Air Force, DOD leaders discuss cutting-edge innovations

Leaders from the Defense Department’s Defense Innovation Unit and the Air Force spoke Dec. 11 about DIU and AFWERX collaborative projects. AFWERX is a program for entrepreneurs within the Air Force intended to circumvent bureaucracy and engage innovation.

DIU Director Michael Brown took part in an AFWERX panel with Air Force Secretary Barbara M. Barrett, and Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics.

AFWERX is the Air Force’s team of innovators who encourage and facilitate connections across industry, academia and military to create a culture of innovation and solve problems. 
The Defense Innovation Unit’s mission is to accelerate the adoption of commercial technology throughout the DOD.

“AFWERX over the past three years has grown from a visionary startup to an innovative ecosystem, connecting ideas with solutions and empowering air and space professionals to think beyond today’s reality,” said Barrett.

“Innovation is embedded in our culture, and in our DNA, and innovation is a force multiplier for partnerships fueled by small business industry, interagency partners and aerospace professionals,” she added.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Daniel Steuer (left), a system supervisor assigned to the 374th Communications Squadron, Yokota Air Base, Japan, and Air Force Airman 1st Class Kinsley Noel, a 374th CS radio frequency technician, set up a Hawkeye satellite at Babelthuap, Palau, during an exercise, Nov. 23, 2020. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Michael S. Murphy)

Barrett provided some examples of what AFWERX has been working on: creating new landing gear, using a 3D printing lab to create needed medical supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic, developing space-based situational awareness capabilities, developing virtual reality enhanced pilot training, and creating an affordable flying car that can deliver supplies to the point of need.

Current efforts of AFWERX are focused on energy, autonomy, space and microelectronics, she noted.

Brown spoke about DIU’s collaboration with the Air Force.

One of the areas that DIU worked on in the past is predictive maintenance that started with the Air Force, he said. Now that technology is being shared across every military service.

One of the benefits of DIU is that it was set up as a joint organization, meaning it has folks inside from every service branch, he added.

One of the areas DIU is now focused on is autonomous swarming drones, he said.

Roper said that area of focus is important. “Swarming drones are increasingly things that terrorist groups can do, that hobbyist groups can do with the right technical know-how,” he said, adding, “I think it’s a great example, because swarming drones that could attack the military, that’s not just an Air Force problem. All of the services face that. Well, that’s a scary future, we have to worry about.”

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