WARTECH 2.0 Summit expands transformational potential

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFRL) – Air Force senior leaders approved four transformational capability topics for continued consideration as Air Force Vanguard prospects at the WARTECH 2.0 Summit.

The WARTECH Summit, held annually in July the past two years, focuses on successfully transitioning the most advanced technologies into warfighting capabilities to fulfill Department of the Air Force (DAF) Science & Technology portfolio priorities.

At this July’s summit, the senior leaders on the two-star-level DAF Transformational Component (TC) Executive Committee (EXCOM) approved the following capability topics to begin program execution in fiscal year 2022:

  • Fight Tonight: Theatre-scale, multi-domain planning capability for rapid generation and exploration of plan options and plausible futures, empowering planners to deliver the best possible plan within the constraints of a highly dynamic conflict against peer adversaries.
  • Resolute Sentry: Real-time multi-domain battlespace awareness in highly contested environments.
  • Multi-Mission Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance & Strike: Survivable hypersonic systems that can deliver individual effects over large areas.
  • Autonomy Demonstrations and Orbital eXperiments (ADOX): Series of satellite demonstrations focused on autonomy technologies to enable satellite inspection, XGEO (beyond geosynchronous orbit, or cislunar) space domain awareness and logistics in GEO including advanced propulsion and refueling.

In addition to these four topics, a fifth topic, Base Defense, was also presented at the summit but was ultimately moved to a development planning activity with a partnership between the Transformational Capabilities Office (TCO) and Air Force Life Cycle Management Center Architecture and Integration (AFLCMC/XA). The Base Defense planning activity aims to integrate and layer defense of forward air bases from massed missile attacks in highly contested environments.

WARTECH Execution Lead, Jeffrey P. Palumbo, said the four fiscal 2022 new starts resulting from the WARTECH process are significant advanced prototype development and demonstration projects that continue to address technical risk, mature execution plans and increase enterprise-level support. These efforts may return at a later date for Vanguard consideration or may directly transition to programs of record. The WARTECH process was established as a result of the Air Force Science & Technology Strategy for 2030. It brings warfighters and technologists together to identify future force requirements and develop and deliver transformational operational capabilities to meet them.

This process begins each August with a scoping exercise to identify future force and threat drivers, followed by an ideation phase where topics are considered for full proposal development. Topics are matured over several months into potential Vanguard candidate programs and presented to the EXCOM in July. The WARTECH governance body, the DAF TC EXCOM, is represented by Air Force Futures, U.S. Space Force and the Air Force Acquisition Executive (SAF/AQR).

For WARTECH 2.0, the Air Force Research Laboratory TCO and the other WARTECH partners identified 14 initial candidate topics in the scoping and ideation phases and selected five for full proposal development leading into the summit. Most of the remaining topics received some form of seedling investment and remain high priority needs managed through the AFRL transformational portfolio.

AFRL’s transformational portfolio began in 2019, when Air Force senior leaders commissioned three Vanguard programs to revolutionize operations for the future force. The three original Vanguards were the Skyborg autonomous aerial vehicle system, the Navigation Timing Satellite-3 (NTS-3) and the Golden Horde autonomous swarming munitions concept.

A fourth program Rocket Cargo, was selected for Vanguard status earlier this year. The goal for Rocket Cargo is to rapidly deliver cargo anywhere on Earth employing reusable rockets. The current transformational portfolio spans flight demonstrations and experimentations, Vanguards and Explore projects to enable breadth of the future force operating concept.

AFRL Commander, Maj. Gen. Heather Pringle, alluded to this pipeline during a discussion at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber conference in September.

“The WARTECH process is helping us build that steady stream of capabilities so that we always have something at the ready to consider when the Air Force or the Space Force are ready to continue to act. And, if not, we’ll keep the engine humming.”

The WARTECH process has also continued on with WARTECH 3.0 scoping and ideation. The scoping and ideation phase produces validated operational challenges and operational concepts for consideration as WARTECH topics.

About TCO and SDPE

The TCO is a small office that identifies and demonstrates the viability of leap-ahead capabilities to drive USAF and USAF Future Force designs, disruptive “first in class” system innovations and Vanguard programs and reports to the AFRL commander. TCO resides organizationally within AFRL alongside a sister office, the Strategic Development Planning & Experimentation (SDPE) office, which directly supports DAF capability development as a technology agnostic honest broker. The office reports to the Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) commander and receives tasking directly from AF Futures and Air Force senior leaders. This close partnership with SDPE and alignment to AFRL allows TCO to rapidly pivot to evolving demands, build and lead cross-functional teams and leverage existing Lab capabilities to accelerate capability development and transition.

program insignia

Another capability topic, Fight Tonight, was also approved at the 2021 WARTECH Summit to begin program execution in Fiscal Year 2022. Fight Tonight’s motto of “plan for everything,” as seen in the insignia, seeks rapid planning capability in the midst of dynamic, adversarial conflict. (Image courtesy of Dr. Jeffrey Hudak)

illustration of lunar system

The 2021 WARTECH Summit resulted in the approval of Autonomy Demonstrations and Orbital eXperiments (ADOX) for program execution in fiscal year 2022. One element of ADOX is a Cislunar Highway Patrol System (CHPS) that will provide space domain awareness beyond GEO out to the moon. (Image courtesy of AFRL)