Interns Develop Software Tool for Air Operations

November 2018
MITRE Summer Interns
Fighter Plane Pilot Holding Throttle Wearing Helmet

When college students Ryan Vinh and Akhil Jacobs came to MITRE for a summer internship, they got a challenging assignment—help develop software for improving air tasking orders (ATO) for a military sponsor. ATOs organize air operations in a military environment to maximize efficiency and effectiveness while minimizing the dangers of having multiple types of air operations occurring in the same airspace. To accomplish this work, Vinh and Jacobs worked with MITRE’s Derek Lax. 

This project started shortly before Vinh and Jacobs began their summer internships. MITRE staff working for the sponsor suggested developing a software tool to automate the compilation of filtered ATO reports while also reducing the chances of inadvertently releasing sensitive information. The current method of modifying these daily reports was manually intensive and time consuming.

Lax, Vinh, and Jacobs took on the challenge of developing a prototype for automating these processes. Lax led the overall software development effort. Vinh, a junior at Princeton majoring in computer science, and Jacobs, a junior at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute majoring in computer systems engineering and computer science, wrote much of the code.

Time Spent Becomes Time Saved

Working together, the three-person team developed the prototype for an automated tool that reads the daily reports and parses them—and does it in a fraction of the time, eliminating human error. "What took roughly 30 minutes—assuming everything went well, which it didn't always—was reduced to between one and two minutes" using the new tool, Lax says.

Once they had a prototype done, Vinh and Jacobs helped present their findings to the sponsor. The team stayed in constant contact with the military end-user throughout the development period. This steady stream of user feedback afforded them valuable insight to adjust an existing feature or add a new feature using an Agile development methodology. In addition, software bugs were addressed during development. The entire effort took approximately three months.

Another aspect of this project was to use this tool development as an exemplar of the Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery toolchain used in MITRE's Networked Experimentation, Research, and Virtualization Environment (NERVE). The team introduced the prototype into the environment and successfully demonstrated how code changes could be easily introduced, tested and made ready for end-user inspection.

Making a Difference

The hard work of Lax, Vinh, and Jacobs paid off. With additional help from the sponsor, the tool received "Authority to Operate with conditions" and as of mid-June 2018 is being used in day-to-day operations.

Both Vinh and Jacobs are ecstatic about the hands-on experience they received during their internships at MITRE. "It really felt like I was making a difference in the real world," Jacobs says. Adds Vinh: "I never thought I would actually work on a project with so much impact and visibility. I never expected to help create something this summer that could be deployed to actual warfighters, let alone something that we would present to high-ranking officers!"

"They were both extremely bright and quick to learn," Lax says of the two. "They quickly adapted to the new tools. It was a pleasure to work with them."

–by Tom Nutile

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