AFWERX outlines future opportunities to accelerate innovation
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFRL) – AFWERX Accelerate wrapped-up a weeklong virtual event featuring 179 speakers and 7,000+ registrants with discussions on the six new Prime sectors (energy, game, autonomy, supersonic travel, space and microelectronics), a statement on the newest AFWERX hubs, an announcement on next year’s Prime program and news regarding 2021 opportunities for collaboration.
“Space is the place for our Prime programs in 2021,” said Dr. Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. While the specific area of space technology is yet to be determined, Roper said he “can’t wait to see what AFWERX and SpaceWERX do to create the next revolution in commercial technology, but driven by military missions.” He also hinted there “may be room for more than one [Prime] next year.”
Roper discussed the overwhelming feedback from the AFWERX community that supports “bringing the Prime methodology into space,” outlining the commercial investments and emerging markets that . . . “could be helped by new warfighting missions being championed by the Space Force.” He noted that, “just as we’ve seen in Agility Prime, where our Air Force missions and our airworthiness processes are unlocking a new electric vertical takeoff and landing market for the U.S., our Space Force missions and our space worthiness processes, have a chance to do the same.”
AFRL Commander Brig. Gen. Heather Pringle called AFWERX Accelerate “a jam-packed exciting week” featuring “Airmen and Space Professionals excited about innovation and the work they are doing.” She referred to the event as “a great way to close a very challenging year” and said her new year’s resolution now involves “aligning the energy and excitement, and frankly, the sense of urgency around the opportunities that are out there to really bring this to bear for our warfighters.”
The five-day virtual event included various keynotes, chats, workshops, networking opportunities and panel discussions focused on AFWERX’s efforts to accelerate collaborative capability development, emerging technology trends and innovative problem solving for the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force.
“One thing that is very true about innovation is that you don’t do it alone,” Roper said. “You need a broad partnership of amazing collaborators and innovators to get to the goal line.”
To accelerate collaborative capability development, AFWERX is establishing relationships with a breadth of industry, investor, interagency, and international stakeholders. These partnerships often focus on nontraditional stakeholders to accelerate the collaborative fielding of novel capabilities using risk mitigation.
“We must have a broad network of partnerships if we’re going to compete against the adversaries we face in the world today at the speeds at which we must compete,” said Roper.
During Accelerate, a virtual audience learned about successes in 2020 and new partnership opportunities for 2021 as AFWERX highlighted industry, investment, interagency and international innovators, as well as those disrupters across the military.
“Innovation inhabits the DNA of the U.S. Air and Space Forces,” said Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett. “Now AFWERX unites the creativity of AFVentures, Spark Innovators, and Agility Prime with the expertise of the Air Force Research Laboratory. Every day we celebrate our partnerships, and we welcome new pace-setters who are inspired to help protect the nation.”
On Dec. 7, AFWERX announced the formation of SpaceWERX, a new entity near Los Angeles Air Force Base that will focus on technologies for the United States Space Force.
Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett said she is thrilled to “celebrate the opening of the first space-focused innovation hub” so close to the first anniversary of our newest Service, the United States Space Force.”
“The global space economy continues to grow at rapid rates, and SpaceWERX is going to help us continue our momentum,” said Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson, Space and Missile Systems Center commander and program executive officer for space. “The goal is “to expand the space industrial base by guiding additional partners, leveraging commercial investment, and rapidly pursuing new space technologies that could be game changers for our space warfighters.” He affirmed, “SpaceWERX will help ensure that Space Force can tap in to those cutting-edge space technologies.”
On Dec. 8, the Air Force Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Program announced the release schedule for Fiscal Year 2021 open topics. Day two also featured presentations on AFVentures, a division of AFWERX that supports commercial investments for the Air Force, creating pathways to connect ideas with resources.
“AFVentures leverages commercial technology to deliver better capabilities to warfighters faster,” said Jason Rathje, AFVentures managing partner. “We are committed to becoming a preferred partner for small business technology development.”
Rathje outlined new opportunities under the Supplemental Funding Pilot Program, a “game changer” that aims to strengthen key relationships, bridge the gap between Phase II and Phase III scaling efforts and deliver “strategic capabilities that meet the department’s needs.”
On Dec. 9, AFWERX invited Airmen and Space Professionals to apply for a new fellowship program and work in one of its three divisions or in private industry. For more information, please visit: https://afwerx.com/form/afwerx-fellowship/.
General Arnold W. Bunch Jr., Commander of Air Force Materiel Command describes this opportunity as a great way to “increase the training of Airmen so they can more effectively collaborate with our commercial industry partners as we look to build these partnerships and move forward.”
Diller noted the “opportunity to join the AFWERX team is open to all ranks from our youngest Airmen to senior members of our enlisted and officer corps.” He explained that this fellowship aims to show talented individuals how to “move from idea to capability.”
AFWERX Agility Prime announced a series of milestones Dec. 10 for its “flying car” program, featuring the ground-breaking of an electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVOTL) simulation facility as well as a ribbon cutting ceremony for the electric aircraft charging station, both at Ohio’s Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport, near Wright-Patterson AFB, home to AFRL and the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center headquarters.
“Agility Prime is about creating a new path to adopt advanced technologies in the Department of Defense, working with innovative companies and driving new markets,” said AFWERX Director Col. Nathan Diller.
On Dec. 11, Roper also announced the opening of Dayton DigitalWERX, a new innovation hub at AFRL’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Center of Excellence in Dayton, Ohio. He referred to Dayton as a “mecca of Air Force acquisition” since “many Program Executive Offices sit on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base along with the Air Force Research Laboratory.” By “having DigitalWERX off-campus, we can bring in innovators and support the broad mission the Air Force and the Space Force has.”
AFRL’s Executive Director Jack Blackhurst explained that “the ability to use AFWERX, now part of the AFRL team, will add more fuel and really act as a catalyst for Gen. Brown’s and Gen. Raymond’s vision for a digital Space Force and Air Force.” Blackhurst noted that, “as one lab serving two services, AFRL takes great pride in its ‘heritage of innovation’ and looks forward to addressing future challenges.”
In May 2020, AFWERX transitioned to AFRL under the Air Force Materiel Command.
AFWERX is now hiring and would like to hear from you. If you think you might be a good addition to the AFWERX team, or if you just have an idea you would like to collaborate on, let your voice be heard by visiting www.afwerx.af.mil or www.afwerx.com, where recordings of the Accelerate event are also available.
Established in 2017, AFWERX is a product of the Department of the Air Force, directly envisioned by former Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson. Her vision of AFWERX — to solve some of the toughest challenges that the Air Force faces through innovation and collaboration amongst our nation’s top subject matter experts. AFWERX serves as a catalyst to unleash new approaches for the warfighter through a growing ecosystem of innovators. As a part of the Air Force Research Laboratory, AFWERX and the Department of the Air Force are committed to exploring viable solutions and partnerships to further strengthen both our space and air forces, which could lead to additional prototyping, R&D, and follow-on production contracts.
Fast Company named AFWERX Best Workplaces for Innovators on the 2020 List, honoring the top 100 businesses and organizations that demonstrate a deep commitment to encouraging innovation at all levels. AFWERX, the Department of the Air Force’s innovation arm and catalyst for fostering innovation within our space and air forces, came in at #16 ranking in the top 20 alongside brands such as Microsoft, Google, and Amazon.