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Calculating risk in the fuel supply chain, X-Force fellows help inform operational plans

Airmen connect a jet fuel hose to an A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft during a hot pit refueling at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Matthew Jackson, left, fuels distribution supervisor with the 52nd Logistics Readiness Squadron, and Airman 1st Class Anthony Wells-Johnson, avionics maintenance technician with the 52nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, connect a jet fuel hose to an A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft during a hot pit refueling on Ramp 3 at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, Aug. 6, 2012. (Photo by Airman 1st Class Dillon Davis)

The image displays an example of a network flow model configuration with each number representing a node along the fuel supply chain and possible delivery pathways. (Courtesy image: X-Force Fellows Jaylen Barrett, Marina Beshai, Megha Sharma)

The image displays an example of a network flow model configuration with each number representing a node along the fuel supply chain and possible delivery pathways. (Courtesy image: X-Force Fellows Jaylen Barrett, Marina Beshai, Megha Sharma)

WASHINGTON, D.C. --

What’s the safest path to transport fuel from a refinery in Texas to storage in California? Does Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, have the pipeline capacity to sustain two weeks of operations after a storage disruption? What risk do cyber-attacks pose at a bulk storage terminal in Louisiana?

X-Force Fellows assigned to Air Force Operational Energy at the Pentagon were tasked to answer these questions (among others) and develop a model to assess possible risk to the Air Force’s fuel supply chain.

The X-Force Program, organized by the National Security Innovation Network alongside the Department of Defense, is a fellowship open to undergraduate and graduate students seeking to “serve their country by solving real-world national security problems in collaboration with the United States military,” as stated on its website.

While the program is meant to provide experience and professional development to students, it also aims to deliver tangible products and services for future DoD use in several areas including software development, data analytics, mechanical design/prototyping, communications/media strategy, and research.

Made up of three undergraduate students, the Operational Energy team first took time to research military fuel and energy logistics.

“We are all coming from different backgrounds and fields of study, but we were able to use some of the skills we already had for this project – as well as learn some new ones,” said Megha Sharma,  X-Force fellow and biomedical engineering student at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Over several weeks, they created a database of fuel “nodes” within the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) petroleum supply chain to assess the energy supportability of Air Force operations. They collected multiple data points for each node, including the type of supply chain segment (production, refinery, bulk storage, or end user), its location and fuel capacity.

With support from the Operational Energy office, the team used advanced data analytics and visualization to create a network flow model to estimate the costs and risks associated with transporting fuel to each location from across the network. The team developed much of the model themselves using the programming language Python and open source software.

“The tool illustrates what happens when producers, refiners, and consumers interact with each other and how fuel gets to where it needs to be,” said Jaylen Barrett, X-Force fellow and supply chain management student at Howard University.

“We provided the X-Force team with a broad overview of the problem and helped answer their questions as they went along, but they did all the hard work of putting together the data and model themselves,” said Dr. Jordan Eccles, who helped supervise the team. “The prototype they built provides real value for our office and for the Air Force as a whole.”

The model takes into account the possible ‘pathways’ available to reach the various nodes along the supply chain and helps determine risk versus cost, explained Marina Beshai, X-Force fellow and computer science student at Princeton University. This helps logisticians and operational planners develop plans and operating concepts that account for vulnerabilities along the network.

“I see this as a very useful tool globally to understand how we operate with other Allies and partners and what investments need to be made to deliver energy to the end user,” said Toniann Fisher, chief of logistics and sustainment at Air Force Operational Energy. “It seems like it’s easy for the user to manipulate and update the nodes so we could use this in many areas of operation.”

Finally, the X-Force team created a ‘how-to’ book detailing how to update the model step-by-step with the latest information and data. This laid the groundwork for an interactive website they hope can be used by logisticians in the future to identify and manage risk to the force and ensure the Air Force can continue to fly, fight and win.

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