Preferably Paperless: The Electronic Flight Bag

We’re in an age (there’s always an age, isn’t there?) of mobile technology, which is both ubiquitous and ever-expanding.

The military, keen on expanding their reach and utilization of emerging technologies, has been inventing ways to incorporate their mission into new technologies in the hopes of making life, and the various missions they have, more efficient.

What’s interesting is the fact that it’s working.

From the flying helicopter program from the Office of Naval Research, to the National Center for Telehealth and Technology’s LifeArmor App, the military is finding ways of making this technology.  The goal is to help make the lives of service members easier, and help them complete their missions effectively.

Recently, the Air Force and the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) announced plans to join the mobile application invasion, and in doing so, they’re saving forests of trees (amongst other things).

Going green never looked so functional.

“The electronic flight bag (EFB) mobility app is the application that the Air Mobility Command uses as they board aircraft,” explains Air Force Col. James Starling from DISA.  “The flight bag is where they keep their instructions, their flight plans, and they were all paper bound.  So what we did with the EFB, the electronic part, is make it a mobile device to carry those documents.”

This helps eliminate, amongst other things, unnecessary weight.  Col. Starling said that the EFB helps the crews so they don’t have to carry 40 – 70 pounds of paperweight onto the aircraft.  The electronic flight bag application allows the airmen to put the documents onto the device – namely the Apple iPad – so they only carry one tablet instead of giant paper binders.

This has increased efficiencies, Col. Starling says, because now the crew doesn’t have to worry about updates and documentation.  Instead of printing off and distributing hundreds of thousands of pages worth of new documentation, it can all be updated with the touch of a button.

“Imagine you have thousands of these AFIs [Air Force Instructions] that now need a current update or a plan,” he says.  “When it’s an update, we just send the update electronically, and they have it on their iPad.”

This is saving more than reams of unnecessary paper (and the life of the poor printers forced to produce them).  From the manpower it takes to monitor and administer the documents, as well as the poundage, to even fuel, the proof of the savings is all in the numbers.

“The Air Mobility Command did a business cost analysis showing that, because of what they were able to do with this application can have a cost avoidance of almost 5.6 million dollars per year,” Col. Starling explained.

Because of the cost effectiveness and the functionality, the EFB has been selected as the first program to transfer the new DISA mobile device management store capability system.  This system, designed as something like a military app store, will have the programs and software needed for all types of military needs – from flight bags to vehicle manuals.

“We wanted to begin to expand how we used mobile devices into the government,” Col. Starling explains.  “What we at DISA were able to do was develop this mobile device manager; we call it the MDM, a mobile application store.  What we were able to do with the MDM en masse is allow those programs – those different services such as the AMC with the electronic flight bag – to come into our mobile applications store and we administer the application.”

MDM, according to Starling, also provides a capability that the military didn’t have before; it allows DISA to provision the devices, manage the devices, and it provides a level of security.  Security meaning that, if a military-owned device gets lost or stolen, DISA can wipe it remotely before any harm can be done.

“What the mobile device manager does is allows us to manage those different programs separately that the services have developed,” Col. Starling explains, “so they can have the security that they are operating in a secure environment, that they can get access DoD information anytime and anywhere, with any device.”

When it comes to the military and technology, it’s all about finding how it can work best for the mission, and with the most security humanly (or in this case digitally) possible.

“We didn’t develop that app, it was an app that AMC developed,” he said.  “With our MDM, we were able to develop the software to monitor the applications, monitor the users, and give them the capability to distribute that application among their users however they’d like it.”

 With the EFB on the list, there are likely to be many more military mobile applications which will populate the MDM as it moves forward.

What could this mean for you?  Well, if you work for the military, and you have a mobile device you use, this looks to be the first of many apps that might end up on your home screen.  This could help to reduce the mandatory documentation currently taking up space in your work area.  Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about.

Honestly said, I think it’s a long time coming for the military to ditch the love affair with printed documents.  When I was a soldier, I used to be in charge of “putting together briefings” sometimes, which was code for “print a bunch of stuff that will be shredded in a few hours”.  On behalf of all the lower enlisted to come, you’re about to have a lot less paperwork to print and shred.  Believe me when I tell you this is a good thing.

Thanks for the paper, trees, but I think we’ll take it from here.

Jessica L. Tozer is a blogger for DoDLive and Armed with Science.  She is an Army veteran and an avid science fiction fan, both of which contribute to her enthusiasm for science and technology in the military.

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