From the Crows' Nest

In this episode, host Ken Miller sits down with Dylan Duplechain, the Chief Engineer of the US Air Force’s 350th Spectrum Warfare Wing. Ken and Dylan dive deeper into the mission and work of the Wing from a technology perspective. They discuss target waveform development and assessments, modernization of rapid reprogramming, cognitive electromagnetic warfare, and investment in the growth of the civilian workforce.
To learn more about today’s topics or to stay updated on EMSO and EW developments, visit our homepage.

Creators & Guests

Ken Miller
AOC Director of Advocacy & Outreach, Host of @AOCrows From the Crows' Nest Podcast
Laura Krebs
Reese Clutter

What is From the Crows' Nest?

This podcast features interviews, analysis, and discussions covering leading issues of the day related to electromagnetic spectrum operations (EMSO). Topics include current events and news worldwide, US Congress and the annual defense budget, and military news from the US and allied countries. We also bring you closer to Association of Old Crow events and provide a forum to dive deeper into policy issues impacting our community.

Ken Miller (00:09):
Welcome to From the Crows' Nest, a podcast on Electromagnetic Spectrum Operations, or EMSO. I'm your host, Ken Miller, Director of Advocacy and Outreach for the Association of Old Crows. You can follow me on Twitter at @FTCNHost. Thank you for listening.
Well, greetings from San Antonio, Texas. I am on the road this week to meet with stakeholders down here in the Lone Star State and to attend a conference focusing mostly on cyber operations. It's a pretty good show, but I have to say it's not as good as our 60th annual AOC Symposium and Convention that's just around the corner, which is an obvious plug for that event coming up on December 11th to 13th, looking forward to that event.
The theme for the convention is, Advancing EMS Superiority Through Strategic Alliances and partnerships. We have a great slate of keynote speakers and sessions coming to you. From the Crows Nest will also be there, obviously. We're going to be releasing episodes each day talking to many of our keynote speakers. We're really looking forward to those episodes. And then I'll also be live streaming from the exhibit floor each day from the convention in the afternoon. So whether you want to download the daily episodes or participate and join in on the live stream on the exhibit floor, you can do that and you don't have to be attending the convention to join into the live streams, but certainly we would love to have attendees participate as well.
My guest for this week is Dylan Duplechain. He is the Chief Engineer for the US Air Force 350th Spectrum Warfare Wing. A couple episodes ago I had the privilege to interview Colonel Josh Koslov, the Commander of the Wing. We talked about what the Wing is working on from an organizational strategic planning perspective. I then went to Warner Robbins Air Force Base last month to attend the detachment ceremonies that were taking place and had the opportunity to meet Dylan in while I was down there and wanted to have him on the show to really discuss much of what the Wing is working on, but from a technology perspective. So it's a great conversation and I look forward to bringing that to you.
Before I get to him, a couple other pieces of news that I do want to share. The first is earlier this week on November 13th, the Biden administration released its National Spectrum strategy, which really sets the pathway for how the administration and the government as a whole is going to be approaching some of the challenges of spectrum availability, including spectrum sharing and allocation and things of that nature. It's a major landmark report or strategy that's been a long time coming. We've been looking for it for a couple months now, and it's a collaboration between NTIA and FCC.
So I would commend that report to you in part because our next episode coming out in a couple of weeks, I sit down with Gordon Mansfield from ATT&T to talk about this very topic. We knew the report was on the horizon, and so we wanted to have a deeper dive into some of the challenges and opportunities with spectrum sharing and how do we really kind of meet the spectrum needs for both commercial and military sectors. So a good report and we'll put the link in the show notes.
The other piece of news is we are wrapping up our 2023 episode calendar. We have a couple more episodes coming to you, and of course we'll be at the convention. When we come back in January, a major change is going to happen. We are going to be beginning a subscriber package. We will continue to release two episodes a month, free to everybody as normal, but then also we will be offering for subscribers only two additional episodes where I sit down with a rotating group of co-hosts, including John Knowles from the Journal of Electromagnetic Dominance, Jeff Fisher, who has been here on the show regularly to talk about Ukraine and some of the challenges over there. We'll be sitting down to talk about what's going on in the world.
