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Hanscom proves PlugTest acquisition model

  • Published
  • By Benjamin Newell
  • 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- Hanscom Collaboration and Innovation Center personnel here completed the first successful Air Force PlugTest of software for Electronic Flight Bags June 9, resulting in a $1.3 million contract award. 


PlugTests pit potential contractors against each other by hosting systems on accessible military networks and allowing private contractors to upgrade and tweak their software during competition. The PlugTest model incorporates operator feedback by placing prototypes directly in the hands of the operators prior to a contract award.


Through PlugTest, we use an Other Transaction Authority vehicle to reach non-traditional vendors,” said Brittany Ridings, PlugTest and HCIC program manager. “With a PlugTest, where we’re increasing interaction between pilots who use the equipment and vendors, we also increase innovation to solve Air Force requirements. We’re making the expertise of the vendors work for us, by making the competition transparent. During the PlugTest, contractors have demonstrated prototypes in a virtual environment in four months or less – much faster than more traditional acquisition methods.”

Upgrades will harden 18,000 EFB iPads used by Air Mobility Command pilots every day.

The EFB PlugTest is sponsored by the Cyber Resiliency Office for Weapons Systems, or CROWS office, headquartered at Hanscom. Initial prototype development began in January 2017, within the Hanscom milCloud. The event focused on a solution to ensure the integrity of the file system and mission data, as well as transmission to a trusted e-reader. The new software logs and audits security events, performs automatic data verification and identification of document tampering, and authenticates users. In addition, sensitive data can only be accessed by approved applications.

“These applications must be secure, because the amount of information in them is a treasure trove for bad actors,” said 1st Lt. Kyle Palko, operations research analyst at HCIC. “This PlugTest competition is all about getting private industry to give us their best, most secure versions of applications used by flight crews.”

The custom-built Hanscom milCloud gives vendors access to the IT systems and components needed to facilitate the PlugTest. In this case, the electronic flight bags are hosted on milCloud, but similar tests can be conducted on Hanscom’s secured cloud network.

The opportunity is advertised to non-traditional vendors, ensuring smaller companies that may have never dealt with the Defense Department have a chance to compete. The top solution, or solutions, are selected, and awarded the full value of the contract. According to the PlugTest team, relationships are built with new vendors that may go on to assist the DoD in development of other projects.

Government Technology Solutions Inc. won the contract competition, providing a secure application suite for EFBs in four months. Their solution will be loaded on AMC EFBs by the first quarter of 2018.