Workshop Targets Better Tech to Share Air Force Lessons and Tactics
In a 2-day facilitated brainstorming workshop earlier this month, staff and subject matter experts with the U.S. Air Force’s 561st Joint Tactics Squadron sought to identify more efficient, more effective ways to develop and distribute information on how to fly, fight, and win.
More than 20 people attended the off-site event, which took place at the AFWERX Vegas Innovation Hub, and included Air Force, contractor, and private-sector solutions providers. Based at nearby Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., the mission of the 561st Joint Tactics Squadron is to increase warfighter lethality through constant updates to what the Air Force calls “Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures” (TTP)—the maneuvers, methods, and step-by-step best-practices of the nation’s fighting, flying force.
In the past, that has meant collaboratively writing, editing, publishing, and distributing thousands of pages of printed products, running a constant turbine of critical information—lessons-learned bulletins, equipment manuals, threat assessments, and more. The team asked AFWERX for help finding solutions that might improve production, dissemination, and cost-savings.
“We have a way to do it now—it's the same thing we've been doing for 30 years, so it's at least semi-adequate [...],” joked one Air Force workshop participant. “We're talking about making a leap in technology, and capitalizing on today's technology to improve.”
Observers later compared that potential leap to taking cockpit control technologies from manual “stick-and-rudder” to computer-assisted “fly-by-wire.”
The 561st Joint Tactics Squadron workshop is an example of problem-definition, one of the essential steps in an AFWERX process designed to speed the military’s application of existing and emergent technologies. Eventually, the team’s effort might result in using unit funds to acquire and test commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) products, or to work with vendors to customize a specific solution to their needs. If that test or prototype proved successful, other U.S. Air Force organizations might be able to leverage similar solutions.
The workshop event resulted in a clear statement of need: “Warfighters are unable to rapidly locate, learn, or apply relevant integrated tactical information because [Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures] are created, vetted, and disseminated in stovepiped static formats, and processes unresponsive to change.”
After a problem has been concisely defined, AFWERX integrators work with the Air Force to design a path to a solution and identify how best to involve outside innovators. One frequently successful tool is an AFWERX Challenge, a on-line design competition that solicits ideas from inventors, business representatives, academics, military service members, and more. Nearly anyone can participate in these collaborative events by offering solutions, identifying products, and up-voting ideas. Depending on the Air Force’s needs, many AFWERX Challenges result in selecting companies and individuals to work toward a product pitch or prototype.
To learn more about current and future AFWERX Challenges, visit: www.afwerxchallenge.com
The AFWERX process not only accelerates the Air Force’s application of new technologies and methods, but levels the playing field for small business owners, notes Daryl Gibson, a senior innovation integrator at AFWERX Vegas.
“The Small Business Innovation Research [SBIR] program was established by the government to enable small businesses to compete with big businesses,” says Daryl Gibson, a Senior Innovation Integrator at AFWERX Vegas. "Previously, the needs were highly focused—a specific part for an air-conditioner on a KC-135 that works at negative-100-degree temperatures, for example. Now, however, they're able to consider open topics, through the Air Force/SIBR program.”
“People can submit their ideas, and get these awards. In the past, the big problem that small businesses have faced is in Phase 2—working toward a prototype or demonstration product,” says Gibson. “The program requires them to find and work with a military partner during development. In the AFWERX process, they're already working hand-in-hand with the Air Force.”
As envisioned by U.S. Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson in 2017, AFWERX is intended to solve some of the toughest challenges that the Air Force faces, through innovation and collaboration amongst our nation’s top subject-matter experts. The world is changing quickly—new technologies, new threats, and new opportunities.
To learn more about AFWERX, visit: www.afwerxdc.org