The great thing about these sessions is that as a subscriber, you can actually join our recording, ask questions, it's completely live, unedited, and then we'll package it and put it out the next day for those subscribers who cannot participate in the live stream. So we're going to start that in January. The subscription will start probably on March 1st, so for the first couple months everything's going to be free to kind of get everybody familiar with the process and what's offered, but I think it'll be a great opportunity to get a lot more content out to our listeners. The key thing though is, for the subscription, if you are an AOC member, that subscription is free. So we encourage you to become an AOC member because then it's free and you can participate. If you're not an A OC member, you'll have to pay a small subscription fee on a monthly or annual basis.
So with that, I'd like to welcome my guest for this episode, Dylan Duplechain. He is the chief engineer of the US Air Force 350th Spectrum Warfare Wing. Dylan, it's great to have you here on From the Crow Nest, thanks for joining me.
Dylan Duplechain (05:03):
Hey, Ken, thanks for hosting me from the Crow Nest as well.
Ken Miller (05:05):
We're recording this on November 1st, and so we were both last week at this time we were at Warner Robins Air Force Base in Georgia at the 350th Spectrum Warfare Wing ceremony for the assumption of command for the detachments. You were there. It was great to meet you in person. It's great to meet your entire team and of course you had Colonel Koslov and everybody. Just to start us off though, I wanted to get your perspective on that event. What was going through your mind in terms of where the Spectrum Warfare Wing has come from over its, slightly over two plus years in existence?
Dylan Duplechain (05:44):
Yeah, so we really enjoyed the opportunity to go to Middle Georgia and meet with the local community and are looking forward to growing Warren Robins Air Force Base. That's a big part of our wing's growth. So a couple of years ago at Wing Standup, our guidance was to consolidate and modernize a reprogram enterprise, and a big part of that consolidation and modernization is what we're going to do at Robins Air Force Base for The 950th, and that's the EW assessments and readiness portion of our mission set.
While we get after new capabilities in the electromagnetic spectrum, it's very important to understand, are those capabilities having impacts and doing what they need to do to help us when the war. So that mission will be focused specifically on those assessments for the Air Force.
Ken Miller (06:37):
Now, a couple episodes ago I had the pleasure of sitting down with Colonel Koslov, the commander of the 350th. It's a great conversation. We focused on just about every aspect of The Wing, but I really wanted to have the opportunity to have you on the show because it's really important to dive into a lot of these issues from a pure technology standpoint. And one of the things that he spoke a lot about was, and you touched on it, this evolution of the mission of the Spectrum Warfare Wing, and your focus, particularly, on target waveform development and assessment. Could you talk specifically about what that is and how the Wing has evolved over the years, particularly in terms of this role in this area?
Dylan Duplechain (07:18):
Absolutely. I'll start with the target waveform development. We do a lot of reprogramming in this wing, and part of that reprogramming is with respect to jammer technique development. And so for target waveform development, it's a growth area in our wing. There are a lot of different organizations across industry, R&D, operations that do jamming. We in the United States Air Force have not achieved the consolidation of that yet. So our wing is focused on bringing that together to ensure all of the weapon systems that do that mission set can use the best available techniques. So part of that is actually finding the right targets to jam that have the best effects, and then coming up with those best techniques to do that. There's a lot of different organizations that do that. Our goal is to bring that together, prioritize it, and then distribute it to the entire portfolio of systems we support.
Ken Miller (08:21):
I was just going to kind of build on that. From an engineering perspective, you talk about the Air Force hasn't quite achieved that consolidation yet. In some ways you might be saying you're trying to catch up a little bit, but from a threat perspective that's out there, how hard is it to keep up with the fast evolving threat technology that's out there? I mean, it's one thing to say, "Yeah, we're going to consolidate," but how do you keep up with that on a day-to-day basis?
Dylan Duplechain (08:48):
The threat's changing, and we do have different approaches to come up with techniques that can be effective. And we are in development and requirements generation for better jammers and better systems that can counter these threats, but we also have to work with what we got in our portfolio today.
So what we do in that case is we make sure that we can prioritize the different systems, and if we know we cannot counter something that is superior to the systems we have, then we look for another entry point to deceive those systems. So it doesn't have to be the one particular system that we can't beat because that system is probably part of a larger system and there's probably entry in other places.
Ken Miller (09:37):
I think that's a really interesting point because a lot of times when we talk about advanced technology, we tend to focus our energy right on the new bright shiny object that's on the horizon that we can chase, but the fact is that across the services, we have many legacy systems out there that are going to continue to do the mission for decades, and being able to understand how those legacy systems come together and work with some of the new technology, and like you mentioned, those other entry points into the thread, I think is a really excellent perspective.
