Emerging Tech

Air Force unwraps science and technology strategy

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After 18 months, the Air Force has released its 2030 Science and Technology Strategy -- a 10-year blueprint that leans into functional capabilities that will allow the Air Force to quickly maximize its technological advantages. And for cyber, the focus will be on rapidly moving innovation from research to production.

Research for the blueprint yielded about 1,500 ideas for both technologies and business processes, according to Maj. Gen. William Cooley, head of the Air Force Research Laboratory. Cooley was tasked to come up with this strategy, which was released April 17.

"In the past, I think we've been working in these swim lanes, if you will, Cooley told reporters on a conference call April 18. "We need to relook at how quickly we can transition between those stages of research," from basic to early applied and then advanced."

"In cyber, in particular, we need to accelerate those processes. And so one of the aspects that we're taking on internally is to build a fast lane to ensure we can accelerate those basic research ideas in cyberspace as rapidly as needed," he said.

Instead of focusing on specific technologies, the Air Force's new strategy focuses on warfighter capabilities including cyber warfare tools, smart munitions and hypersonic flight. Other capabilities included were global persistent awareness (e.g., multimodal sensing, laser and radar), information sharing (e.g., mesh networks), rapid decision-making (e.g., artificial intelligence and predictive data analytics), possible upgrades to multi-domain command and control and low-cost air and space platforms.

The strategy also includes a new set of focused research programs called vanguards, targeting significant technical achievements and viable "leap-ahead capabilities."

Programs for the vanguards have not yet been identified, but the intent is to pinpoint capabilities that "break the mold of how we're thinking and maybe open up new opportunities," Cooley said. Vanguards will also team closely with the Air Force's Warfighting Integration Capabilities office.

Through the vanguards, the Air Force hopes to get to a "collection of technologies that represent a fundamental change" in warfighting. Success, Cooley said, hinges on being "open to new ideas" across government, academia and industry to enable "new thinking and approaches to these difficult problems."

Which technologies or combinations will bring these capabilities to fruition, he said, will only become clear through increased experimentation.

The strategy also includes a proposal for the appointment of a chief technology officer, who would advocate for science and technology and will help implement the long-range strategy. Details of the job are still being sussed out.

In the coming months, the Air Force will begin soliciting ideas for research or vanguards programs. To be more accessible for industry collaboration, the Air Force plans to post updates and opportunities on AFResearchLab.com.

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is senior editor for FCW and Defense Systems, covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.


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