BAE Systems’ mission planning autonomy software transitions from DARPA to U.S. Air Force

Early research and development project rapidly evolves into USAF program of record.
BAE Systems autonomy-based mission planning software transitions from DARPA to the U.S. Air Force.

When the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) put out the call for innovative, next-generation, autonomy-based mission planning technology, BAE Systems’ FAST Labs™ research and development organization answered. After a highly successful multi-phase program, that mission-critical technology is now quickly transitioning to be deployed by the U.S. Air Force.

DIRECT from RSPACE: Our DIRECT software (Distributed, Interactive, Command-and-Control Tool) was developed under a previously announced contract with DARPA as part of the agency’s Resilient Synchronized Planning and Assessment for the Contested Environment (RSPACE) program. The program’s mission is to improve the resiliency of air mission planning for the military by providing decision aids backed by human-centered artificial intelligence that can help air operators better control daily operations in a complex battlespace.

“Over the course of just a few years, our DIRECT autonomy technology has proven itself to be deployment-ready and will serve as the key mission planning system for the Air Force,” said Chris Eisenbies, product line director of FAST Labs’ Autonomy, Control, and Estimation at BAE Systems. “This unusually rapid transition from DARPA to the U.S. Air Force marks a significant milestone in the ongoing maturation of autonomy technology.”

DIRECT software impact to battle management: Our DIRECT software was designed to improve air battlespace awareness. Using assessment analytics, the software provides an easy-to-use visual interface to generate real-time alerts so operators can evaluate and prioritize areas of concern during the planning and execution of a mission. The software also dynamically adjusts to limited and unreliable communications to ensure mission continuity. The ability to be able to request specific data points from specific sensors within a highly distributed setting enables the DIRECT software to stitch together a more cohesive view of the environment that minimizes how much communications bandwidth is required by orders of magnitude over what traditional tactical data links require.

During the DARPA program, our DIRECT software successfully completed a number of key milestones, including multiple live demonstrations using operational units and data in the Air Force’s own Air Operations Center (AOC) environment. Our ability to leverage an autonomy portfolio that is backed by 20 years of expertise has contributed to the success of the program.

The transition: develop, disrupt, and deploy

We worked through the Air Force Lifecycle Management Center’s Kessel Run initiative to enhance and accelerate the delivery of this mission-critical software. We became the first vendor to successfully transition technology through this process, marking a significant advancement in the ongoing mission of rapid technology acquisition. In fact, the speed of this transition from DARPA program to USAF in less than five years and at a total cost of approximately $13 million is transformative. It highlights our ability to develop innovative technology and disrupt the acquisition process while remaining laser-focused on deploying core technology to our warfighters faster.