Can you provide some of the insight into some of the key milestones in the development of this target waveform development and assessment as you're moving forward?
Dylan Duplechain (10:19):
Absolutely. So in addition to the actual technical work of jamming and technique development, we are organizationally posturing with the wing. So we're getting after the mission, but in addition to that, during wing standup, you have to set the organization on a path for success. So we're adding and posturing these units to do that mission specifically. Today, the different teams that develop waveforms for their EW systems, they're in different squadrons. We're going to consolidate that into one of our squadrons to make sure that we can then distribute it across all of our platform free support. Additionally, we're developing strategic partnerships with the US Navy and the Intel community to ensure that we're not doing this alone and we can make sure that we also have the best information available to us to do this.
Ken Miller (11:16):
I wanted to move to another topic that is in line with the idea of having to modernize the systems that you have out in the Air Force today, and that modernization of the rapid reprogramming capability. In our conversations, you mentioned focus on crowdsource flight data and digital transformation as well as software in the loop efforts. Could you talk a little bit about what those pieces are and what role they play in rapid reprogramming?
Dylan Duplechain (11:49):
When we're talking about modernizing reprogramming, we're talking about two things, we're talking about better quality and going faster. And what we found through Crowd-Sourced Flight Data, CSFD, is we can take back some of the timeline or reprogramming. And what I mean by that is if a weapon system encounters an unknown threat or an unknown mode, they're not going to properly ID that, that we're going to get feedback in our wing that says, "Hey, I need this fixed. I need to be able to see this thing to avoid it or to shoot it or to jam it." Part of that process requires collection of information, analysis of information and decision making to say, this is what that thing was. That's a big intel community function.
Sometimes when we get a callback from the war fighter, the Intel community may not have a lens on that particular thing, but if the platform that was being used collects information, we can do some analysis on that information and respond appropriately. So crowdsource flight data has given us the opportunity to react to things that we are seeing that we didn't see before, and the beauty of it is sometimes there's never a complete picture of what's out there, and sometimes whenever our assets get into the region, things that weren't on turn on. And if the intel focus wasn't on that region at that time, they may have missed something, but these operational platforms can pick up this information. So it's very, very useful to us. So we are now able to get this information, make some decisions on it by bouncing it across different things to ensure we're getting the right answer, and then we can [inaudible 00:13:43] that. That's a faster loop for updating these files.
Ken Miller (13:48):
Could you talk a little bit about this notion of, when we talk about fast reprogramming, fast transmission of information data, could you give us some insight in terms of what that means when you're talking about the crowdsource flight data and collecting that and analyzing it and sending it to the war fighter versus how maybe we've done it in the past in terms of how much faster it is? I mean, because when we hear about advanced threat technology, it's in the milliseconds and I can't imagine the challenge it is to try to make sure that you're getting that information as fast as you need it.
Dylan Duplechain (14:25):
So what we do... The threat is eventually going to change much faster than this current timeline, but us collecting this data, we are now able to hone in our skills and our analysis so that whenever this data shows up real time, we'll have the software tools in place to kick out updates real time. So the crowdsource flight data is a resource today that helps us modernize because foundational infrastructure and networks and livestream of data doesn't exist across the portfolio today. We will get there one day. In the meantime, we are taking this information and we are turning things faster than we did before, but like you said, we need to get faster for the future.
Ken Miller (15:16):
So I wanted to touch quickly on another aspect of this. It's the acronym SITL, Software In The Loop and how that specifically works with the crowdsource flight data and some of the other efforts that you're working on with rapid reprogramming.
Dylan Duplechain (15:34):
So, so far in the loop, today, when you think about reprogramming, part of reprogramming is test, did we reprogram correctly? If you were to come to the Spectrum Warfare Wing and tour our spaces what you'll find is, we have large signal generators and we have the aircraft hardware and we stimulate that, and that's how we test our systems, RF signal generation and then did the LRU or did the electronic warfare box in the jet respond appropriately.
With 70 different systems we support and all of the systems that are coming down the pipe, we can't continue to buy that model for verification and validation. We need software models of these hardware systems and that way the lab could equal a server rack, not a large building with a lot of equipment. And if we do that, our support to these labs is easier. We can do things faster. A model can be tested with way more iterations. We're working with acquisition to ensure that future systems that come down have software models that are validated to represent the hardware versus sending us actual aircraft hardware.
