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AFRL researchers answer AFWERX Fusion Challenge

  • Published
  • By Bryan Ripple
  • 88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – Nine teams of scientists and engineers from the Air Force Research Laboratory joined other top innovators and creative minds from around the country at the AFWERX Fusion Xperience, June 20-21 in Las Vegas, Nevada to highlight technology ideas designed to identify innovative solutions to enhance Air Force areas of focus.

The two-day event helped AFWERX mark the beginning of full operations at its Las Vegas location and focused on work AFWERX is currently engaged in regarding site security. Participants were selected as part of the AFWERX Fusion Challenge to enhance security of fixed, temporary and mobile assets.

AFWERX was established in 2017 by Heather Wilson, Secretary of the Air Force, and is a catalyst for agile Air Force engagement across industry, academia, and non-traditional contributors to create transformative opportunities and foster an Air Force culture of innovation.

The goal of AFWERX is to source solutions for challenges encountered within the Air Force, according to the AFRWERX website. To accomplish this, AFWERX Vegas opens its doors to anyone who may have inventive ideas to fit the Air Force’s needs, including students, academic faculty, entrepreneurs, small businesses, established defense companies and more. These innovators utilize AFWERX Vegas’ facility to workshop their ideas and collaborate with experts, getting everything they need to perfect their product for implementation in the field.

“We’ve got to innovate to maintain America’s security,” said Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen Wilson in an Air Force news release. “We’ve created the AFWERX Fusion Challenge to accelerate inventive ideas from garages and labs…in the most collaborative way…and get them to America’s Airmen at the speed of relevance.”

A team from AFRL’s Materials and Manufacturing Directorate submitted a concept for flexible body armor which addresses mobile site security by protecting Airmen in a convoy or on patrol from ballistic threats.

“One of the main themes for AFWERX Fusion this year is mobile site security. As we continued to think about and research the problem, we knew flexible body armor could help Airmen become more agile in a convoy or on patrol and protect them from ballistic threats,” said 2nd Lt. Elias Johnson, an AFRL materials research engineer.

Johnson explained that there are several benefits to a flexible body armor system: It conforms to the warfighter’s torso, increasing agility while adding a multi-hit capability. In addition, the flexible body armor is less expensive, neutrally buoyant in water, and will not shatter when dropped on the ground - all issues with current Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert, or ESAPI, plate body armor.

“The call from the Air Force, and AFWERX, to develop rapid and innovative culture is also directly in line with one of the AFRL Materials and Manufacturing Directorate’s Junior Force Warfighters Operations in RX, or JFWORX's main goals - to support the warfighter with rapid development and acquisition. We knew AFWERX Fusion would not only be a perfect opportunity to showcase flexible armor, but would also be an event to build a network of rapid thinkers from across the country,” he said.

Another technology presented by a team from AFRL’s Sensors Directorate is called “On Demand Force Protection Situational Awareness, or ODFPSA – a technology designed to enhance force protection measures to save lives and also add time savings in Security Force response times, and reduce bandwidth required to communicate between an on-site commander and the Command Post.

“The AFWERX Fusion Challenge was looking to protect Air Force Security Force personnel while using less resources,” said Ray Garcia, a program manager at AFRL’s Sensors Directorate.

“The first responder to an incident has a very high work load and the idea behind the ODFPSA project is to turn on a small inexpensive autonomous drone that will provide immediate, short duration situational awareness to the command center or the base defense operations center, or BDOC. This will assist BDOC personnel with analyzing the situation and determining the appropriate resources to send to an incident while the responders focus on the situation at hand – thus, saving precious radio air time, providing live situational awareness, and allowing the BDOC to quickly send the right resources to the incident,” Garcia said.

Cybersecurity is of course, also a topic area of nearly all site security development concerns, including how it pertains to the protection of weapons systems.

The Port Protection Program, or P3, is a proven cyber security software suite protecting operational computer systems from the threat posed by the use of USB/flash devices.

“P3 is used to manage the use of removable devices in a secure manner,” said Steven Hoberty, Spectrum Warfare R&D Engineer. “The program reduces the probability of computer malware infection by providing administrator’s the capability to control which devices are allowed to connect to specific computers. The software scans removable devices for malware immediately upon insertion, and its advanced algorithms monitor and terminate malicious processes upon device insertion,” Hoberty said.

“Ongoing development and support of Cyber security solutions like P3 is essential in protecting our critical national assets from the ever-evolving cyber threat,” he addded.

“The most junior people within the Air Force may have the most knowledge, but don’t have the authority to take their innovations to the next level. We aim to change that,” said Maj. Gen. Bradley Spacy, commander of the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. “Our job is to build the structure and culture of innovation. We have to convince and teach innovators that their innovative ideas are scalable and reachable.”

Ten teams, including two from AFRL, including the Flexible Body Armor and the On Demand Force Protection Situational Awareness technology submissions received Fusion Tickets to attend a Fusion Ticket event during the week of July 16 at AFWERX Vegas. Initial startup funding, in the range of $150,000, is up for grabs to further assess the teams' technology at the Fusion Ticket event.

For more information about AFWERX Vegas, visit their website at