Louisiana Tech University continues to be integral to the United States Department of Defense in new ways, this time by rapidly developing and instituting a daily report consisting of infection rate projections based on a refined and tailored COVID-19 Susceptible, Exposed, Infected, Resistant (SEIR) model.
The daily analysis and reporting resulted from a partnership between Tech, the Cyber Innovation Center (CIC), data analytics enterprise Virtualitics Inc., and Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) — responsible for two-thirds of the nation’s nuclear weapons — at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. These projections and this method can be used in the future to positively impact how communities respond to outbreaks like COVID-19.
Most importantly, it has helped Air Force officials at Barksdale and beyond with decision-making during the pandemic.
Louisiana Tech Associate Vice President and Eminent Scholar Dr. Sumeet Dua is leading the effort with his recent doctoral graduate Dr. John Mapes, designing and developing comprehensive COVID-19 pandemic spread models for about 59 AFGSC and Air Combat Command bases around the nation. They receive regular feedback and requests from a variety of stakeholders within the Air Force as they continue to refine and parameterize the models to become more sensitive and specific to the Air Force needs.
“It has been a privilege to work on this project and be of service to our nation’s Air Force,” Dua said. “The data analytics challenges of COVID-19 pandemic spread modeling is complex, multifaceted, and continue to evolve. We are glad to have cultivated meaningful insights for our partners at the USAF. This project has reinforced my belief in the continued value of research and partnerships for societal outcomes to be at the vanguard of a University’s broader impact agenda.”
The combination of the military, academia, and industry is the focus of the new STRIKEWERX, described by the Air Force as “the command’s official storefront to traditional and non-traditional industry partners, to include small businesses, start-ups, and academia. The innovation center at the Cyber Innovation Center in Bossier City will provide an “outside-the-fence venue to engage and collaborate with non-DoD partners in new and efficient ways.”
At the STRIKEWERX ribbon cutting in Bossier City May 28, Gen. Timothy Ray, Commander, AFGSC and Commander, Air Forces Strategic – Air, U.S. Strategic Command, had this to say about the partnership with Tech and how it has kept the Air Force a step ahead of COVID-19.
“We as a command were very aggressive in thinking about this problem, and we understood that we needed to do some better thinking about what was going on around us,” Ray said. “We teamed with Louisiana Tech and they began to help us with the modeling of what was happening for all of our bases in Global Strike Command. We’ve had unprecedented, commanding insights of what the virus was doing outside our gates. Each of our commanders had a fantastic set of insights and data that could tell them exactly what they needed to do. And we were able, as a command, to absolutely write the playbook for how the Air Force was going to handle COVID.
“We’ve received high praise from our Chief and Secretary and from the Chairman and Secretary of Defense about how well this command — with such a critical mission — performed brilliantly through COVID. Never faltered, never failed,” he said. “But it was absolutely aided by the data analytics of our teammates at Louisiana Tech. So that was huge. I believe there are more chapters like this we can write.”
As Ray alluded, Dua and Mapes began by modeling virus infections in counties surrounding the command’s 10 main operating locations to determine the local spread of the virus, which could also impact readiness and force posture. The goal was to provide current and accurate data informed by subject matter experts, which has aided command and installation leadership in decision making and determining how to best plan for operations now and in the future — regardless of what the virus does.
Each day, COVID-19 data from Air Force operational channels, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and John Hopkins University are provided to the Louisiana Tech researchers. They analyze, filter, structure the data to use as input for their specifically tailored spread model, analyze the data for insights, and generate the daily reports in the format most useful to the Air Force.
These reports are then disseminated to AFGSC, ACC, and AFNORTH for leaders to review the data and understand changes in current and projected situations at 59 bases and their communities within the respective commands.
This rapid and agile response capability was only made possible by AFGSC’s previously established partnerships through its Partnership Intermediary Agreement (PIA) with the CIC. Conversations between AFGSC, Tech, and Virtualitics Inc. started March 24, with the first report and modeling of 10 AFGSC bases and the Bossier City and Shreveport communities being generated just days later on March 26.
This endeavor is only one example of the command’s goal to innovate and use data to make the command more lethal and ready, providing the right impacts at the right time.
“We are beginning to experience the immense value, agility, and potential of our innovation partners responding to unprecedented and unforeseen planning needs,” said Dr. Donna Senft, AFGSC Chief Scientist “The command is ready and eager to continue channeling this potential into other innovative efforts with a forward leaning posture to stay at the innovation forefront.”
New bonds have been forged in scientific and technical relationships inside the Air Force, specifically in this command which launched a new strategy focused on innovation. Since inception, the model projections are being used to also support Air Combat Command and Air Forces Northern leadership teams in understanding virus spread patterns and determining response measures. The novel coronavirus outbreak is a faceless enemy that AFGSC, ACC and AFNORTH is modeling and reporting on a united front.
“We cannot wait for the virus to slow down so we can take our time developing tools. We must use the best information available to us now to maintain readiness and keep our force healthy, in order to assure the nation, our allies and partners that the command remains ready to respond anytime, anywhere,” said Col. Virginia Garner, AFGSC Command Surgeon. “And the way we’re doing that right now is by making data-driven decisions.”