Fund seeks innovative solutions

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- A team in the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center is searching far and wide for innovative, cost-effective solutions to critical national technology concerns. 

The Rapid Innovation Fund (RIF) program selects promising new technologies that can be quickly inserted into military systems, space systems, operational challenges and make a real impact on critical warfighter needs. 

The program has grown exponentially since its inception in 2011, according to Leonard Walton, RIF Program Manager. 

"Our first year, the Air Force identified 5 need thrust areas," Walton said.  "This year, we identified 98 need thrust areas across the Air Force."

The need thrust areas are aligned back to Air Force priorities submitted by Program Executive Officers and warfighting major commands, sustainment centers, and operational agencies. 

"As the MAJCOMS and PEOs saw our results from the early years, they submitted more and more problems they needed solved.  I think that shows the value of this program.  The warfighter wants what we can deliver," Walton said.

Finding the ideas is a two-step process.  First, a Broad Agency Announcement with all the need thrust areas identified is released.  Companies and organizations can submit white papers that outline their solution in general terms. 

"Those white papers are vetted and then evaluated and rank ordered by a team with voting members from the PEOs and MAJCOMs that originally submitted the need areas," Walton said. 

Using the panel with voting members from the PEOs and MAJCOMs is a vital element for the fund.

"Those members make the program work because they have direct knowledge of the problem," Walton said.  "We could not be successful without them." 

Once the white papers are ranked, the program responds to the companies with the most promising white papers and invite them to submit a more definitive proposal to outline how, they would use the money and when it would produce results. 

The program awards vary, but are capped at $3 million and two years. 

The proposals are then rank ordered by the same PEO and MAJCOM representatives.  Funds are allocated on this priority basis according to the allowable budget for each fiscal year.  The contract is established by the requesting organization and the company.

"We administer the program, but the PEOs and MAJCOMs actually execute and implement the contracts," Walton said.  
From the hundreds of white papers submitted in 2015, 44 were selected to produce a proposal.  Of those, 21 were selected to receive funding. 

The first three projects have been recently awarded and the remaining projects are currently being negotiated and are expected to be awarded this summer.

The remaining 20 projects are currently being negotiated and are expected to award this summer. 

Producing innovative results has driven the popularity of the program and is the reason it is currently authorized by Congress until 2023. 

"Innovation so often occurs in small business, so it is no surprise that 70 percent of our awards do go to small businesses," Walton said.  We go with the ideas that have the most innovative and cost-effective solutions that can insert quickly into a program.  It is all about the merit of the idea."