Dayton, Ohio -- Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center commander, opened the inaugural Life Cycle Industry Days citing the need to “out-innovate” our collective enemies.
The three-day symposium offered general presentations by senior Air Force and industry leaders along with themed breakout sessions centered on Cyber, etc. Situated on the picturesque University of Dayton River Campus that was formerly world headquarters for National Cash Register was perhaps a fitting location for academia, industry and the government acquisition workforce to come together, as Thompson said, “to foster current relationships plus forge new ones.”
The dialogue, he offered, would have lasting implications.
“There is this reality today that the United States Air Force is the greatest air force on the planet. In order to ensure that reality tomorrow, we have to begin to take action by talking about requirements, communicating about processes, workforce development and what our nation needs to continue being the greatest air force on the planet,” Thompson said.
It was a theme echoed frequently, including by Thompson’s fellow Class of 1984 Air Force Academy alumnus, Lt. Gen. Arnold W. Bunch Jr.
“We have been at war since 1990. We have used and abused our equipment around the world since that timeframe. We have employed air power in unprecedented ways and we are the most dominant air force the world has ever seen. Our adversaries and the rest of the world have watched us [employ air power] and they are adapting and adjusting to try to make that harder for us to do,” Bunch said. “We’ve got to react.”
During that period of warfare, innovation has played a key role in our ability to adapt to the changing battlespace.
“If you were to look 15 years ago, many of the weapons systems that just roll off our tongues today were completely unknown” Thompson said citing program like Predator, Reaper and sensors that can observe day and night. “All that stuff has been made possible by people and entities represented in this room.”
Representing the organization responsible for discovering and evaluating technology, C. Douglas Ebersole, Air Force Research Laboratory executive director discussed how the lab targets investments based on technology maturation categorized as Responsive, Relevant and Revolutionary.
“The responsive is the rapid reaction cell. These are investments that are intended to provide the warfighter a product within a period of 12-18 months,” he said.
While less than 1 percent of funding, Ebersole said the innovative work here is targeted to more urgent needs. The larger pools of funding are directed at longer term projects centered on filling warfighter gaps.
Recognizing gaps by studying the technology of adversaries is one of the responsibilities of the National Air and Space Intelligence Center. Col. Trish Sexton, vice commander at NASIC, who discussed the relationship between intelligence and innovation.
“We know to ‘out-innovate’ our adversaries, we need to understand what early technology the adversary is working on, when they start to use that technology in weapon systems and when they transition that technology into their system of systems onto the battlefield,” she said. “Sometimes we actually understand the adversary’s systems better than they do and that is our goal in every single case,” she said.
Understanding systems – especially our own – was addressed by Jeff Allen, Air Force Sustainment Center executive director, on behalf of the center’s 32,000 personnel. He pointed to software being a growing burden going forward in system sustainment.
“It is potentially the most expensive aspect of any future weapons system’s life cycle. In the future we are going to bend a lot less metal and a lot more ones and zeros.”
He continued that solutions would be found in partnerships with industry.
“Our continued collaboration with industry is paramount,” Allen said. “Great partnerships are when both parties win.”
All speakers agreed those great partnerships are built through transparency between all parties.
“That transparency with industry is a two-way street,” Bunch said. “We need to make sure you understand what we’re trying to do. But, I also need you to be transparent back with us.”
More than 530 people attended the three-day of sessions with 70 percent of the audience coming from industry. Thompson thanked attendees for their commitment to “our national defense” and applauded the commitment from the University of Dayton and the Dayton Regional Military Collaborative for making the event a reality.