Air Force innovation: Empowering Airmen

  • Published
  • By Tech Sgt Jimmie Pike
  • Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs

Innovation across the U.S. Air Force can involve anything from work processes to physical assets and often include policy updates to long-standing Air Force regulations. For Airmen, Air Force innovation and the respective unit offices which support the innovation efforts, known as Spark Cells, should be nothing new.

But where does innovation start?

“Being innovative in the Air Force means when you see a challenge, you say, ‘Okay, how do I now get around this challenge?’” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Raymond Hill, Pacific Air Forces innovation lead. “Is it just getting leadership’s attention, is it getting funding, or is it policy changes on either side of the problem?”

Whether creating things in their garages they think will be more efficient, or bringing ideas they’ve seen somewhere else into discussions, people are the driving force behind change, explained Hill.

“It always starts with the Airmen,” said Hill. “They do the work to try and figure out how their ideas will actually make sense for the Air Force.”

Once Airmen have an idea or create something they want to bring to the Air Force, it is recommended they reach out to their local innovation cell for further refinement and mentorship.

“Spark Cells have at least one lead that's really great at being able to say, ‘Here's how we take your idea, ensure it makes sense, and make it into a very solid pitch that will convince leaders we need to fund this,’” said Hill.

From there, Spark Cell leads can help with routing the project to whoever is appropriate for further coordination. Spark Cells can also help Airmen who want to support other innovation initiatives that have already started by connecting them to projects that may want or need a specific expertise.

“Additionally, anyone who has a [common access card] can access ‘Vision’,” said Hill. “The website is a collection of submitted and ongoing innovations. People can find a project, see who’s working on it, and ask to join their team to collaborate and work together.”

Even though it’s always a good time to innovate, Airmen who are looking to get ideas submitted for competition should be aware the Air Force Spark Tank will start collecting submissions in July and stop in August.

In PACAF, submissions are typically taken in January to compete in the Major Command. Some recent innovations from PACAF have made quite a bit of headway in larger Air Force channels.

“Last year the top innovation, Project Kinetic Cargo, was a deployable automated cargo measuring system that has been dramatically successful during Cope North in February where they took 96 hours of processing time down to 14 hours,” said Hill. “The project won the People's Choice Awards at the larger Air Force Spark Tank, where General Brown said that he would support them in getting needed policy changes. And now we're at a point where kinetic cargo has the appropriate policy changes to be enacted Air Force wide.”

Other recent innovations include a mobile Air Transportable Clinic and Venom Kits. The mobile clinic is an Agile Combat Employment focused innovation which is currently on track to potentially become the new Air Force standard for how medical will be done in ACE environments. Venom Kits are fuel additives that allow us to convert “Jet A”, commercial fuel, into JP8 which are used in fighters.

“We try and take great airmen ideas and turn them into reality,” said Hill. “It might be cliché to say, but it’s about empowering Airmen.”