Analysts operate a number of software applications to develop intelligence assessments and reports. By utilizing technical strengths and familiarity with these applications to execute missions, the 497th Intelligence, Reconnaissance and Surveillance Group here has implemented a Software Development Team.
The SDT is a venture that creates software solutions for in-house problems analysts face, and is staffed by a mixture of Airmen from various Air Force Specialty Codes throughout the group.
“We know software is a weapon we are going to use to win tomorrow’s wars, and by creating, tweaking, perfecting or inventing, we can win that war here with our mission operators,” said 1st Lt. Jason Rimer, 10th Intelligence Squadron flight commander. “Currently, we have to farm out [issues] to the defense industry, which take time and cost money. Sometimes, we just needed a simple tool, but [until recently] we had no way to do that internally.”
The SDT was stood up in 2018, and was the first of its kind in the enterprise. Airmen used the model from a training course and changed it to fit their need.
“Originally, Distributed Ground Station-1 placed several smart coding Airmen in the Innovation Lab under the concept that they would solve these types of problems,” said Senior Master Sgt. Daniel Flees, 497th ISRG innovations superintendent. “It was quickly discovered that Airmen working solo on software projects was not a sustainable model, and the idea failed. During this time however, DGS-1 sent several Airmen to work with commercial industry professionals for six months to develop software. They brought back lessons learned from that experience, and used it to pitch and then build the SDT.”
Through a partnership with National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the group we discovered how to accredit web applications within a week instead of one or two years, according to Rimer.
“Now we are cutting contracts and cost from years and millions of dollars to weeks, months and thousands,” he said.
Team members use unclassified, open source software and create coding to improve and meet mission needs. Additionally, they run thousands of tests to make sure developments are secure. If the software passes the tests, the SDT can push codes and updates to weapons system.
By fighting through adversity and applying proper procedures, the SDT made their goals a reality.
“I am surprised we lasted this long because it was a hard fought win,” said Rimer. “We did not think we would push our first code because the accreditation pipeline takes so long; we thought we would make it to the very first year and not even have our first application in the hands of operators, but instead already generated two.”
Since its inception, the SDT developed and delivered two applications to the operations floor. The first was Black Pearl, a dynamic and interactive crew webpage that vastly improved previous webpage functionality and reduced mission preparation time by 90 percent. The second was Fritz, a tool which automates the renaming and uploading of JPEG files, saving full motion video mission operators’ time in fulfilling routine task orders.
“Roughly 140 daily active users are on the Black Pearl daily,” added Rimer. “Additionally, people have used our tools to navigate more than 55,000 times, which means our website has been visited 18,000 times and used on mission. Fritz has only been around for a month, and we have used it on 78 missions, saving 34 minutes per mission [on average] for users. Seeing this data makes me believe that we are making a difference, and did not just build something for the sake of building – that makes me proud of my team and the great work they are doing.”
Innovations such as this allow the 497th ISRG to continue improving weapon systems and providing warfighters with the most timely and critical intelligence available.