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Newly unveiled: LaunchPad enterprise software

The Digital Transformation Office recently hosted a webinar event to formally introduce LaunchPad, a groundbreaking software platform that provides Airmen and Guardians with free, easy, and secure access to cloud-based tools. More than 500 members of the DAF workforce participated to learn about LaunchPad’s origins, current capabilities, and forward-looking roadmap. Be sure to check out the full recording here (password: LaunchPad2023!).

The Urgency for Digital Transformation

To kick off the event, Robert Fookes, AFMC director of engineering and technical management, emphasized the urgent need for digital transformation, highlighting unprecedented challenges posed by near-peer adversaries. Mr. Fookes commented, “In order to outpace China and continue to deliver our own winning capabilities, we as a command—and across the Air Force and Space Force—need to radically accelerate development, production, sustainment, and modernization of our aircraft and weapon systems, and space system platforms.”

The key lever in this strategy is the widespread adoption of Digital Materiel Management (DMM), which LaunchPad plays into as a component of broader efforts to expand access to system and process modeling tools, design tools, and analytics tools across all functional disciplines.

Mr. Fookes issued a call-to-action to webinar attendees, urging them to explore how LaunchPad can improve their day-to-day work experiences and longer term outcomes: “On a personal level, I think you’ll find that it can significantly impact your activities in a positive way, cutting out some of the frustration you may have been experiencing and making your job more fulfilling. More broadly, I think you’ll see how the platform aids in your execution of the DMM strategies across your program offices, enhancing the problem solving and decision making process.”

How LaunchPad was Born

Following comments by Mr. Fookes, Christen Walden, LaunchPad Lead, provided insights into the platform’s origins. Recognizing the barriers faced by programs attempting to access essential tools like Cameo, TeamWork Cloud, and DOORS, LaunchPad emerged as a cost-effective, cloud-based solution, removing silos and promoting collaboration.

But it began as a sandbox with very limited funding; it was initially conceived as a place where digital doers could “park” while they built their own solutions. The DTO soon realized how inefficient that approach would be in the long run. Rather than providing capabilities and having programs pay, the team went a step further and set its sights on removing all of the barriers Airmen and Guardians were experiencing on the path to going digital.

Ms. Walden commented, “We partnered with the Digital Platform as a Service (DPaaS) office out of AFLCMC/HNII, which has been an amazing partner in building this solution. We wouldn’t have been able to do this without them.”

By proactively sharing input with the DTO, DAF digital doers helped refine the LaunchPad concept. That led to a decision made by AFMC Commander General Richardson to fund the platform, closing the gaps we currently have in our tool access.

Ms. Walden emphasized the impact early users have had in shaping the platform’s development: “I want to thank everyone who’s been part of our beta group over the last several months since we first began testing this concept. Many of you offered input and support to get LaunchPad off the ground. We appreciate your patience and willingness to help build the solution you want to use today and in the future.”

A Fast-Growing User Base

DAF DTO Workforce and Engagement Lead Elizabeth Loiacono, another integral member of the LaunchPad team, delved into the platform’s current capabilities and user demographics. She noted that, since its soft rollout began earlier this year, LaunchPad has already registered more than 650 users from 175 different organizations, across 125 project spaces. “This shows that people are collaborating in common spaces with the help of LaunchPad—something that was really hard to do in the past,” said Ms. Loiacono. 

Having over 175 organizations in LaunchPad has saved the DAF over $50 million in cost appointments because these organizations didn’t have to set up their own environments. A diverse user breakdown, spanning various DAF organizations and including the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), shows the platform’s strong potential for cross-service collaboration.

Ms. Loiacono discussed LaunchPad’s current tool lineup in detail:

She also shared a number of platform improvements completed over the past several months. These include establishing a formal process for requesting a LaunchPad account, implementing data segregation, creating a user’s guide, developing permission groups, kicking off a monthly user community forum, and moving to 24/7 uptime. A number of other upgrades are currently in the works.

How the Platform Works

For webinar attendees who hadn’t yet accessed LaunchPad, DAF DTO Process Automation Lead Noah “Odie” Demerly performed a live demo shedding light on the process. He also shared his own story about how LaunchPad saved him a significant amount of time and toil in his work on digital airworthiness.

While Mr. Demerly was working to digitalize MIL-HDBK-516C—what’s known as the digital airworthiness bible—he realized that manually tracing criteria in the handbook to artifact requirements (needed to show compliance for each of the criteria) would have taken him over 6 weeks to complete. With LaunchPad, leveraging both DOORS and Cameo, he was able to automate a lot of the work and slash time spent making 11,000 connections between criteria and various artifacts down to about 10 minutes using a link-by-attribute feature in DOORS.

“I’m so thankful for the power of LaunchPad and its ability to help us automate, innovate, and digitalize our work within the enterprise,” said Mr. Demerly.

