AFCENT hosts innovation summit

March 11, 2020

U.S. Air Forces Central Command hosted its fourth annual innovation summit, March 3-5, 2020, bringing together military and academic minds to discuss AFCENT’s innovation goal of increasing effectiveness and lethality via timeliness and data-driven decision making.

Throughout the conference, presenters from across the command explained how their efforts are helping AFCENT to achieve the innovation objective.

These efforts included discussions about how to modernize the 609th Air Operations Center software, move and store data for better analysis and what tools AFCENT Airmen can use to solve problems.

“This summit allowed us to learn the value of our Airmens’ knowledge across the Air Force and how to tap into that and apply it to fix issues that come up across the area of responsibility and all the different issues people run into in their work centers,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. James Graham, a bioenvironmental engineer deployed to the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates.

One place Airmen can go to help fix these issues is the 379th AEW “Desert Spark Lab”, which contains many tools Airmen can use for innovation. The summit attendees received a hands-on lesson at the lab and an in-depth presentation on what the lab offers.

“The innovation lab gives all of the military members on base a new way to innovate,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Claire Hoover, an air battle manager deployed to the 380th AEW. “The lab has 3D printers, a laser cutter and computers, so Airmen at the lowest levels can start out getting creative by designing new tools or pieces, and maybe start solving problems.”

The lab has been used to create solutions that save time and money. Due to AFCENT’s location, something that is not normally a problem back in the U.S. to acquire could pose a big problem here.

“For example, if a part on a vehicle breaks at home you would just drive to the store, buy the part and put it on the vehicle,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Kyle Boothe, the AFCENT chief innovation officer. “Here, we may have to wait weeks to get that same part. So now with this lab, we have the capability for someone to engineer that part and just print it here, and it saves us a ton of money and a bunch of time, and we are able to get back to the mission.”

This type of lab can be applied to every specialty and base throughout the CENTCOM area.

“The point of gathering at this conference was to find out about the resources that are available to us so that we can go back to our bases and offer that information to our home units,” Graham said.

AFCENT recently received $4 million in innovation funds to be distributed across the AOR. During the summit, attendees brainstormed ideas about how these funds could be used, to include the possibility of setting up additional labs throughout the area to help inspire more Airmen.

“It’s good to see the Air Force investing in innovation, because it demonstrates to Airmen that these capabilities are out there and we want you to go use these tools and get creative,” Hoover said.

Boothe explained the three main purposes of having this type of lab available to develop solutions for operational problems, get Airmen to start thinking differently, and increase resiliency.

“Innovation means asking why we do something and finding a better solution on how to accomplish the mission that’s completely different from what we have done before,” Boothe said. “We are really good at that in the AFCENT theatre. In the AOR, we find solutions to problems because the most important problems we are going to face are due to us actively fighting here and we need to be innovative to be successful.”