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Air, Space Forces transition to AFWERX 3.0

  • Published
  • By Katie Milligan and Tim Tresslar
  • AFWERX

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFNS)-- As an innovative learning organization driven to accelerate change in the Department of the Air Force, AFWERX will release a series of new initiatives in support of its 3.0 evolution. Air and Space Force leaders will detail new opportunities for stakeholder engagement during a live broadcast Dec. 14 from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. EDT. 

AFWERX 3.0 will add five key lines of effort in executing its more than $1 billion annual budget:  

1) Increase funding opportunities aligned with the DAF Operational Imperatives 

2) Create a nexus between AFWERX capabilities that better align government resources with industry outreach, laboratory expertise, operator engagement and acquisition tools to improve speed and rigor across what some acquisition experts call the “valley of death” -- where innovative ideas do not find the necessary support to survive.  

3) Expand existing tools through open, specific and Strategic Funding Increase and Tactical Funding Increase, or STRATFI, topics with AFWERX AFVentures, increased end-user iteration through AFWERX Spark and opportunities for industry through AFWERX Prime 

4) Reduce barriers to conduct classified work for companies with novel concepts.  

5) Improve the data architecture for rapid stakeholder feedback and process improvement.  

As he prepares to take his new role Dec. 15, the incoming AFWERX Director Col. Elliott Leigh said, “I am thrilled to see the new ways that AFWERX 3.0 will support DAF priorities, Airman and Guardian innovation and industry commercialization by building on the amazing foundation created by the AFWERX team and ongoing senior leadership support.” 

In 2017, AFWERX 1.0 launched as a means of connecting Airmen with innovative ideas in academia and industry through cultural transformation. This established a foundation for unprecedented collaboration that greatly expanded the networks of Airman innovation and their connectivity to external stakeholders to bring in new ideas and technology transition pathways.  

In 2020, AFWERX moved to the Air Force Research Laboratory with the director of AFWERX reporting to the Air Force Service Acquisition Executive to execute more deliberate acquisition activities. During that first year, a single AFWERX 2.0 was created by combining AFWERX 1.0 with AFVentures, Agility Prime, U.S. Space Force innovation activities (later SpaceWERX), and the AFRL Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer, or SBIR/STTR, Center of Excellence. The move consolidated these innovation organizations to create efficiencies and focus on a more comprehensive acquisition tool. 

AFWERX AFVentures provided improved access to external technology, talent and capital. AFWERX Spark empowered innovation at the operational edge, and AFWERX Prime accelerated emerging technology markets using military missions and resources. The impact of AFWERX 2.0 cut across traditional and non-traditional measures of success, from enabling the first Airman flight of an electric aircraft, to accelerating 319 companies through Phase 3 transition to end-user funding after starting with a small business seed contract, to seeing follow-on funds to AFWERX companies increase 15-fold, to adding more than 1,500 new companies to the department’s portfolio. 

Col. Nathan Diller, the outgoing AFWERX director who is retiring after 22 years with the Air Force, said, “It has been incredible to see so many Airman and Guardian innovation experiments evolve into institutionalized programs that are not only adding amazing new capabilities to the force, but maybe, more importantly, they are creating more agile structures for how we accelerate the development of the future force.”   

Incoming director Leigh previously served as a materiel leader at Space Systems Command prior to joining AFWERX as its military deputy. While integrating into his new role, Leigh said he has been impressed with the rapid advances in innovation made possible through AFWERX processes. 

“I’m amazed at what we can achieve through the SBIR program, and we are doing this at scale,” Leigh said. “We are mobilizing a workforce of small businesses, tens of thousands of Americans, and a strategic war reserve of innovators in the private sector. We’re making rapid advances across every technology and mission area in the department, and in the process, we are changing a culture to propel innovation. This organization gets right after the Air Force chief of staff’s top priority of accelerating change and the secretary’s Operational Imperatives.” 

To learn more about the AFWERX 3.0 transition and to hear directly from Diller and Leigh, attend the AFWERX 3.0, which will feature an ask anything session and a fireside chat. Learn more here and register for the event here.

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