INFORMATION
MDO systems are expected to handle large volumes of data and to present the extracted information in different ways depending on the use of the information. For the warfighter in the heat of battle, the best strategy may be to present only the most time-critical information that is relevant to the immediate execution of the battle and to suppress all other data feeds. For others who are planning or coordinating many resources, sophisticated virtual reality or augmented reality systems may be very effective for presenting very detailed information in a way that is easy to interpret.
Data presentation and visualization systems must selectively present information that is appropriate to the role of each type of user and their specific situation that exists at that moment. Systems that learn the needs of the user or that require minimal training are more desirable than highly configurable systems that require a lot of training to use effectively.
RAPID MULTIVARIATE DECISION SUPPORT
Methods for integrated decision making across multiple information systems and organizations is needed as well as supporting cognitive processes leading to better situational awareness.
Assisted Decision Making will help operators make quick decisions or to allow operators to select the best strategies for achieving objectives with minimal losses. Sophisticated applications could recommend two or three options with an assessment of the probabilities of various outcomes, highlighting information that enables planners to identify high-value targets while avoiding collateral damage and harm to allies. This requires that the data is current within seconds and validated to avoid errors.
Decisions involving lethal force will not be automated, but choices may be enhanced by quickly highlighting information that is relevant to those decisions. Simpler, less risky determinations may be fully automated while advanced analytics may be used to produce a list of alternatives with associated risks and benefits for other options.
Elements that could help us to Act
REAL-TIME GLOBAL SECURE COMMUNICATION
Applications that allow missions to be executed flawlessly by feeding data to operators in real time that is relevant to the individual context of each person and is updated continuously as the mission progresses.
Data may need to be transported across the globe and cached in locations close to where it is needed. The data management systems must limit data duplication while maximizing performance and resiliency. Proposals that demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the complex and often conflicting requirements will be highly valued.
Solutions demonstrating interoperability between disparate systems on a global scale are essential for automating MDO processes. Frameworks that enable interoperability with minimal skill requirements, high security and the ability to adapt when systems fail are viewed as an essential component of an automated MDO system. Brilliant user interface design is also essential.
Adaptive technologies for networking communications and resiliency, a distributed system to enable operation in contested environments.
Security is a paramount concern. All MDO components must be designed to facilitate security without compromising the ability of various people and systems to collaborate. Components that address security specifically may address authorization, access, threat identification, and mitigation. Other security functions that are essential include managing multiple levels of security and facilitating access to information across domains while enforcing security standards for each type of source data and information products that combine data from multiple sources. Newer technologies such as block-chain are of particular interest.
What are the outcomes we are seeking with this Challenge?
The US and our Allied Partner Nations need the capability to rapidly collect, validate, integrate, store, and retrieve different types of data from disparate sources and turn that synthesized data into shareable and immediately usable information.
The system to do that will prioritize and present courses of action to achieve desired outcomes and achieve seamless communication across multiple agencies and security levels. It will also be resilient to both cyber and physical attack. The system must be open architecture, as opposed to closed/locked designs, so as to easily incorporate technology advancements and new data streams as they emerge while being backward compatible with existing systems.
An important consideration is that technology solutions (e.g. AI, big data analysis, etc.) to military operations must be applied with greater assurance levels than traditional industry levels. The solutions need to be dependable, timely, allow for quick access, and have resiliency.
One important outcome would be to enhance decision making at the edge.
What does the system need to do?
Speed: real-time analysis, situational awareness, decision making, and communication
Automation of key processes to increase speed and accuracy
Aggregation of information
Computing power to support human operators: Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Big Data Analytics and the ability to alert the human operators of important data
Automation is an important element but not all aspects will be relevant to automate
Connectivity of networks, geographies, agencies
Reduced human communication barriers: cultural barriers, language, acronyms, information accessibility
Self-healing, resilient, forming, distributed networks
Conduct activities rapidly and sequentially with little to no time between iterations, low latency
Able to handle AI and automation with third-order data implications
Scalability of the solution across the US DoD and Allied Partners
A proposed system, or partial solution, should demonstrate how multiple streams of data, from various data sources of differing ontologies (e.g., 5 or 6 AI tools from different military services and/or inter-agency/foreign partner organizations streaming data over the system) can be integrated and run simultaneously to provide unified awareness.
How long is the challenge and what’s next?
AFWERX CHALLENGE open April 22 - June 10
This will be an open challenge to see who would be interested in participating in the AFWERX MDO Challenge by bringing a range of MDO enabling capabilities to the attention of the AFWERX team which could ultimately lead to:
Rapid prototyping and demonstration funding
Long-term contracts including potential production contracts
Long-term business partnerships
Recognition and USAF partnerships
AFWERX MDO SHOWCASE (As part of the AFWERX Fusion Xperience, July 23-24)
Selected teams will get an invitation to attend the AFWERX MDO Showcase, which is part of the AFWERX Fusion Xperience in Las Vegas, July 23-24. At this expo-style event, teams will present their solutions to top Air Force decision makers and operators. Concurrently, there will be live demonstrations, keynote speakers, subject matter experts, and panel discussions on innovation, trends in technology, culture change, and more. This flagship event welcomes the public, including academia, startups, enterprise companies, the investment community, and military.