Ken Miller (16:47):
Another piece of the puzzle that we talked about last week was, it's another acronym, I think it's Agile Integrated Reprogramming, so the acronym is AIR. Could you talk about how that fits into this puzzle with crowdsource flight data and software in the loop?
Dylan Duplechain (17:03):
Absolutely. The AIR process, you could think of it like, if you know the EWIR process, Electromagnetic Warfare Integrated Reprogramming, it's basically the Intel community and the operational reprogramming community process to create mission data files. Typically, what you see is the requirements for these weapons systems to go into an [inaudible 00:17:30], that entire process, what things will they encounter? How do I best mechanize these files? That's the EWIR process. When we're talking about AIR, we're talking about the quick reaction to shorten that normal process.
So, for example, if we have an F-35 that's going to Southwest Asia, we're going to prepare that thing. When it gets there though, it's going to encounter things we didn't know. So AIR is a way that we rapidly respond to that changing environment. So CSFD is the collection of information to help us update these files. The agile integrated reprogramming is a way we describe the process to go faster in a quick reaction sense.
Ken Miller (18:14):
One of the hats that I wear for AOC is I have to go through the defense budget, and it's always interesting because when you go through the budget documentation, there's so many buzzwords that fly around and those buzzwords have a purpose. But one of the buzzwords that seems to show up all the time is cognitive. And in EW it's the same thing, we talk about cognitive EW all the time. And then we usually stop with our explanation of it. Well, it's artificial intelligence and machine learning. Could you talk a little bit about from a Spectrum Warfare Wing's perspective, talk a little bit about how you approach this notion of cognitive EW as a capability, and could you clarify how it might differ in terms of your mission from how other people might perceive it?
Dylan Duplechain (18:56):
Cognitive EW, or Cognitive Electromagnetic Warfare, when we say it doesn't describe a specific capability. So electromagnetic warfare can be broken down into electromagnetic warfare support, electromagnetic attack or electromagnetic protection. With respect to the Spectrum Warfare Wing, we focus specifically on the support and the attack piece, not the protection piece. So when I hear cognitive EW, the Spectrum warfare wing is doing the ES and the EA functions, but that still doesn't tell me anything about a capability.
So we know that machine learning, automation, artificial intelligence can help us make decisions to go faster, so today with respect to cognitive EW, we are focusing on access to data, the infrastructure to host the data and to analyze this data and to develop software capabilities to make decisions on that data.
Ken Miller (19:57):
With that in mind, then, what are some of the specific objectives that the wing is pursuing when it comes to cognitive EW in the support and attack functions?
Dylan Duplechain (20:07):
I'll give you a specific example. If an F-35 collects a lot of crowdsource flight data, today, we do not get that data back automatically. There's a laborious process where data is transferred through multiple networks and then it's placed on one of our networks. We also do not have the software tools in place that can comb through all of this data to find the anomalies. We rely on feedback from the operational community.
So what we're talking about is, for cognitive EW in that sense, we need machine learning and artificial intelligence tools to help us find these anomalies. And so we're partnering with industry and R&D organizations to help us with that.
Ken Miller (20:56):
One of the themes that we've been talking about here in this conversation as well as when I had Colonel Koslov on the show is obviously the pace of the fight. From an engineering perspective, as the chief engineer, when you're talking about staying on the forefront of cognitive EW, what are some of the opportunities on the horizon that you see that either keep you up at night or just really excite you about the possibilities that are at our fingertips in this capability?
Dylan Duplechain (21:22):
I think that the CSFD aspect of this has been really eyeopening for us. We have seen that we can do things faster with higher quality with this data. There's other uses of this data that... For example, future sensor development and the way we can jam things based on the way things transmit. So the collection of this information has been really enlightening to us.
We are starting to share those collects with other communities, acquisition, R&D and industry to ensure that everyone can continue to analyze through machine learning or artificial intelligence to find new ways to create new capabilities. To stay at the forefront though, fundamentally we need to invest in the infrastructure to be able to host and process cognitive capabilities. So today there are many examples of machine learning algorithms or artificial intelligence, but in the Air Force, our weapon systems that are fielded today may not have been designed to host those types of things. So what we're doing today to stay at the forefront is in our own networks, we are modernizing our infrastructure to host these types of things, to mature these types of things so that when they go onboard or at the edge, we started maturing these algorithms.

