Imperative innovation in austere times

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Meredith Mingledorff
  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs Command Information
Chief Scientist of the Air Force and other senior leaders conducted a panel discussion about the importance of innovation in a time of austerity during the 2015 Air Force Association Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition Sept. 14.

The panel members, led by Dr. Greg Zacharias, included Air Force Research Laboratory Commander Maj. Gen Thomas Masiello, Air Force Test Center Commander Maj. Gen. David Harris, and Institute for Defense Analyses Science and Technology Policy Institute Director Dr. Mark Lewis.

Each member of the panel presented his perspective on why continued innovation is imperative, especially during times of financial struggle. They each added that while the Air Force may be tempted to cut funding for science and technology development and testing during budgetary restrictions, financially constrained environments are exactly when the Air Force should be investing in their future.

Zacharias began the discussion by stating there are game changers being developed by science and technology fields including hypersonics, directed energy, nanotechnology, unmanned systems and autonomous systems. He stated these innovations will revolutionize the world, and the most cost effective solution is to find ways to move them through the acquisition process quicker.

“We have a great opportunity to benefit the acquisition process,” Zacharias said. “We could benefit from earlier, more extensive, and more comprehensive modeling and simulation; using the same resources we use today.”

Masiello agreed, adding Air Force Materiel Command’s objective of being more agile is a key to the solution, and important to how AFRL supports the Air Force. The general said his organization is working on “Warfighter Focused Innovation.”

“We cannot afford to be working in areas that the warfighter and acquisitions are not on the same page,” said Masiello.

The general instituted capability collaboration teams, representing every major command to document warfighter needs and science and technology requirements. The result is three-way conversations that improve effectiveness.

The AFRL commander attributed a broad network of innovators to include small business, international collaboration and an innovation network are imperative to mission success. He emphasized work must be more fast paced; which requires a change in Air Force business practices.

“In a time of austerity, when you’re worried about where the next dollar is coming from, that’s when you really want to be thinking about these capabilities,” Lewis said. “That is a time when you want to be investing in the future of S&T (science and technology).”

When asked how the Air Force can establish policy to ensure adequate testing without going overboard, Harris responded the balance must be made between the acquisitions professional and the person paying the bills. He said testers are the quality control.

“Just remember, at the end of the day, it should work. If it doesn’t work, coming in under cost and under budget doesn’t matter,” Harris said.

The panel emphasized cutting funding from science and technology innovations is a risky proposition that costs more in the long-run.

“The cost of making a mistake is more costly,” Lewis said. “In testing, any result is a good result because we are learning. If you want something to succeed, you have to pay for it, and you have to make those investments up front.”