Former AFMC commander talks innovation, third offset

  • Published
  • By Kenji Thuloweit
  • 412th Test Wing Public Affairs
Innovation and the nation’s third offset strategy were topics brought forth by retired Gen. Gregory S. Martin, a former commander of Air Force Materiel Command, as he spoke with members of Edwards Air Force Base Aug. 24.

The 412th Test Wing and its innovation team have been encouraging the creation of new ideas and processes. Innovation and change are intertwined, and Martin gave some insight on how to develop an innovation culture. The biggest part is to have the right mindset, he said.

“You have to be thinking at your boss’ boss’ level and higher,” Martin said. “When you do that, you have a better understanding of why you are doing something. You should look at improving how you do your business every day, no matter where you are or what level you’re at. You can’t solve the Air Force problem at the highest level, but you can solve parts of it.”

Innovation in technology is key to Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s third offset strategy – making sure the U.S. military is well equipped to win the fight against any future adversaries.

The first offset began in the 1950s and gave America a lead in the world by building up its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent. This lasted until the early ‘70s. Toward the end of the Vietnam War and into the ‘80s, the DOD knew that in a conventional war it had to be able to penetrate enemy airspace and deliver weapons more precisely to destroy enemy forces without nuclear weapons. This became the second offset.

“So, precision and stealth became very important and gave us an advantage that we used very well through Desert Storm,” Martin said.

According to Martin, today, the DOD is focused on seven operational areas of modernization and improvement: anti-access and aerial denial; guided munitions; undersea warfare; cyber and electronic warfare; human-to-machine interface and teaming; war-gaming and operational concept development; and supporting its defense innovation unit.

He said research shows that there are five game-changing technologies: directed energy, hypersonics, autonomous vehicles, remotely piloted aircraft and nanotechnology.

“Let’s suppose we take those game changers and those seven operational activities and apply those to problems we face with our threats,” Martin said. “You’ll have sensors that will give you full-spectrum knowledge of the battle space. You’ll have materials that are immune to heat decay while offering transmission and reception capability just by virtue of their fiber and makeup instead of special antennas. You’ll have energetics that will provide unimaginable velocity on both manned and unmanned systems. You’d have weapons that can travel the speed of light. In short, you’d have forces that would be nearly invulnerable to the defenses as we know them today. That’s what your bosses are thinking about, and that’s what you need to be thinking about.”

Martin also said the Air Force has developed a lot of technology as a result of good ideas, necessity and funding. He told the story of a captain who told his major general that he thought they could harness the accuracy and timing of the GPS and apply it to a tail kit on a “dumb bomb” and accurately deliver it. The idea was passed up the chain and funded by Air Force Systems Command.

“Good idea. Neat concept. Championed with money and resources and with the authority to use them. So in a very short period of time, they dropped the first (guided bomb) -- it failed. (They) dropped five more and (hit) the target. All of a sudden, GPS meant something to the Air Force besides navigation,” he said.

Martin asked everyone in attendance to maintain an intellectual curiosity to promote ideas and possibly make the Air Force better in the future.