Ken Miller (22:54):
You mentioned the role of industry, and obviously in your position you have to engage industry a lot. You mentioned the important role that industry plays in this, and as chief engineer, you obviously have to engage industry regularly. What are some of the things that you need from industry moving forward? What are some of the things that they can do to help you achieve some of the goals that you've set forth here in our conversation?
Dylan Duplechain (23:17):
Okay, we meet with a lot of industry partners and there's a lot of good technology out there. What we try to do when we meet with them is the hard part for us is the data that we use today, it lives on classified systems and we struggle with the ability to remove it from those systems to downgrade it, and if we do downgrade it, removing some of the important information from that data. So we focus a lot actually on the ability to work with industry by asking them to be part of our team, be part of our workspaces and bring their technologies to us and work together versus contracting out a request for software tools to be delivered or stuff like that.
Ken Miller (24:04):
We've talked a lot about the role of technology. As chief engineer, you have to work with a lot of people as well. Workforce has always been kind of an issue that has slowed the evolution of a lot of electromagnetic warfare capabilities over the years across the services. We know we need the people, but we just don't have enough people out there. Could you talk about that challenge from the Wings perspective and what are some of the things that you are focused on as chief engineer to make sure that we fill all the civilian workforce that we need to accomplish the mission?
Dylan Duplechain (24:36):
Ken, the standup of the Spectrum Warfare Wing came with lots of civilian billets, and we knew that going from status quo to filling a [inaudible 00:24:48] would require some strategy on our port. In-house, we developed something called the Crow College, and what that does is it's basically a professional development program that we are allowing our workforce to develop, and what we've done is we architected across our workforce, our current workforce. In kicking it off, we're basically allowing them to develop their skills for leadership, communications, critical thinking, innovative teaming, professional competencies, and project management. So that's just internal. But what we're doing also is when we are recruiting individuals, over the past year, we've been to 15 colleges and we have two more in the next couple of weeks. We are able to describe these things that we are putting in place in our wing to entice the recruits to come this way.
We're also describing our mission set and the impact to the war fighter... That's always an important shelling point for us is, "If you work for us, you're going to have an immediate impact to the war fighter." We do our best when incentives, so if there's opportunities to sweeten the pot, I guess, we try to do that when we can. But through these civilian professional development programs we're setting up and through significant recruiting events, that's how we're tackling the problem.
Ken Miller (26:04):
And so last question, I know that you have a busy schedule. I really appreciate you taking time to join me. But I just wanted to touch base on one other topic, partnerships and collaborations around the world. The AOC 60th International Symposium & Convention is right around the corner. The theme of this year's symposium is of course, Building Strategic International Partnerships with our Partners and Allies. My episode last week with retired US Army Colonel Laurie Buckhoutout, we talked a lot about interoperability and compatibility of systems, and I wanted to get your perspective on how important this is and how do you go about this from an engineering perspective to make sure that our systems are talking to one another as it pertains to our allies and partners around the world?
Dylan Duplechain (26:48):
That's a great question. We have a large portfolio of systems we support. They were acquired individually, so there's about 70 systems we reprogram today, and those systems don't talk to each other. What we do though is we have partnered with AFLCMC and A26L to ensure that whenever we're acquiring EW systems, they're meeting standards, they can share information, they're more reprogrammable. So we're involved with the community to ensure that the future doesn't look like the past with respect to acquisition.
That doesn't mean that we aren't working together in our wing to share processes, to make things faster, to do things better. We support 40 different countries and all the US Services, so we're always talking to the community.
Ken Miller (27:40):
Well, thank you Dylan for taking some time to join me today. Again, it was great to talk with you. Great to see you last week at the Warner Robins ceremony, and I know the AOC and myself, we're looking forward to continuing to build that relationship with the Spectrum Warfare Wing and your team out there. But I want to thank you again for joining me. It was a great conversation.
Dylan Duplechain (28:00):
Thank you very much, Ken.
Ken Miller (28:03):
That will conclude this episode of From the Crows' Nest. I want to thank my guest, Dylan Duplechain for joining me. I also want to remind you once again that AOC's 60th Annual International Symposium and Convention is just around the corner, December 11th to 13th, From the Crows' Nest will be there. Looking forward to releasing episodes, interviewing many of our keynote speakers throughout the week. Also, don't forget to review, share, and subscribe to this podcast. We always enjoy hearing from our listeners, so please take some time to let us know how we're doing. That's it for today. Again, you can follow me on Twitter at @FTCNHost. Thank you for listening.