MDO DEMO DAY September 2019
At this event, teams will be selected to receive an invitation to a Demo Day in September 2019. Showcasing potential solutions in a demonstration at this event may lead to future contracts, work efforts, funding paths, and production contracts. Overall results and paths forward may be discussed with selected teams at this event.
How will we evaluate your solution?
The evaluation process of your idea will depend upon the type of solution you are proposing, is it a component, full system, or an integration platform. However, it is anticipated that the evaluation will include the following:
Data source agnostic — Given the number of possible data sources, the solution may need to be data source agnostic.
Feasibility — Does the solution provide a reasonable management approach for technical delivery, schedule, and cost.
Warfighter impact — How much additional impact to the warfighter will this solution support; how does this support rapid decision support and actions? Cumbersome training/experience retention requirements are the opposite of this effort.
Automation — Is your solution automated in some way or could lead to automation?.
Integration — Ability to integrate with other systems. Ability to share data while also validating/identifying false data. Ability to provide highly available communications networks interoperability.
Cybersecurity — Security compliance and architecture.
Scalability — Ability of the solution to scale rapidly across USAF and other agencies.
User Experience — If appropriate a rating of the user experience including the design and flow of the solution.
Your idea will be evaluated by your peers and you will have the ability to vote, add comments and ask questions throughout the duration of the challenge. This will help to ‘bubble up’ and test solutions that industry and academia believe to be worthwhile. Peer review and community approval may be a supporting factor in the evaluation process but will not be a deciding factor.
DoD expert review
You will be evaluated by a panel of experts from within the USAF and other military agencies plus industry Subject Matter Experts
The DoD experts will be the ones evaluating which solutions are selected to come to the MDO Challenge Showcase in Las Vegas as part of the AFWERX Fusion Xperience July 23-24
Those whose ideas are selected will attend a Challenge showcase in Las Vegas July 23-24
Here you will meet other individuals, teams, and enterprises that were selected to attend the showcase event
Engage with soldiers, sailors, and airmen from across the Department of Defense
During this event, we will be finalizing the teams that we will invite to a Demo Event in September. There will be an opportunity for 1-on-1 discussions
Teams are expected to bring costing and timeline information to the event
Two examples of Multi-Domain Operations in our society today
In today's society, we currently have MDO capability within our smartphones and connected devices that help us to operate every day. A smartphone connected to a rideshare service, GPS app, bank accounts, and your calendar allows you to know your schedule, search where to go, and request a ride (which optimizes which driver should come to pick you up) using multiple, sometimes disparate, data pulls from many different data sources. You can see many of these streams of data on a single, real-time map. You complete your trip and your connected bank account is automatically debited. And you could do this anywhere in the world as the phone is always with you. At best only one of these functions, unintegrated, existed in the world of 15 years ago!
In this example, the smartphone could be seen as a global personal MDO integrator with lots of connected systems that all have to communicate in real time with accurate data. How would you describe the analogous military MDO system, and how much could it borrow from the architectural concept described above?
Large multinational companies who have to constantly react to global events in real-time and make rapid, timely, decisions in a matter of minutes that could wipe billions of dollars off their market capitalization if handled incorrectly. If a rogue drone flying over Gatwick airport in the United Kingdom can cause global ripples in the airline industry as data now has to be collected and analyzed and then resources allocated to respond to the disruption, decisions made and actions are taken with a constant review of that data and the impacts of decisions as real-time events evolve. In this example, large sets of data have to be accumulated and analyzed in order to make appropriate decisions and then those decisions need to be constantly assessed, so we have an example of human reaction time known as an Observe-Orient-Decide-Act or OODA loop.
Three use cases of Multi-domain Operations: Humanitarian, Defensive & Offensive
An earthquake causes a tidal wave, hitting southeastern Taiwan. Taiwan asks the US for help but China diplomatically states that no US “help” is needed as China will be handling the situation. Broad-based information sharing to provide real-time humanitarian organization information to the Chinese to ensure no inadvertent misunderstanding of operations that could provoke a military attack while ensuring China knows US military support is strictly a humanitarian aspect (e.g., Operation Unified Assistance and US Navy support to Indonesia).
Strategic messaging using accurate information provided across and to the military, interagency, and regional actors to reduce confusion and inaccurate decision making; including information sharing with China that matches actual, “on the ground” events. Underlying the effort is a developed and updated messaging aspect to counter false narratives and deep fake operations designed to discredit the US relief effort.
