In the spring of 2019, the Air Force released the Air Force Science and Technology Strategy to secure continued technological advantage over rapidly developing state competitors in 2030 and beyond through future technology research and converting new technologies into transformational warfighting concepts. Over the course of the past year, the Air Force has made big strides in implementing key parts of the strategy.
“The steps we are taking are motivated by the strategy’s vision of an Air Force that dominates time, space and complexity in all operating domains, in order to meet the needs of warfighters today and provide unrivaled, advanced capabilities for decades into the future,” said Timothy Sakulich, Air Force Research Laboratory’s executive lead for AF S&T strategy implementation. “Accomplishments over this past year have made huge strides in responding to the strategy’s call to action and laid critical groundwork to fully achieve the strategy’s intent going forward.”
AF commissions first Vanguard programs
To develop and deliver transformational strategic capabilities, the Air Force is assembling a deliberate portfolio of ideas, investments and partnerships that will drive transformational warfighting solutions. In November, the Air Force announced the first three Vanguards, which are priority research initiatives to advance weapons systems and concepts with enterprise commitment.
Then in February, the Air Force designated program executive officers to develop and execute an acquisition strategy for each program. The three innovative programs – Golden Horde, Navigation Technology Satellite -3 (NTS-3) and Skyborg – push boundaries by integrating several technology components to deliver game-changing capabilities, covering multiple domains and encompassing multidisciplinary solutions.
New, provisional TCO established to guide S&T portfolio
The Air Force established a new Transformational Capabilities Office (TCO) under the technology executive officer (TEO) to facilitate new, transformational S&T business processes, including experimentation and prototyping management of the Vanguards.
Increased access to the business S&T community
Air Force Explore, the unique call for ideas released in September 2019 to advance the S&T strategy, demonstrates a new, more effective way to introduce defense challenges to the national market and engage with potential business partners.
In this new approach, AF Explore piloted several industry-favored practices such brief idea submission papers, face-to-face meetings and customizable contracting that saved both time and money in comparison to traditional acquisition processes.
Initial awards are expected to be announced between May and June of this year.
Internal call for disruptive capabilities
In January 2020, AFRL launched the “S&T Seedlings for Disruptive Capabilities” call to gather ideas from across the AFRL workforce. This internal opportunity gives Airmen the chance to receive up to $5 million in annual funding to execute “high risk/high payoff ideas,” leverage external partnerships and create remarkable new capabilities for the future force.
New Warfighter-Technologist summit
To ensure warfighters are continually equipped with the best technology, AFRL, MAJCOMs and AFWIC are partnering to launch WARTECH, an opportunity for future force planners and technical experts to join forces to address important technology challenges.
This summer, the operational and acquisition communities will gather for the first WARTECH summit to prioritize advanced technology demonstration (6.3) programs and plan for funding requirements.
The Air Force has recommended restructure of its Science and Technology Advanced Technology Development; Research Development, Test and Evaluation Program Elements to allow for easier funding of multi-disciplinary technologies.
Starting in fiscal 2021, the new PE structure for Air Force S&T RDT&E has the potential to provide the Air Force and Congress with increased transparency and better alignment of integrated technology solutions key to building the future force.
Modern approaches attract the future workforce
To continue to attract top talent, Air Force officials are implementing various initiatives to secure a more agile workforce. The Air Force is leveraging recruiters, employing modern recruiting platforms such as LinkedIn and using special authorities to secure key expertise in critical technology areas.
“Service to Connect” solutions explored
The Air Force is collaborating with experts from commercial industry to make it easier for potential partners to engage and connect with experts inside the Air Force science and technology enterprise. Beta testing is scheduled to begin in summer 2020.
Increased number of Centers of Excellence
To help develop the current and future S&T workforce, AFRL has partnered with several universities to form new Centers of Excellence where students and faculty perform cutting-edge research in high priority Air Force interest areas.
These COEs strengthen in-house S&T capabilities, foster relationships with academia and provide avenues to recruit new employees. Currently, AFRL funds nine COEs with two launched in 2019 and two expected to open in 2020.
Ongoing modernization efforts
The Air Force has recently launched several initiatives that will enable further successful implementation of the S&T strategy. Some of these efforts include expanded modeling and simulation capabilities; a coordinated effort to modernize digital capabilities and processes; and a focus on replacing legacy IT with data-driven business decision-making capabilities.
To ensure effectiveness, the Air Force submitted these strategy implementation approaches for an independent review comprised of experienced innovation and technology executives from government, industry and academia, and built an Air Force Scientific Advisory Board Quick Look process to help shape future Vanguard selection and management.
Moving forward, the Air Force will continually draw on best practices from industry, academia and other government leaders to secure the nation and ensure the success of the future force.
For more information on the Air Force Science & Technology Strategy, visit www.AFResearchLab.com.
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