The Air Force opened its latest technology innovation hub in Austin, Texas, on Thursday, about one week after AFWERX Vegas reached full operational capability.
In her opening remarks, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson talked about the history of innovation and how long it sometimes takes before creative, new ideas can become a reality. She used Leonardo Da Vinci’s spiral helicopter drawings from the 1400s as an example, saying it wasn’t until the 1940s that companies like Sikorsky figured out how to turn such innovative ideas into a success story. But USAF doesn’t have the luxury of time.
“Adversaries, particularly China, are innovating faster than we are,” said Wilson, who then retold a story a USAF science advisor once told of his kids playing hockey. The science advisor, said Wilson, said hockey players tend to repeat two mistakes. When they first start out, they focus more on individual performance, but you can’t win without the entire team working together. Second, “they shoot where the goalie is. You need to be shooting where the goalie isn’t,” she added.
The same holds true for innovation. USAF needs to “take note” of what its adversaries are doing, but it shouldn't try to imitate what they are doing.
“We need to be looking at not just what China is doing and try to do what they are doing, but we must try to do what they are not doing to innovate faster and prepare to be successful in protecting this country in the 21st century,” she said.
Her comments came just over a week after the AFWERX Vegas hub reached full operational capability, with the unveiling of its new 10,000 square foot prototyping lab. The lab, which will allow for onsite fabrication, will work in conjunction with another 20,000 square foot collaboration space, similar to the Austin facility. In her close remarks in Austin, Wilson made a plea to the audience to not let USAF bureaucracy, which she acknowledged is often a barrier to innovation, slow them down.
“We need your help. We need you to engage with us, to teach us how to be more creative,” said Wilson. “I’ve told so many airmen this, as has the Chief of Staff, but we will clear the way for you. We’ll try to change the rules around you, but … I need you to move now and not wait for us. Don’t wait for us. Get after this. We’ll clear the way. We’ll allow innovation to happen. We will drive forward in the future together.”
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