The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) in Rome, N.Y., wants to revolutionize air operations planning through the use of artificial intelligence and interactive gaming, a joining that AFRL believes could lead to a drastic reduction in Air Tasking Order (ATO) planning time at Air Operations Centers (AOC).

AFRL is seeking industry ideas on ways to reduce such planning time under the Fight Tonight program.

The latter “will develop tools that enable human users to work in collaboration with artificial intelligence to conduct air combat planning within 4 hours and incrementally conduct re-planning in minutes, while simultaneously exploring the trade-off between multiple options and their expected outcomes,” a federal business notice said last month. “Additionally, Fight Tonight will develop tools that optimize the role of the humans and machines – humans provide deep insight and creativity, while machines excel at reasoning over constraints and generating a detailed analysis of available options.”

Awards under the $99 million five-year Broad Agency Announcement for Fight Tonight could range from $3 million to $40 million.

“The U.S. military air combat planning process has evolved to require hundreds of experts working in concert to develop the plan needed to conduct military operations and fulfill commander’s intent,” last month’s notice said. “The future operating environment is expected to feature more mobile and fleeing targets that demand greater agility in planning to support execution. Hostilities against a peer adversary will likely demand a high sortie rate due to the speed of conflict and a potential numerical disadvantage. Current planning processes are generally serial and provide limited opportunity for sufficient analysis of options, requiring time-consuming plan adjustment and repair as conditions evolve during execution. While current processes generate efficient plans under controlled conditions, the pace and scale of future conflicts threaten to exceed current planning pace and required flexibility.”

Last May, U.S. Air Forces Central’s (AFCENT) 609th AOC at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar became the first AOC to use the service-developed Kessel Run All Domain Operations Suite (KRADOS), a cloud-based system to plan and execute ATOs under the Master Air Attack Plan (Defense Daily, May 17, 2021).

The federal business notice by AFRL last month for the Fight Tonight program said that the 36 hours needed to develop the Master Air Attack Plan at AOCSs “reduces agility in competition with peer adversaries.”

Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s (AFLCMC) Detachment 12—the Air Force’s Kessel Run software development office—created KRADOS’ nine applications to replace the nearly three-decade old Theater Battle Management Core System (TBMCS), which began development in 1994.

In April 2017, Lockheed Martin [LMT] received a $38 million contract to sustain TBMCS, which has coordinated flights of aircraft and missiles for the military services at more than 100 locations globally. AOCs contain dozens of systems that TBMCS is to enable to give shared situational awareness to the military services.

KRADOS is to speed the ATO process through the automation of planning previously done manually or through isolated systems or applications.

In November 2020, the 609th AOC told Kessel Run that TBMCS “continues to give us problems” and asked Kessel Run to accelerate KRADOS development, and Kessel Run delivered the initial version of KRADOS three weeks after receiving the request from the 609th AOC, per Kessel Run.

Lockheed Martin said last June that it is collaborating with the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center to ensure KRADOS is able to process data from TBMCS via Lockheed Martin’s Wolfpack cloud-based software delivery application gateway.

AFCENT has said that, since 2017, the 609th AOC has been using applications from Kessel Run, including KRADOS, Jigsaw–a tanker planning application, and Slapshot, which builds the Master Air Attack Plan.

AOC leaders believe that KRADOS may eventually be able to plan, build and execute the ATO independently without the Master Air Attack Planning Toolkit or TBMCS.