AFRL/RW approached Air University in May 2019 to establish a research task force that examined the intersection of AFRL’s developing technologies, AFWIC’s emerging future operating concepts, and Air Force doctrine. The program’s desired goal was to identify potential changes in the Air Force’s warfighting ideas and organizations required to maximize the utility of technologies demonstrated in advanced prototypes for future warfighting capabilities. AFRL/RW use residual funds in its existing PIA with MGMWERX to hire a contract instructor, Dr Paul Hoffman, to develop a research task force (RTF) under the Air Corps Tactical School 2.0 name for AY20.
AFRL identified two desired outcomes for the RTF: graduates who are advocates for advanced technologies with an understanding of how these technologies could deliver capabilities for the warfighter, and relevant research for the AFRL enterprise that identifies gaps and seams in the technology maturation process.
ACTS 2.0 offered a combined Air War College/Air Command and Staff College joint elective for up to twelve students across both schools. The elective combined seminars, group travel to AFRL locations, and independent student research to examine student research questions. The intended deliverable at the end of the year was a student research paper that met each school’s academic requirements that would be presented to AFRL and AFWIC stakeholders.
A second line of effort was to expand the RTF to Squadron Officer College as an offering in the Air University Advanced Research (AUAR) electives program. The initial plan was to offer the AUAR RTF in CY20.
First year enrollment numbers in the AWC/ACSC joint elective were disappointing. The RTF had zero participants from the AWC student population. The compressed course preparation timeline, early selection date for Professional Studies Paper advisors, and a late AWC research elective open house drove students to choose electives based on PSP needs. There was little interest in signing up for an elective that did not tie into PSP research.
Four ACSC students signed up for the joint elective: two intelligence officers, a RIVET JOINT EWO, and an ops research analyst with a doctorate. While the numbers were low, the career field mix was good. Student seminar meetings started in August, with TDYs to AFRL locations at Wright Patterson and Kirtland in September and October. Students identified their research questions by the end of October and began their projects in November.
Due to the lower number of ACSC students, the SOS elective moved up to October 2019. SOS attached two faculty members to the program to assist with classroom, advisory, and administrative duties. Over the three iterations of the SOS program, the class size doubled from four students in the first offering to eight students in Class 20B. Prior to the cancellation of course 20C due to Covid-19, sixteen students were enrolled in the course. The SOS course included a mix of officers from all AFSCs, although the 20B iteration had four pilots, a B-52 WSO, and three developmental engineers.
Areas for Improvement
Enhancing value for AFRL stakeholders
To address both components, the RTF requires closer coordination with the lab via AFRL/XP to identify specific research questions of interest rather than relying on student discovery as the sole vehicle for topic identification. AFRL forwarded the initial version of this list in February 2020, which will help focus AY21’s topic formation and research.
Air War College program integration
For AY21, the RTF final paper will serve as the PSP, with additional grades to satisfy AWC research elective academic requirements.
Socializing and outbriefing results
ACSC student paper turn-in was delayed until the middle of April to respond to Covid-19 issues. This compressed the RTF’s ability to circulate papers to AFRL, AFWIC, and other interested offices for meaningful comment and feedback. Moving forward, papers need to be turned in by spring break to give external stakeholders the time to read and circulate results, in addition to receiving a formal outbrief from student researchers.
Expansion outside the AU “big three”
AFRL has stated a desire to expand the program into research efforts at SAASS and the Senior NCO Academy. Tentative plans to work with SNCOA were cancelled at the last minute. SAASS’s continued guardianship of student research precluded the RTF’s ability to provide technical expertise and contacts in the lab.
As AFRL expands its relationship with AU beyond AFIT, there are greater opportunities to partner with Maxwell agencies through wargaming and tabletop exercises (TTX) that invite participants from around the circle to discuss and comment on AFRL’s vision to operationalize capabilities. AFRL conducted a hypersonics program TTX with local Maxwell participation prior to the Covid shutdown that brought lab engineers and scientists together with operators to investigate the tactical and operational implications of hypersonics that yielded key insights for future design efforts.
Capt Wes Reid’s Remote Operation Coordination Kit (ROCK) was a finalist for the MGMWERX “Top Flight Pitch Night” to fund initial prototyping and won the “Viewer’s Choice” Award in May 2020.
Maj Gen Chance Saltzman, AFCENT/DCFACC, requested a full brief on the proposal for additional study.
Brig Gen Deanna Burt, USSF A3/6, forwarded Capt Chris Reis’s research on Space test and training range issues to her staff for further investigation.
The RTF benefitted from AFRL’s interest in rejuvenating its ties to Air University with the arrival of the AFRL liaison, Dr Charles Cerny. Although Dr Cerny’s portfolio includes other areas beyond the RTF, his contacts with the lab directorates and throughout the S&T community kept the RTF students in contact with subject matter experts across the AFRL enterprise.