JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas — Idea – to innovation – to implementation.
That’s the goal of the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center’s new Innovation Office.
The office stood up Nov. 26 to tackle and solve complex challenges facing the U.S. Air Force I&MS Enterprise. It consists of Marc Vandeveer, AFIMSC chief innovation officer and a new innovation and analysis branch with two full-time innovation program analysts.
“This innovation office is dedicated to tying together the vast innovation ecosystem with our Airmen at our installations as a whole,” Vandeveer said. “We will strive to take an idea from conception, through collaborative innovation, and most importantly, through implementation.”
AFIMSC’s innovation office complements the Air Force’s culture and history of innovation, said Brig. Gen. Brian Bruckbauer, AFIMSC expeditionary support director.
“Innovation spurred the creation of the Air Force, and innovation is what has made the Air Force the best in history,” Bruckbauer said. “Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson has been brilliant on advancing the culture of innovation across all of our Airmen. At the same time, we are seeing a resurgence of near-peer competitors, and we need innovative Airmen to counter today’s threats and ensure we have the ability to protect our national interests.”
The Directorate has already been on the forefront of innovation having created the Installation Health Assessment, Installation Weapons and Tactics Conference, and Combat Support Wing, Vandeveer said. Now, as a full time office and dedicated personnel, it is on the leading edge of partnering with the Air Force Innovation Hub Network (AFWERX), Defense Innovation Unit, Air Force Institute of Technology and major command innovation offices and installation spark cells.
“As the ecosystem matures, we’ll see more ideas move toward real implementation, and we’ll see the number of ideas submitted continue to grow,” Vandeveer said. “We’ll be able to advance technologies, processes and increase capabilities, increase efficiency and reduce costs.”
AFWERX and IHA, in particular, have demonstrated this innovation potential and how AFIMSC is being good stewards of taxpayer dollars, Vandeveer said. AFWERX, which has hubs in Las Vegas and Washington, D.C., opened an office in Austin, Texas, and AFIMSC was the first organization in the U.S. Air Force to work with the AFWERX Austin Hub.
AFIMSC allocated $150,000 to partner with AFWERX on advancing unmanned aerial vehicle use are our installations and seeing immediate potential provided $50,000 in matching funds, and the Small Business Innovation Research program added another $750,000.
As a result, the Air Force Civil Engineer Center partnered with a small Austin-based start-up to utilize UAVs fitted with high-tech sensors to conduct aerial mapping and integrating machine learning algorithms to automate floodplain mapping, vegetation classification and identifying endangered species. This partnership will potentially save $2 million annually in mission sustainment costs as well as increase mission effectiveness.
AFIMSC is just beginning to establish its formal process and structure to ensure it’s engaged in the innovation ecosystem, Vandeveer said.
To help Airmen and civilian members further implement their innovative ideas, the innovation office is launching a Call for Innovation campaign Jan. 1-31 to fund their ideas and partner with innovation experts. The target audience for this campaign are all our Airmen in the Mission Support Groups worldwide as well as the entire AFIMSC enterprise at the headquarters level.
“Our office focuses on an idea, and our goal is to collaborate across the enterprise and help lead the idea towards implementation,” Vandeveer said. “If we don’t implement, we’re not adding value to the organization.”
Ideas can be submitted though the online collaboration tool Ideascale at https://usaf.ideascalegov.com/a/campaign-home/39.
“What we are seeing is the potential and the return on investment are enormous,” Vandeveer said. “I’m excited to see what the future will bring as the curve continues to accelerate.”
Global turmoil and uncertainty has put greater emphasis on innovation, Bruckbauer said.
“The call to innovation has always been there, and by connecting and leveraging the entire Installation and Mission Support enterprise, we stand a much better chance to achieve real success,” he said.