How Is The US Air Force Looking To Data?

We talk to Donald R. Anderson, Assistant Director of Analysis for the USAF Air Mobility Command and Deputy Director of Analysis for the 18th Air Force


Donald R. Anderson is the Assistant Director of Analysis for the USAF Air Mobility Command and Deputy Director of Analysis for the 18th Air Force. As Assistant Director of Analysis, he leads a team of 27 analysts that provides Air Force leadership with insights and analysis of mobility issues which enable him to make strategic decisions that affect Air Mobility Command and the USAF. He is also air representative to the Joint Distribution Process Analysis Center (JDPAC) which consists of 160 analysts and engineers. 

 Mr. Anderson was awarded the USAF Civilian Analyst of the Year in 2014. In 2013, he was awarded the Air Force Chief of Staff Team Excellence Award and in 2010, the US Army’s Analytic Team of the Year Award. Mr. Anderson was in the Air Force for 28 years and served as both a C-130 and KC-10 pilot accumulating over 2,500 flight hours. We sat down with him ahead of the Business Analytics Innovation Summit, which takes place in Chicago later this month.

How did you get started in your career? 

I joined the Air Force in 1980, retired in 2006 (former C-130 & KC-10 pilot, former Chinese Linguist). At that time, I was hired as a DoD civilian.

What are the specific challenges of collecting data at the Air Mobility Command? 

Data is not in one place, in one format. Whenever we perform any complex analyses, we spend almost as much time requesting/begging for data from many different sources as we do actually performing the analysis.

On your radio show, you say that ‘blending financial and cost data with operational information is what’s ahead for data analytics at the Air Mobility Command’? Can you expand on this? 

Up until now, we planned cargo and passenger movements based on what was the fastest way to make the move; cost was usually not a consideration. Now, when we plan to move cargo back from Afghanistan (for example), we will compare costs of various movements to find the cheapest way and still meet the requirements. Is it cheaper to move the cargo with one C-5 or two C-17s? How about hiring a commercial mover?

IBM employs tennis players to do their analytics in tennis matches. You were a pilot before. Do you feel like this level of industry experience is necessary as a data scientist? 

In our world of analytics, we require a mix of people that have a wide range of experiences. Yes, being a former Air Force pilot helps to understand Air Force operations, but it is equally important to have analysts without Air Force experience or else we risk just doing the same things over and over again.

Are there any innovations in the data science space that have been a real ‘game-changer’ (or that you think will be in the future?) 

Yes, data visualization. The ability to rapidly visualize data, especially geographically, allows our analyses to get to leadership before decisions have been made. This requires, in some cases, near real-time presentations.

What will you be discussing in your presentation? 

We started this project to measure the fuel efficiency of Air Force aircraft. We built a dataset that was much more robust than the original project required. During the course of the next few years, this additional robustness allowed us to present to DoD leadership some unique characteristics of missions flying into and out of Afghanistan. As a result, we saved the DoD nearly $300 million, reduced convoy operations by 6,000 vehicles, and may have saved as many as 25 lives. All this because of data analytics!

You can hear more Donald, along with other industry leading figures, at the Business Analytics Innovation Summit, taking place in Chicago this May 19th and 20th. 

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