Author: Bryan Ripple, Air Force Research Laboratory Public Affairs
On behalf of the Department of the Air Force, as one laboratory supporting two services, the Air Force Research Laboratory has developed the Air and Space Forces Science & Technology Front Door, to connect potential partners with S&T experts and opportunities. The Department recognizes that innovative ideas often come from small businesses, industry, academia, or even a project in your neighbor’s garage that can help solve problems the department has identified.
Everybody has ideas. Many people have had an idea for a new product or technology only to have it dismissed or neglected. Sometimes we later find that others had the same idea, but were able to get it in front of the right people, resulting in their product on the market, not ours.
Ideas are relatively easy to come by; inventions and innovations are more difficult. It takes knowledge, time, money and effort to refine an idea into a workable solution, even on paper. There are formidable tasks and substantial barriers in the path of those who pursue innovation. Accomplishing these tasks and overcoming the barriers typically requires much careful planning and input from others.
The Department of the Air Force recognizes that innovative ideas often come from small businesses, industry, academia, or even a project in your neighbor’s garage that can help solve problems the Department has identified. In April of 2019, the Air Force announced its Science and Technology 2030 Strategy which lays a path forward for the U.S. Air Force science and technology ecosystem to rapidly develop warfighting capabilities.
By expanding and strengthening our partnerships, and leveraging the innovation networks within industry, small business, academia, and government laboratories, the Department is committed to delivering an effective service to connect that will ensure more external innovations have a transformational impact on the Air Force and Space Force. On behalf of the Department, as one laboratory supporting two services, the Air Force Research Laboratory has developed the Air and Space Forces Science & Technology (S&T) Front Door, to connect potential partners with S&T experts and opportunities.
Partnering or connecting with the DAF science and technology enterprise can be challenging due to its structure and various platforms of engagement. The Air Force and Space Force Tech Connect website was built to help address this and support S&T ecosystem awareness, learning, engagement and unsolicited idea submission intake. The website provides access to current S&T opportunities, S&T events and other S&T enterprise connectors. It also provides innovators a portal where they can share their ideas and capabilities with an AFRL subject matter expert for potential feedback, collaborations and opportunities. With a nationwide scope to invite and nurture game-changing ideas and technology that might come from anywhere and anyone that can ultimately benefit the warfighter, the S&T Front Door’s long-term goal is to expand the science and technology ecosystem involvement beyond AFRL to include more mission-aligned organizations and organizations of the larger Department of Defense science and technology network.
Another partnering S&T entity, and also part of the AFRL team, AFWERX is expanding technology, talent and transition partnerships for rapid and affordable commercial and military capability through three efforts: AFVentures, Spark and Prime. AFVentures, which is AFWERX’s commercial investment arm for the Air Force, creates simple pathways for commercial innovators and private capital investment to help the Department of the Air Force solve problems. Spark connects Airmen and Guardians to commercial innovators while Prime is all about accelerating emerging commercial markets using military missions and equities. Both Tech Connect and AFWERX are committed to exploring viable solutions and partnerships to further strengthen both our air and space forces and aim to make connecting potential partners with S&T experts and opportunities easier than before.
“The National Defense Strategy forecasts a highly-contested future fight with complex threats,” said Maj. Gen. Heather Pringle, AFRL commander. “Peer competitors are driving to overtake the United States as the science and technology superpower. The global commercial sector is outpacing our investment in S&T and exploding with innovative technologies. Nonetheless, we remain clear-eyed about the challenges ahead.
“With the complexity of this evolving landscape, we accelerate change in line with the Air Force chief of staff’s charge to us. We accept appropriate levels of risk in innovation and experimentation, as the chief of space operations urges. Above all, we recognize technological superiority is necessary to address these challenges. By expanding our presence and creating more visible and convenient virtual front doors, we are cultivating a world-wide ecosystem of research from basic to applied that drives the pace of technology and competition in the agile pursuit of innovative solutions for Warfighters and stakeholders alike,” she said.
How it Works
The Air Force and Space Force Tech Connect team, currently comprised of subject matter experts from AFRL’s technology directorates, the Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer program, Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation Office, Transformational Capabilities Office and AFWERX, reviews and connects quality, relevant submissions with S&T subject matter experts and S&T opportunities. The team provides feedback and if the submission is relevant, establishes dialogue with interested Air Force S&T programs.
“By leveraging S&T advancements in government, university and industry laboratories, AFRL can move innovations further toward transformational impact within the Department of the Air Force. For those who submit an idea through the Air Force and Space Force Tech Connect, they can expect confirmation that their idea has been received by AFRL and that feedback on their idea will be provided by a Department of the Air Force subject matter expert in a timely manner,” said Elizabeth Escamilla, Science & Technology Front Door lead.
If you are an innovator with promising ideas and are interested in collaborating with the Department of the Air Force on science and technology innovation and development, then the Air Force and Space Force Tech Connect team wants to hear from you.