Using math and big data to save lives – maybe

The Air Force’s Air Mobility Command has been able to save money on fuel costs by crunching numbers and using big data to be more efficient, but the command may have saved more than funds.

Assistant Director of Analysis for Air Force Air Mobility Command Don Anderson said a matrix used by the military to track fuel costs may also be  saving lives.

Here’s how:

Air Mobility Command (AMC) noticed that C-17 airplanes departing from Oman and Kuwait were very inefficient when flying into Afghanistan compared to other parts of the world.

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Out of 3,535 sorties, those flights were 5 percent less fuel efficient than the average.

What AMC realized is that air commanders were flying with extra fuel to reduce ground time in Afghanistan.

“Those departures where we saw the inefficiencies, they were putting on 40- to 50,000 extra pounds of fuel so that when they landed in Afghanistan they didn’t have to wait around for an hour or two to get those aircraft refueled and get back out,” Anderson said at a Nov. 19 speech at the Tableau Government Summit in Washington.

Flying with the gas “goes against our fuel savings initiatives because the cost of weight of 50,000 pounds is enormous,” Anderson said. “However, when we did more investigation, we found out what they were doing was the right thing.”

In Oman and Kuwait, fuel is “really, really, really cheap,” Anderson said, but,in Kabul fuel costs about $10 more per gallon.

That’s because fuel in Kabul arrives in Pakistan by tanker and then is driven by convoy for about 20 hours through the mountains.

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“When we compare the cost of carrying the extra fuel [in the plane] and compare that to the cost of the tankers and the convoys, each C-17 that [carries extra fuel] saves the government $46, 273,” Anderson said.

Here is where big data really comes into play.

The average flight time for a C-17 from Kuwait to Kabul is almost four hours, burning 9,968 gallons of fuel. To get back to Kuwait the plane will need to refuel with another 10,000 gallons of fuel.

Each truck convoy from Pakistan to Kabul holds 6,000 gallons of fuel.

“Each C-17 that tankers fuel into Afghanistan removes 1.6 fuel trucks from our convoys,” Anderson said.

AMC created a matrix for plane commanders’ origins and destinations to find out if it’s better or worse to carry fuel.

“Since we’ve started the program 5,858 C-17s and C-5 have tankered fuel into Afghanistan,” Anderson said. “There are now 597 less convoys on the road than before this program started. The Army casualty factor per convoy is .042 deaths per convoy and when you multiply that out, 597 convoys off the road equates to approximately 25 lives that were saved because of this program.”

Of course there is no hard evidence that 25 lives were saved, but the use of big data is making convoys less dangerous and planes more efficient.