A terrorist group has gained access to a nuclear missile and has launched it toward the US. It is anticipated to hit somewhere in North America in 36 minutes. Real-time information flow focused on the missile itself along with shareable data of multiple classifications, and the system knowing what to remove depending on the customer supported, to enable evacuations, defensive measures (anti-missile interceptors, key information shared with the friendly forces located near where the terrorists launched the missile, and diplomatic cross-talk with nuclear-armed nations who may want the US not to launch a missile in retaliation depending on the nation the terrorists are in), and a defendable narrative related to US reactions.
A UN sanctioned attack has been authorized on a chemical weapons plant in a hostile country that is under the protection of a near-peer competitor to the US. Data sharing to confirm the plant is manufacturing chemicals and an interagency/inter-governmental link to ensure all UN coalition members have a clear understanding of what will occur and how to respond across multiple channels (military, diplomatic, regional, social media/cyber). An ability to “crack” deep fake videos and pictures to show what they were before modified along with accurate information on how the attack is occurring, why, and details on any potential second and third effects. Countering narratives while keeping credible information flowing (including if/when things do not go as planned and why) will be critical.
To further complicate the mission the adversary is throwing wrenches in the mix through counter-offensive operations to disrupt the mission, jamming communications signals, defensive mechanisms of their navy, army and air force.
Psychological & cyber warfare
The US is responding to a genocide crisis in a foreign country and is having success on the battlefield, However, the enemy has already posted tweets and doctored images and videos showing the exact opposite with US forces losing key points and high civilian casualties. Servicemen on the ground are getting calls from home that bank accounts have been closed or emptied and asking why social media posts from their accounts are showing pictures and posts that support the enemies cause and claims.
Further complicating planning for providing air support to the ground forces as they move into a city, civilian traffic is being intentionally diverted into their path through the management of lights and routing tools on smart navigation devices. Crowds are also gathering outside of friendly forces undisclosed locations due to media postings exposing their location and the fake images to garner hostile local responses. Some of the crowd sites identified also, in fact, are actual enemy locations and targets, the gathering crowd is unwittingly providing protection from the strike.
In each of these scenarios there are a number of similar needs:
The speed and accuracy of decision making and an ability to reiterate the decision loop quickly is paramount - good decisions at the edge is critical
There needs to be access to relevant and timely information and the ability to make meaningful decisions and false data needs to be filtered out
The ability to react to changing circumstances and the capability to synchronize efforts of unique entities across domains
How would World War II operations have been different if we had a 2019 capable MDO solution?
War Rooms with pieces of paper, giant maps on the wall, wooden representations of ships and planes pushed around… instead of:
Single commonly shared digital representation of the battlespace
Levels of detail in the digital representation are user selectable, Allied and Interagency Partner accessible with integrated security measures based on mission needs
Limited understanding of the enemy… instead of:
Satellites showing the actual positions
AI simulations making predictions of movements
The fusion of information into intelligence prior to operations beginning
VR simulation of the battlefield and operations to better train for attacks
Morse code and wireless (radio) communications and telegrams, pigeons… instead of:
Encrypted messaging across multiple methods
Information operations developing a message to counter false narratives
Using big data analytics and advanced crypto to crack enemy communications rapidly
Real-time global communications
Decision making on how to defend, disrupt and attack… instead of:
AI supports planning for the most optimal mission
Common operating pictures with timely, accurate information to enable leaders in making informed decisions
Decreased “discovery learning” by large organizations well after operations commence; reduction in friendly fire events
AI/ML automated processes to support rapid and better-informed decision making
Who could be using this system?
USAF, other military agencies, other government agencies in the US and allied forces
From frontline, “boots on the ground” service members all the way to senior leadership and laterally via shareable data to interagency partners to expand a “whole of country” approach
What will users say about the new system?
“We now have an integrated communication platform in real-time connecting all of our military and other government agencies.”
“Our decision-making has dramatically increased in both quality and speed.”
“I have all of the relevant information to allow me to make a decision presented to me in a way I can understand. It’s amazing!”
“It has been awesome to see the improvements in our mission effectiveness when all the key operators are in real-time communication with each other with an integrated lead driving the operation.”
“The speed of our most critical processes (e.g., targeting) has increased dramatically.”
“Most of our processes are now automated—allowing humans to focus on the broader, more important aspects of operations, rather than crunching numbers and doing busy work.”
Some government contracting terms and conditions
Announcement of AFWERX events that are considered to have high potential for further efforts that may be accomplished via FAR-based contracting instruments, Other Transaction Authority (OTA) for Prototype Projects 10 USC 2371b, Prizes for advanced technology achievements 10 USC 2374a, and/or Prize Competitions 15 USC 3719, may be made at the http://www.afwerxchallenge.com and/or https://afwerx.spigit.com.
All announcements made at the http://www.afwerxchallenge.com and/or https://afwerx.spigit.com website(s) are considered to satisfy the reasonable effort to obtain competition in accordance with 10 USC 2374a (b), 15 USC 3719 (e) and 10 USC 2371b (b)(2).
All FAR-based actions will follow announcement procedures per FAR 5.201(b) accordingly.