Seedlings for Disruptive Capabilities
Seven teams led by Air Force Research Laboratory scientists and engineers will each receive $3 to $5 million per year as part of the Seedlings for Disruptive Capabilities Program (SDCP) to execute three-year projects and advance ideas that may create remarkable new capabilities for the future force.
Selected via a competitive three-step process and approved by AFRL Commander Brig. Gen. Heather Pringle, AFRL’s Chief Technology Officer Dr. Tim Bunning announced these multidisciplinary teams in an email sent to the workforce.
With this new effort, we are “tapping into the creative S&T foundation of AFRL by enabling teams from across multiple technology directorates to form and partner with suitable external partners including industry and academia,” said Bunning. “Guided by a future operational mind-set, these efforts will change the calculus by enabling a transformational capability that fundamentally shifts the current state of play for our warfighters,” he said.
The SDCP aims to gather the brightest minds from AFRL and advance innovative concepts emphasizing the Air Force Science & Technology Strategy objectives of creating transformational capabilities, building organic competencies, deepening Air Force technical expertise and fortifying external partnerships. Inspired by the principles outlined in the Air Force S&T Strategy, AFRL’s Research Advisory Council introduced SDCP to the workforce as an internal call for ideas in January 2020 “to get our great thinkers and problem solvers excited and also enable them to build those partnerships with researchers from across the broader R&D enterprise needed to deliver transformational capabilities for the Air Force,” said Dr. Rajesh Naik, Chief Scientist of AFRL’s 711th Human Performance Wing.
Released in 2019, the Air Force S&T Strategy emphasizes transformational capabilities in areas essential to future competition that deliver war-winning technological advantages. As outlined in the SDCP scope, each idea submitted had to show potential for strengthening future missions by advancing one of the strategic capabilities identified in the strategy including global persistent awareness; resilient information sharing; rapid, effective decision-making; speed and reach of disruption and lethality and complexity, unpredictability and mass.
After collecting the initial submissions, AFRL’s chief scientists scrutinized them for operational relevance and scientific quality, ultimately endorsing a select number of white papers to be developed into full proposals. Afterward, the Primary Investigators of each proposal presented their ideas to a diverse evaluation committee comprised of RAC members plus the chief scientists of Air Force Major Commands including Space, Pacific Air Forces, Global Strike and Air Combat. Technical experts from the Air Force Warfighting Integration Capability and the Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition also provided input.
The panel’s highest-ranking proposals selected for funding cover integrated optical systems, multi-function sensors, unmanned systems that autonomously establish airfield infrastructure, a brain-computer interface learning system, a supersonic interceptor missile, additive manufacturing techniques in composites, and fuel cells for spacecraft.
These seven teams are led by employees from all AFRL technology directorates, along with technical experts from the Center for Rapid Innovation, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, other government organizations (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Naval Research Lab and the Missile Defense Agency), industry and academia.
Moving forward, the teams will provide in-depth annual reviews with guidance from senior technical mentors to “ensure operational linkages and technical excellence.”
“The ultimate goal is to build an enhanced pipeline for applied research programs to compete for advanced technology development funding, successfully transitioning technology from application to capability,” Bunning explained. By facilitating a deeper understanding of operational relevance in the early stages of research, he hopes that this initiative can enhance research efforts and better prepare these investments for advanced demonstrations and beyond.