Air Force Looks to AI to Help Maintain Bombers, ICBMs


The United States Air Force Global Strike Command will deploy artificial intelligence technology to increase the reliability of its nuclear bombers and ICBMs, expanding its partnership with Virtualitics, a provider of AI and data mining software and services.

From its headquarters at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, Global Strike Command oversees the nation’s nuclear-capable strategic bomber fleet, including the B-1B Lancer, B-2 Spirit, and B-52 Stratofortress bombers, as well as three Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles ( ICBM) missile wings.

The Global Strike Command was created in 2008 as a major command of the US Air Force and a continuation of the Strategic Air Command following a series of incidents in which nuclear warheads and vehicle assemblies were mistakenly loaded onto aircraft. Now, the entire Air Force nuclear arsenal (which accounts for two-thirds of the US military’s total nuclear arsenal) is handled through Global Strike Command.

Maintaining mission readiness and the ability to project power is at the core of all branches of the US military, and Global Strike Command is no different. But with an aging and complex fleet of aircraft and the need to manage nuclear assets, not to mention the strategic nature of the mission, ensuring mission readiness takes on the unique flavor of Global Strike Command.

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Global Strike Command’s “mission capable” score is a key indicator of the health and readiness of its aircraft fleet. The USAF, along with other military branches, have been trying to improve this metric for years, but have actually lost ground.

A 2020 report by the Government Accountability Office highlighted key readiness challenges with aircraft across the military. None of the three bombers that make up the air component of the nuclear triad had a passing grade. The B-2 Spirit—a relative infant with only 25 years of service in the fleet—achieved mission capability in six of the 11 years between 2011 and 2021. The B-52, which the USAF began flying in 1954, hit the mark. three out of 11 years, while the B-1B, deployed in 1986, encountered it only once.

From bottom to top, B-2s, B-1Bs, and B-52s fly in formation over the Sierra Nevada (photo courtesy USAF)

The GAO report marked almost all of the aircraft as mission failures. “We looked at 49 types of military aircraft and found that only four types met their annual mission readiness goals from FY 2011 to FY 2021 — an overall decline over time,” GAO wrote. According to a 2020 article, the GAO report highlighted problems with the B-1B, including unscheduled maintenance, as well as spare parts shortages and delays that exacerbate the lack of maintenance. Air Force Times.

Virtuality began its relationship with Global Strike Command three years ago under a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract, and the relationship has grown since then. The Pasadena, Calif.-based company announced this week that it will further expand its partnership to build a center of excellence with Global Strike Command as part of a plan to expand its use of AI.

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The goal is to use AI’s predictive capability to increase aircraft availability and the overall mission readiness of the ICBM fleet. To that end, Virtualitics will assist Global Strike Command in specific areas including predictive maintenance, inventory management, supply chain optimization and manpower resource allocation.

Virtuality tells Datanami that it will provide dashboards and analysis tools for direct use by USAF airmen. “We offer training for analysts who want to learn more about the development and analysis of the platform, but no training is required to use the system,” the company says.

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The system will suggest which parts need to be replaced and provide “clear written explanations of why the algorithm recommends replacing those parts,” the company says. “The models will also take into account the supply chain impact of these recommendations and the constraints of maintainers’ schedules, thereby optimizing these recommendations.”

Predictive maintenance will be a game changer for commanders on the ground to keep those aircraft and ICBMs ready to do the job, said Maj. Gen. Jeff Taliaferro of the U.S. Air Force (Ret).

“Virtualics enables not only improved day-to-day decisions, but more importantly deployment decisions,” Taliaferro said in a press release. “Knowing in advance that an aircraft will require major repairs before deployment allows for much better decisions that could save missions and millions of taxpayer dollars.”

Virtualitics is developing an AI platform called Intelligent Exploration that uses AI and machine learning to make sense of data, including detecting correlations and anomalies. The software has a visualization component and uses “plain language” explanations to help users understand what it does. The company has clients in life sciences, technology, financial services and government.

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