Teams seek fresh, creative ideas to resolve problems|
by Michael P. Kleiman and Karen Y. Jackson
Air Force Research Laboratory Public Affairs
9/7/2006 - KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (AFPN) -- With violence at deployed military checkpoints a reality, U.S. and coalition forces often have to make tough decisions when drivers ignore warnings to stop. Insurgents often attack these guarded locations, sometimes with car bombs.
Maj. Gen. Ted F. Bowlds, the Air Force Research Laboratory commander, put out a call to solve the problem with innovative, non-lethal methods. Two six-person engineering teams answered.
"The competition, called the Junior Workforce Challenge, was created to help find innovative solutions for urgent warfighter needs and designed to give junior officers more experience in developing those solutions," General Bowlds said.
In April, the general issued the call to the junior military and civilian workforce within his organization's 10 directorates, seeking people with fresh and imaginative ideas to participate in a six-month, competitive project intent on tackling an urgent warfighter need. A few weeks later, two engineering teams were selected, comprised of six scientists and engineers with five years' or less experience.
"Each team has a different philosophy on how they approach the problem. My job is to make sure that they come up with different answers and different solution sets and bring the warfighter into the process," said the competition's program manager, Col. Kirk Kloeppel, the deputy director of AFRL's Directed Energy Directorate here.
Team one, based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, has members from the Aeronautical Systems Center and AFRL's Human Effectiveness, Air Vehicles and Sensors Directorates. The second group, located here, has members from AFRL's Space Vehicles, Directed Energy, Munitions and Sensors Directorates.
"Our team started on June 4, and although we had never met one another before, it has been a great working relationship coming up with a bunch of ideas and then exploring the benefits and drawbacks in this highly collaborative environment," said Capt. Chris Rehm, the Kirtland team lead.
The Wright-Patterson AFB team is mapping its own course for solutions.
"(Our team) came together and is serious about getting real solutions to the warfighters to really make a difference. Since June, they have conducted a lot of research and interviews to help them develop some conceptual designs," said Lt. Col. Ross McNutt, team advisor.
To enhance the organization's focus on its primary customers and products, AFRL initiated three core processes last year: accomplish long-term, groundbreaking research that shapes the Air Force's future; deliver timely, cost-effective technologies which improve the capabilities of weapon systems currently in acquisition; and provide fast, cutting-edge solutions to meet pressing combat requirements.
To support this third core function, a Rapid Reaction Team was formed to quickly address and resolve difficulties hindering warfighters. One of the group's initial undertakings was organizing the Junior Workforce Challenge Project. The team selected the Space Countermeasures Hands On Program, or Space CHOP, at Kirtland AFB. The group is patterned after the Air Force Institute of Technology's OpTech, a certification program that educates Air Force scientists and engineers in the process of rapid defense product development.
Due to its experience, the Space CHOP team served as a fitting choice to advise and mentor the Kirtland AFB six-member squad. In addition, the program enables participants to receive practical training on threat hardware and perform mission analysis.
"I know the importance of these hands-on experiences," Colonel McNutt said. "After this experience, the participants have confidence, knowledge and better preparation in the rapid product development process. They also learn how to become future leaders. That's our ultimate goal."
"The common thread between all our missions is the employment of junior officers and civilians who do not have experience in the mission area we assign them," said John Holbrook, aerospace engineer and chief, space countermeasures, AFRL's Space Vehicles Directorate. "Our teams bring a fresh look at a problem, and that new look helps the professionals better focus their efforts toward a solution."
AFRL has provided $60,000 to each team for design and development of a vehicle stopper rapid prototype. In addition, the organization has partnered with Raytheon to conduct the concept demonstrations. So far, the project's initial 10 weeks has been a time for the two groups to bond, brainstorm and build.
"It has been a learning experience for all, as we are exposed to all parts of an Air Force organization such as purchasing required items, managing a budget, as well as constructing and evaluating operational systems, which will ultimately benefit the warfighter," Captain Rehm said.
AFRL also has other teams working toward urgent solutions for deployed troops, including identifying friendly forces on the ground and finding a fix to a condition called brownout, which occurs when a helicopter lands in the desert, creating a cloud of dirt engulfing the aircraft.
"Our junior workforce's energy and enthusiasm can contribute greatly to accomplish rapid prototype solutions that will provide immediate warfighter support," General Bowlds said. "Working on these special projects is an invaluable opportunity for professional development that improves our ability to support our mission."
(Courtesy Air Force Materiel Command News Service)