In late July and early August of this year, America anxiously watched as – halfway across the globe – our country’s Department of Defense (DoD) worked tirelessly to evacuate more than 100,000 people from Afghanistan. This mission was a high-wire act – with incredibly high stakes and a short timeframe in which to operate, as the Taliban quickly gained control of Afghanistan and began to march on the capital of Kabul.
Having seen the photos and videos of the crowds and chaos at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Americans were well aware of the incredibly difficult and dangerous situation that was developing. What many don’t know is that mission success – and the rescue of thousands of individuals – was largely possible because of software.
Two applications – Slapshot and C2IMERA – that were created and deployed for the mission by the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s (AFLCMC) Detachment 12, which goes by the operational name, “Kessel Run,” played instrumental roles in enabling the coordination, planning, and tactical decision-making necessary to execute on this incredibly challenging and time-sensitive mission.
To learn more about Slapshot and C2IMERA, and how they were used in the evacuation of Afghanistan, we recently sat down with Staff Sgt. Gabriel Stines, the Slapshot tech lead with Kessel Run, which builds, tests, delivers, operates and maintains cloud-based infrastructure and warfighting software applications for use by Airmen worldwide.
Here is what Staff Sgt. Stines told us about these incredible applications:
GovDevSecOpsHub (GDSOH): In July and August of this year, the DoD had the difficult task of organizing and executing the airlift evacuation of more than 100K people out of Afghanistan. Why was this such a difficult, daunting job? Why is it so difficult to manage an operation like this?
Staff Sgt. Stines: Due to increasing threats by the Taliban and increased pressure to pull out all military forces in the area, our priority was to get American citizens, Afghans with special immigrant visa applications, and other vulnerable Afghans out of the country. That meant arranging safe transit for more than 124,000 Americans, U.S. personnel, Afghans, allies, and partners out of Kabul. To accomplish this, military aircraft were leaving every 45 minutes from the Hamid Karzai International Airport. Getting aircraft safely off the ground and into crowded airspace is not an easy or simple task. And not only were there logistical challenges regarding getting people out of Afghanistan, but also allocation and orchestration of follow-on locations for refugees.
Kessel Run’s applications were able to enhance the Air Force’s ability to conduct these operations by providing distilled, efficient views into the operations being conducted by coalition partners, thereby enabling faster decision making at all levels of the chain of command as the situation unfolded.
GDSOH: In the past, how would DoD senior leaders and decision-makers organize the complex scheduling and coordination of an evacuation effort like this? What technologies and visualization tools would they use? What shortcomings did this have? What problems would it create?
Staff Sgt. Stines: They mostly relied on spreadsheets and electronic documents, which often leads to significant amounts of duplicitous and stale data. In order to make a change to the planning picture, these spreadsheets would need to be copied, updated, and re-uploaded.
“Slapshot was used around the clock in operations, as well as to brief different American and coalition commanders, air traffic controllers, and even the Secretary of Defense and President of the United States.” – Staff Sgt. Stines
These shortcomings lead to data used by decision-makers not being streamlined, and difficult to organize. It was hard to seamlessly access it, it required phone calls, emails, messages, and so on. This also led to frequent mistakes due to human error.
GDSOH: What is Slapshot? What does this application do?
Staff Sgt. Stines: Slapshot enables mission planners to collaboratively make changes to a living, unified view of the Master Air Attack Plan. Despite its name, the Master Air Attack Plan also includes the sorts of mobility and humanitarian missions planned during this time frame.
The software was developed as a replacement to enter or pull data and perform quality checks that were normally manually performed by weapon system operators, or even pilots themselves in the field. This information is compiled to develop the Master Air Attack Plan.
GDSOH: How was Slapshot utilized in the withdrawal and evacuation activities in Afghanistan?
Staff Sgt. Stines: Slapshot served as the source-of-truth for U.S. and coalition partners’ mission planning. It provided situational awareness to decision-makers at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels — from Air Traffic Control (ATC) towers, to senior leaders in the Pentagon.
“Getting aircraft safely off the ground and into crowded airspace is not an easy or simple task. And not only were there logistical challenges regarding getting people out of Afghanistan, but also allocation and orchestration of follow-on locations for refugees.” – Staff Sgt. Stines
Slapshot was used around the clock in operations, as well as to brief different American and coalition commanders, air traffic controllers, and even the Secretary of Defense and President of the United States.
GDSOH: What is C2IMERA? What does this application do?
Staff Sgt. Stines: C2IMERA, which stands for “Command and Control Incident Management Emergency Response Application,” is an application focused on reporting, planning, force generation, emergency management, and command and control monitoring and execution.
C2IMERA is used in more than 40 Air Force installations, with another 20 installations scheduled to onboard the capability before the end of the year. It is a wing command and control (C2) capability used to provide an integrated composite picture of installation resources.
GDSOH: What role did C2IMERA play in the withdrawal and evacuation activities in Afghanistan?
Staff Sgt. Stines: Kessel Run was able to update the C2IMERA software in a four-day period; enabling real-time, theater-wide awareness of key logistics and NEO support information. This provided aggregated views of base-level data for decision-making and understanding of the operational environment.
These abilities were delivered to Air Forces Central Command (AFCENT) and encompassed more than 650 new user accounts.
GDSOH: The use of both C2IMERA and Slapshot in this operation involved making rapid changes or updates to the applications. It also involved quickly troubleshooting problems and pushing fixes live. What enabled Kessel Run and its industry partners to do this quickly and effectively?
Staff Sgt. Stines: The relationship between our embedded LNOs, site reliability engineers and platform operators working hand-in-hand with users in deployed locations, along with the technical expertise here stateside enabled identifying and mitigating these problems in an efficient manner.
“Kessel Run was able to update the C2IMERA software in a four-day period; enabling real-time, theater-wide awareness of key logistics and NEO support information. This provided aggregated views of base-level data for decision-making and understanding of the operational environment.” – Staff Sgt. Stines
Making a code change and releasing it in less than a day is something that we practice often. Our path to production is always open, and we’re able to deliver operational capabilities as soon as the need is identified.
GDSOH: With tools like C2IMERA and Slapshot being mission-critical in this important operation, I would assume that security was of paramount importance. How does the DevSecOps methodology employed by Kessel Run and its industry partners help to keep its applications secure? In addition to its DevOps approach to development, what tooling and technologies is Kessel Run using to help harden and secure these applications during development?
Staff Sgt. Stines: Security is highly important when developing and iterating on our applications at Kessel Run.
We apply industry best practices in regard to application and platform security continuously, so that when we need to get new capabilities in front of warfighters, we can be confident that they are as secure as possible.
To learn more about Slapshot, click HERE. To learn more about C2IMERA, click HERE.