by Derek Kaufman
Air Force Research Laboratory
1/4/2016 - WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- The stakes are high for Department of Defense leaders seeking to equip the U.S. military force of the future.
In addition to the ever-present and evolving dangers presented by global
terrorism, defense planners face proliferating and increasingly
sophisticated cyber threats by nation-states, organized crime and other
As Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work told attendees of the Reagan
National Defense Forum in November, the Department will meet these
demands by incorporating new operational and organizational constructs,
relying heavily on innovation, teaming and collaboration between
industry, academia and the defense laboratories.
The October standup of the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental in
California's Silicon Valley is one endeavor to establish new information
technology sector connections to harness innovation for the military.
"DoD needs the ability to quickly adapt others' technologies for our
purposes and do it more rapidly than our adversaries who have access to
the same resources," said Maj. Gen. Tom Masiello, commander of the Air
Force Research Laboratory.
Masiello said productive engagement with both large and small businesses
already underpins the development of AFRL's advanced technologies, and
this trend will continue. He highlighted AFRL Industry Days and
Technology Interchange Meetings as events where Air Force officials
highlight capability gaps and needs to focus industry research and
Additionally, AFRL hosts "Deep Dives" with major defense industry
partners. These detailed reviews of AFRL science and technology
portfolios reveal challenges and opportunities. The idea is to establish
a longer-term vision of shared government and industry objectives and
invite new approaches to solving technology challenges. AFRL held four
such engagements in 2015 and plans to reach out to more industry
partners in 2016.
Small business is critical to the Laboratory. AFRL exceeded its overall
fiscal 2015 goal of 39 percent of contract awards to small businesses,
said Bill Harrison, the Laboratory's Small Business Lead.
AFRL Small Business Collider Events are a recent addition to the AFRL industry outreach mix.
"These free and open events, focused around specific technology areas,
are popular with entrepreneurs, industry and university researchers,"
Harrison said. "They help strengthen the Air Force industrial base and
benefit small technology businesses by identifying new commercial
markets for promising Air Force technology."
This year the AFRL Small Business Hub at Wright-Brothers Institute in
Dayton, Ohio, grew to nearly 450 members, held 70 collider events and
210 one-on-one meetings to assist businesses and link them with the
Laboratory, according to Harrison.
About 300 people from across the U.S. converged on a similar
"Commercialization Catalyst" event held Dec. 4, 2015, in Dayton. The
event featured presentations on a dozen AFRL technologies as candidates
for entrepreneurial investment to commercial markets.
"We're building trust and relationships with these small business
partners who then become better positioned to support us with their
creative ideas. This is win-win and a bridge to speed innovation," Doug
Ebersole, AFRL Executive Director said.
"Innovation doesn't happen in a vacuum. Innovation isn't just creating
new things. It's frequently gathering existing products and using them
in a new way," Ebersole said. "Our challenge is to do it faster than the
Ebersole said the diversity of ideas contributed by a variety of
technology partners is important to delivering the agility DoD seeks in
an uncertain world.
"Agility is all about adapting technology faster. It's about harnessing
creativity to solve technical problems -- such as using a technology
that was invented for one purpose for something completely different,
inside or outside of the military," said Ebersole.
"This kind of agility requires the entire community of researchers from
the Federal Labs, research organizations like DARPA, small and large
businesses, and universities to really collaborate and understand what
each can offer to the others. We leverage investment and acceleration
speed to market by connecting the communities."
Masiello believes today's research in game-changing technologies like
hypersonics, autonomy, unmanned systems and directed energy will play an
important role in protecting our nation.
"Hypersonics enables us to fly to a target at Mach 6, directed energy is
about precise effects at the speed of light, autonomy is focused on
things like Airmen-machine teaming and big data analytics to make
faster, better-informed decisions," he said. "We're on a path to enable
these things and they will give our future warfighters an unfair
advantage over their adversaries -- which is exactly what we want."