AMC Studying Automation for its Aerial Ports of the Future

A team of scientists and Senior Executive Service officials from Headquarters Air Mobility Command observe daily aerial port-wide operations and procedures of the 436th Aerial Port Squadron, Feb. 7, 2017, at Dover AFB, Del. Air Force photo by Roland Balik.

Air Mobility Command is pushing forward on a futuristic move to automate its aerial port, a step that would speed up the movement of cargo, AMC’s boss Gen. Carlton Everhart said.

The command is looking at ways to “get the right loads in the right place at the right time in the right configuration,” in addition to a need to speed things up to get equipment to the front lines faster, Everhart told reporters Friday.

The command earlier this year invited scientists and researchers to the aerial port at Dover AFB, Del., to kick off its “Aerial Port of the Future” effort to use automation and artificial intelligence to improve aerial port efficiency and safety.

The team of Defense Department researchers, in addition to visiting Air Force aerial ports, also visited commercial warehouses to see robotics and command and control programming in use there, for possible ways to translate that technology to ports.

Everhart said the “ultimate goal” is to have a port use similar technology to automatically build pallets to fit aircraft once they arrive. For example, if a C-17 or C-130 lands at a base and needs to pick up cargo, an automated port could quickly build pallets to fit that aircraft.

The inspiration for the effort came from the Air Force’s Future Operating Concept, which included a look at how aerial ports could work in the year 2035, according to AMC.

“That was somebody’s dream, but it got us thinking,” said Donna Senft, chief scientist and Aerial Port of the Future project lead, in the AMC release. “We wanted to get the experts in the science and technology community and the acquisitions community together and see what we could do to improve aerial port operations.”