AFRL leading way on next-generation science

AFRL leading way on next-generation science
UD and WSU are key partners in new Air Force strategies.
By Thomas Gnau
Staff Writer

A renewed Air Force emphasis on the war-fighting science and technology of the future may boost the importance of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Maj. Gen. William T. Cooley, commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory — which is based at Wright-Patterson — said the new Air Force “Science and Technology Strategy” is the fruit of months of research and expert testimony, resulting in far more than a targeted list of powerful new technologies.

Cooley expects AFRL and the base to play a leading role in the development of next-generation defensive and offensive capabilities, including hypersonic (faster than sound) flight, artificial intelligence, machine learning and far more.

“I fully expect that the men and women of the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory will be key implementers in making this happen,” Cooley said Thursday in remarks at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

“The Air Force Research Laboratory has been the heart and soul, the cornerstone of Air Force science and technology,” Cooley said. “It’s headquartered here at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. I fully expect to continue to see the development of the eco-system that we have developed here, not just at Wright-Patterson … but nationally.”

AFRL has research and functional directorates located across the nation, including Rome, N.Y., Arlington, Va., Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico and beyond.

The new Air Force strategy will involve science and technology stakeholders, “brilliant engineers” and key universities, among other resources, Cooley said.

He stressed that it will involve academia. The twostar general said his message to universities was: “Stay tuned and plugged in” for new research opportunities.

Both the University of Dayton and Wright State University have deep links to Air Force and military research work. The University of Dayton Research Institute performed $149.8 million in sponsored research in fiscal year 2018, with more than 90 percent of that work tied to federal contracts, including contracts with the Department of Defense.

“The base, the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Air Force science and technology enterprise have made shifts in the past,” Cooley said. “We have made decisions to get out of some areas, and we’ve moved into other areas based on the technology needs of the Air Force.”

That work will continue, he said.

In September 2017, Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson launched an initiative to update the Air Force’s approach to science and technology, and over the course of the next 18 months, Air Force leaders said they listened and learned from representatives of the scientific community, higher education and business.

The Air Force today spends about $2.8 billion a year on science and technology projects, Wilson said.

The Air Force wants to focus on new ways to gather information and project power, emphasizing areas such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, developing low-cost air and space platforms, hypersonic flight capability and more.

Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, military deputy in the office of the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, said there is no “cost threshold” for the overall endeavor at the moment, according to media reports of a Pentagon briefing on the new strategy.

“Our strategy isn’t just a list of technologies,” Wilson said in a statement this week. “Our approach will be to predict where adversaries cannot easily go and make sure the Air Force gets there first.”

The focus will also feature the naming of a “chief technology officer” for the Air Force.

In recent years, American defense leaders have pointed to a gradually more apparent “great power competition,” mainly with China and Russia, a marked shift away from non-state adversaries, the approach that has dominated since Sept. 11, 2001.

“This is driven by the national defense strategy and the reemergence of great power competition,”

Cooley said at the museum Thursday.