AFRL Commander Wants Lab’s 2030 Strategy to Move Faster

 In U.S. Air Force, Defense, U.S. Army, Air, Forces & Capabilities, U.S. Navy

More than a year after the Air Force released its “Science and Technology 2030” strat­e­gy, the offi­cer in charge of car­ry­ing it out says the future should come a little faster.

“The strat­e­gy is impor­tant, but accel­er­at­ing it, … that’s at the top of my list,” Air Force Research Laboratory Commander Brig. Gen. Heather L. Pringle told reporters Aug. 4. “I don’t want to wait. I don’t want to go slowly.”

Speeding up S&T 2030 is one of Pringle’s top pri­or­i­ties as she nears the two-month mark in her new job. She is the lab’s first per­ma­nent leader since Maj. Gen. William T. Cooley was abruptly fired in January amid an Air Force Office of Special Investigations inquiry into mis­con­duct alle­ga­tions. AFOSI has not respond­ed to ques­tions about the status of the inves­ti­ga­tion.

The April 2019 strategy tries to make the lab more ambi­tious and hone in on the most game-chang­ing ideas. It aims to bridge the gaps between the var­i­ous stages of research and devel­op­ment to accel­er­ate projects, and recruit prospec­tive work­ers from new areas of acad­e­mia and indus­try.

AFRL is fig­ur­ing out which 20 per­cent of its work is the most promis­ing, so it can focus money on those pro­grams and set up an easy tran­si­tion from the lab to the field, Pringle said. That includes the three “vanguard” programs that pull resources from across the lab to mature faster; sev­er­al early-stage, three-year ini­tia­tives under the new Seedlings for Disruptive Capabilities Program; and an annual Warfighter and Technologist Summit that starts this month to find the next top-pri­or­i­ty ven­tures.

“We have to grow to that [20 per­cent],” Pringle said. “There was a ramp that was being con­sid­ered and then I accel­er­at­ed it by two years to achieve the 20 per­cent.”

The bulk of that fund­ing will go toward the best can­di­dates in the advanced tech­nol­o­gy devel­op­ment and applied research phases, on the ear­li­er end of the devel­op­ment time­line.

Pringle point­ed to employ­ing dig­i­tal twins — vir­tu­al ver­sions of hard­ware that lets devel­op­ers exper­i­ment with updates and design — along­side auton­o­my algo­rithms and drones as a poten­tial­ly trans­for­ma­tion­al project.

“We’ll also be look­ing to devel­op met­rics to mea­sure our progress across the S&T 2030 pri­or­i­ties, and then ensure that we have the appro­pri­ate stake­hold­ers,” Pringle said. The least useful projects will be cut in the shuf­fle.

She must lead AFRL as it hands off some people and pro­grams, such as new satel­lite and sensor designs, to the Space Force. More than 700 of the lab’s 12,700 mil­i­tary, civil­ian, and con­trac­tors will become Space Force employ­ees but still work at AFRL, Air Force Magazine recently reported.

“We need to prove that we are one lab sup­port­ing two ser­vices,” she said. “We want to be able to … use their lan­guage, under­stand their chal­lenges, and be able to lever­age that to solve mul­tido­main prob­lems.”

As the armed forces over­lap in areas from hyper­son­ic weapons to auton­o­my, Pringle said she’ll be col­lab­o­ra­tive, not ter­ri­to­r­i­al. 

“The Army has heli­copters, the Navy has air­craft, both those ser­vices have forces that are going to the Space Force,” she said. “It’s going to be a multi-domain, multi-dis­ci­pli­nary solu­tion, so it’s impor­tant that we break down bar­ri­ers, not only at the lead­er­ship level, but across S&T.”

Army, Air Force, and Navy research lab bosses meet every few months, includ­ing an upcom­ing meet­ing on Aug. 12 to dis­cuss met­rics for mea­sur­ing suc­cess in research pro­grams.

Pringle will look for new ways to bol­ster the work­force, par­tic­u­lar­ly amid the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic.

“What I would love to achieve is to have the best cul­ture in the sci­ence, tech­nol­o­gy, and inno­va­tion ecosys­tem,” she said. “We have the talent to get there, and I believe that with strong part­ner­ships and a good focus that we can that we can get there.”

Air Force Magazine source|articles

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