JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas (AFNS) —
Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, has been on a continuous innovation journey to become the Installation of the Future since Hurricane Michael devastated the installation in 2018.
The Air Force Civil Engineer Center’s Natural Disaster Recovery Division has been at the forefront of implementing new technologies to reshape the installation into a model of adaptability, efficiency and sustainability for the Department of the Air Force and Department of Defense. Established in 2021 by the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center, AFCEC’s NDR leads the Tyndall AFB Program Management Office.
For Lowell Usrey, the NDR’s Integration Branch chief, innovation isn’t a destination but a mindset when rebuilding an installation at a cost of approximately $4.9 billion.
“If you think about the term ‘Installation of the Future,’ it’s always something else,” Usrey said. “It’s an attitude as much as it is a process. You really have to have the mindset that what you currently have simply isn’t good enough anymore. You have to be thinking: ‘How do you improve?’”
“There’s a whole spectrum of things that we’ve done at Tyndall that are going to make us the installation of the future,” Usrey added.
The rebuild took a big step forward when the PMO deployed the Installation Resilience Operations Center, known as IROC. The IROC serves as Tyndall AFB’s digital “nervous system,” connecting sensors and systems together to break down information silos that impede the rapid decision making required.
“IROC connects and fuses data from a multitude of operational technology sensors and facility-related control systems on an installation to enhance situational awareness for emergency responders and optimize routine facility maintenance,” Usrey said.
IROC also allows cybersecure sharing of information, said 2nd Lt. Nicholas Cap, NDR innovation element chief.
“If something gets updated in another system during, God forbid a hurricane, we can see it in the systems we currently use,” Cap said. “It would be a huge help for us to get the right information at the right time.”
While IROC serves as the installation’s digital nerve center and eyes, the Digital Twin Hololab serves as the lens into what IROC will share, Cap said.
“The Digital Twin provides an advancement as a first-of-its-kind, full-scale digital representation of an Air Force base, ‘twinned’ to real-world inventory and systems, while the Hololab is the place where Airmen can interact with the model using virtual reality goggles or computer screen,” Cap said. “Operators have the ability to view real-time condition of assets and run scenarios simulating extreme weather, active-shooter exercises and explore the best use of facilities.”
For example, the Digital Twin allows an installation to simulate a hurricane, without having to experience it, and assess what the effects would be, Cap said. “If there are things that we can do to prepare, we can run that simulation and be proactive as opposed to reactive.”
Cap added there is overlap between mission support functions such as civil engineering and security forces, and technologies such as autonomous lawn mowers are force multipliers that could be used across the installation and accomplish the mission more effectively and efficiently.
The Tyndall Rebuild Autonomous Vegetation Improvement System, or TRAVIS, will help reduce risk of bird strike hazards to aircraft in critical and noncritical flightline areas, Usrey said.
“It can be programmed to run a specific route over a specific time to maintain vegetation in a way that you decrease your bird aircraft strike hazard,” Usrey said. “You don’t have to worry about overtime or bringing in folks in a certain time of day. The system runs whenever you want it to.”
To ensure installation security, the PMO is partnering with Digital Force Technologies for state-of-the-art video surveillance cameras known as the Force Protection Kit, Ghost Robotics on quadrupedal-unmanned ground vehicles – or robot dogs – and zero eyes on weapons detection systems.
The Force Protection Kit is a family of infrared cameras, ground-based radar and laser-range finders tied together by an artificial intelligence core that then feed back into an installation’s fire department emergency control center. Instead of having 50 to 100 cameras securing a large outdoor area and an operator manually cycling through and controlling those cameras, a security forces squadron can install a handful of cameras in different spots and an operator can automate the tracking detection, said Staff Sgt. Nicholas Murphy, technology and innovation noncommissioned officer with Tyndall AFB’s 325th Security Forces Squadron.
“It definitely makes the job easier because as most security forces units do, we work 12-hour shifts,” Murphy said. “It reduces cognitive overload. Essentially, the operator doesn’t have to think as much. The camera does all the thinking and operators pay attention to it when there’s pertinent information being presented when the camera is moving to observe something new.”
The robot dogs add an extra level of protection for installations and can operate in extreme weather conditions and terrain, Usrey said.
“The dogs have nine sensors that create 360-degree situational awareness and can operate in temperatures that range from minus 40 degrees to 131 degrees Fahrenheit that enable them to augment patrols,” Usrey said.
Artificial intelligence is also the central component that layers on to a camera feed in the weapons detection system, Usrey added, and the camera system and AI are designed to detect weapons on a person.
“Right now, the system is primarily focused on an actual firearm,” Usrey said. “Over time, these systems will get better as the artificial intelligence algorithms improve. It’ll be able to start scanning faces and determine what kind of mood the person is in, whether the person has aggressive intent or is happy.”
Another technology that excites Usrey is a painted fiber-optic line that serves as a detection system along unmanned flightlines and connects facilities and infrastructure without having to trench or dig up concrete or asphalt.
“You can literally paint this line right on the pavement and it can be deployed in a perimeter capacity,” Usrey said. “It’s sensitive enough to tell you what is coming across the perimeter and where the breach is along the painted line.”
Usrey said the PMO is also implementing an Engineering with Nature initiative to help improve Tyndall AFB’s resilience to natural disasters similar to Hurricane Michael and protect the 129 miles of coastline between the installation and the Gulf of Mexico.
“We have barrier islands that form our first line of defense,” Usrey said. “We’re developing projects to strengthen those islands to help improve soil cohesion and prevent erosion. When a storm surges, they can absorb some of the impact. We’re implementing improvements to increase nature’s ability to resist detrimental effects of storms adding some insurance to help protect the $4.9 billion investment.”