Michael “Frood” Schneider, Human Autonomy Teaming Tech Expert for the Medium Altitude UAS Program Office, and Robert McDonald from B-52 Commercial Engine Replacement Program (CERP), also shared accounts of their positive experiences with LaunchPad.

The Road Ahead

With a robust roadmap in place, LaunchPad is set to further evolve. Ms. Walden provided context around milestones slated through FY25:

DTO Chief Kyle Hurst closed out the program, circling back to the DAF’s strategic imperative to accelerate acquisition timelines, noting, “Our average fielding timelines are 16-17 years and getting longer, whereas China’s are at less than half that at about 7 years.” If used to its full potential, LaunchPad will help enable the DAF to deliver superior capabilities at the speed of relevance.

Mr. Hurst underscored that LaunchPad has a funding profile to grow and scale, and decisions will be based on user demand and input: “The more we’re aware of what the community needs, the better this environment is going to be.”

How to Join the Platform

Interested Airmen and Guardians should first complete this form and request LaunchPad access. Requesters will typically be onboarded within 2-4 weeks, and are then invited to attend a monthly touch base, join the Teams site, and reference a dedicated user’s guide for support. LaunchPad users are encouraged to provide feedback and submit new tool requests by reaching out at [email protected]


When will IL-6 be available?

If you’re not already part of an IL-6 pilot group, you should be able to anticipate availability in Jan/Feb of 2024.

What’s the plan to keep up with the latest software versions, for tools that are already in the LaunchPad environment?

We’re actively working on a plan to manage software versions. We’ll always trail the latest version a bit because of the need to manage risk through the cyber process. We’re striving to be as up-to-date as we can. We’ll also develop a plan for software versioning that will allow users time to move from one version to another if needed.

How many licenses are available for each of the current tools?

This will be based on user demand, not percentage of users in the environment. In FY24, we’ll introduce a license management tracker, to make sure we have enough licenses to meet the demand for tools, without overbuying.

When will Jira and Confluence be available for LaunchPad?

Timing is still TBD. We’re committed to providing a secure environment and respecting user data, so are currently working with the cyber team on plans to mitigate any potential risks. We’ll share more info when we have a better sense of the timeline.

Will web-based tools be hosted within the environment or externally?

Hosting for web-based tools is a use case being considered for LaunchPad 2.0.

What kind of training is offered?

The DTO is working with various partners across the DAF, including AFIT and DAU, to offer training for each individual tool, and we plan to offer badges for completion using Badger. We’ll be looking to the user community for input on what classes you’d like to take and any recommendations you have. We anticipate most of our training offerings will be free. Recommended training will be available on the LaunchPad teams site starting in January 2024. 

What’s the plan to scale users inside of LaunchPad?

We’re not currently limiting how many users from a project space can join LaunchPad. When we initially rolled out the platform, we kept it to small groups. Now we’ve opened that up so you can invite DAF colleagues to join you in the environment.

Can contractors get access to LaunchPad?

Yes, currently on two conditions. First, they must have a CAC (because we’re at IL-5). We’re working on pilots to get around the CAC requirement; however, that requires a longer lead time. Second, users cannot claim IP rights. We’re not ready to open this up to OEMs to have them in the same environment. We have a lot of growth and re-architecture to do before then.

How do I get data in and out of LaunchPad?

DoD SAFE is currently the primary method. We know it’s not efficient enough, so we’re working on alternatives we can deploy to the masses that will be available to IL-5 and IL-6 in FY24.

What are the data storage limits per user?

We don’t have a limit for data storage; however, we’re striving to NOT be an Authoritative Source of Truth. We want to leverage other environments like AF-PLM and the DAF BIG 6. If LaunchPad ever needs to serve as a data source, we’ll determine governance at that time.

Can LaunchPad push data from different security domains?

We have cross-domain sharing built into the requirements for FY25 and beyond. These solutions are not only infrastructure but also data. They take time to develop and implement, and will be rolled out incrementally, both in classification level and data type. LaunchPad is partnering with the higher classification level solutions so that when they become available across the enterprise, LaunchPad will support data transport as needed by users. As of now, LaunchPad is only slated to deliver an Il-5 and IL-6 solution. We’re partnering with other teams to work on higher classification levels.

What’s the LaunchPad team doing with other environments, such as AF-PLM?

Our plan in FY25 and beyond is to start connecting with other environments. We realize the larger enterprise needs more than a single environment; LaunchPad alone won’t solve all of our problems. We’ll be working with PLM starting in January to map out what a PLM-LaunchPad integration would look like.

What are action steps to increase USSF digital transformation engagement? 

Because LaunchPad is built off of DPaaS, there are several Space Systems Command (SSC) programs that are already customers at the IL-5 and IL-6 level. So it should be seamless to start scaling LaunchPad for Space Force, and we have some upcoming conversations scheduled with leadership to help make that happen. 

How does LaunchPad’s funding work?

Hon Hunter is internally reallocating funds for FY25 and beyond. In prior years, Gen Richardson has provided AFMC/CC management reserve funds to establish the environment.

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