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Air Force targets the Millennium Falcon on the Kessel Run

May 12, 2018

The United States Air Force on May 7 opened its Kessel Run Experimentation Lab at the WeWork shared innovation space in Boston’s North End, where Air Force active-duty personnel and civilians will build the next generation of combat software. The space, writes Benjamin Newell, 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs, “…is usually home to constantly shifting startup companies, but listen closely to the T-shirt-and-jeans-wearing Airmen now milling around its fully-stocked kitchenette. Instead of compound annual growth rate, or return on investment, they use terms like kill chain integration and battle damage assessment.”

He quotes Maj. Gen. Sarah Zabel, the Air Force’s director of Information Technology Acquisition Process Development at the Pentagon, as saying, “It’s one thing to say you’re going to do business differently. But look around and you can see that these Airmen are learning. They’re building actual products, and they’re writing the book on how to be combat engineers for the information age.”

The Kessel team is working with Pivotal Inc. and TDMK Digital in an effort to leverage commercial software-development technology to drastically speed up projects. “Kessel Run” alludes to a boast by Star Wars smuggler Han Solo that his ship the Millennium Falcon had made the Kessel Run in under 12 parsecs. (If you are wondering why Solo referred to a unit of distance when a unit of time seems called for, see here.)

Hiawatha Bray at The Boston Globe quotes Air Force Captain Bryon Kroger, chief operating officer of the new lab, as saying, “It was this running joke that we were going to smuggle this new software-development capability into the Air Force in 12 parsecs or less. It’s the shortest way to get from Point A to Point B.”

Bray explains that the new lab grew from an Air Force project with Pivotal to develop software to manage the deployment of refueling tankers. “Typically, it can take five years for a branch of the U.S. military to develop and deploy new software,” he reports. “The Air Force-Pivotal team built the refueling app in four months.”

Bray writes that the current lab can accommodate about 90 engineers, with plans calling for a move next year to a space able to accommodate abut 300.

Newell at the Air Force quotes Zabel as saying, “No matter where these Airmen are working, they’re working for combatant commanders and warfighters. You can count on these Airmen to be in contact with the warfighter’s edge, and to see where a difference can be made. They can see and articulate what needs to change, and they have the will, and now the experience, to see it done.”

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