The Air Force (USAF) has continuously sought to improve the speed, effectiveness, and innovation of the capabilities it develops to accomplish its missions in air, space, and cyberspace. Revitalizing development planning as a major tool in the Air Force strategic planning process has become an important imperative, embraced by the Air Force leadership. The Air Force has made numerous organizational changes to support this renewed emphasis on capability planning. They include implementing the Air Force 3-star-level Capability Development Council (AF CDC), guided and overseen by the Secretary of the Air Force (SecAF) and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force (CSAF); the colonel-level Capability Development Working Group (CDWG); and the Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation (SDPE) office.
As stated in the USAF Charter for Air Force Capability Development (see Appendix D), the primary objective of these organizations and the processes they oversee is “to deliver timely and effective Air Force capabilities for the Joint Warfighter. . . .1 “The Air Force has also created Enterprise Capability Collaboration Teams (ECCTs) to prototype and perfect its renewed development planning functions. The initial ECCT is focused on Air Superiority-2030 needs, to identify technology opportunities, innovations, and experimentation campaigns.
The Air Force tasked the Air Force Studies Board (AFSB) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine2 to hold a workshop and study the role of experimentation in the innovation cycle and, specifically, to examine (1) the current state of innovation and experimentation in the Air Force; (2) best practices in innovation and experimentation in industry and other government agencies; (3) organizational changes needed to eliminate the barriers that deter innovation and experimentation; and (4) other factors relevant to the successful implementation of robust innovation and experimentation by the Air Force.
The Committee on the Role of Experimentation Campaigns in the Air Force Innovation Life Cycle conducted an extensive review of best practices and benchmarks in industry and government and examined what worked in the past for the Air Force to address the statement of task identified by the Air Force.
Finding 1: There is too little space, time, and funding for experimentation-driven innovation in today’s Air Force.
Finding 2: Well-designed and executed experimentation campaigns are critically important drivers of innovation.
Finding 3: When it comes to experimentation, a fear of failure is crippling the Air Force today.
Finding 4: Dedicated leadership in the form of “Innovation Catalysts” is the essential foundation on which innovation through experimentation must be built, a foundation largely missing in today’s Air Force.
Finding 5: The tools and processes essential to Air Force success with innovation through experimentation are not in place.
Finding 6: Metrics need to be carefully tailored to specific situations or they can do tremendous harm.
Finding 7: The culture in today’s Air Force is not one supportive of widespread experimentation, especially those leading toward disruptive innovations.
2 Effective July 1, 2015, the institution is called the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. References in this report to the National Research Council (NRC) are used in a historical context to refer to activities before July 1.
The committee proposed specific recommendations to address these findings. The most important revolved around the critical need for an “Innovation Catalyst” that would champion innovation and experimentation within the Air Force. A model for this need can be found in a number of successful companies. In most of these companies, this “catalyst” is embodied in the role of a chief technology officer (CTO). As an example, the Boeing Company has a CTO who reports directly to the Boeing chief operating officer and who has a direct and frequent say in ensuring that innovative technologies are properly funded and considered in the company’s new developments. A somewhat smaller company, Corning, Inc., credits its CTO with keeping the company relevant and competitive by continuously infusing innovative capabilities into its product development. In both companies, robust experimentation helps to inform quick decisions on which innovations should be funded to best accomplish the companies’ mission needs.
The committee steered clear of recommending how the Air Force should establish a CTO function. It might be incorporated into a new or revised responsibility for the Air Force chief scientist, added to the responsibilities of the Commander of the Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC), or added to the responsibilities of the Commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). The most important factor, however, is that an Air Force CTO must have regular and direct access to the top leadership of the Air Force and to organizations like the new AF CDC, the CDWG, and the SDPE to ensure that innovative ideas and technologies from a wide variety of sources are considered and evaluated through robust experimentation campaigns. Detailed descriptions of the rationale for the committee’s findings and recommendations are summarized in Chapter 4 and in Table 4-1. Table ES-1 is an abbreviated version of Table 4-1.
Recommendation 1: The Air Force should determine where it most critically needs innovation, and establish Innovation Catalysts to help drive experimentation and innovation in those areas.
Recommendation 2: Wherever they are established, the Innovation Catalysts should be directly linked to their senior leadership.
Recommendation 3: Air Force leadership should move proactively to create organizational space for experimentation-driven innovation.
Recommendation 4: The Innovation Catalyst should establish a portfolio of proven management tools and disciplined approaches for experimentation based on established best practices.
TABLE ES-1 Tasks and Corresponding Findings and Recommendations
|Statement of Task||Findings||Recommendations|
1. Define the current state of practice of experimentation within the Air Force (AF).
2. Assess the role of experimentation in the innovation life cycle and address how it can support the Air Force’s future technology requirements.
3. Evaluate the role of risk management and experimentation in the innovation life cycle.
|F-3||R-4, R-5, R-6|
4. Evaluate current legislative, organizational, or other barriers that limit the use of experimentation within the AF.
|F-1, F-3, F-7||R-1, R-3, R-4, R-5, R-6|
5. Review and recommend best practices for incentivizing experimentation based on an assessment of comparable S&T organizations.
|F-4, F-5, F-7||R-1, R-2, R-3, R-4, R-5, R-6|
6. Recommend metrics that can be implemented across the AF to monitor and assess the use and value of experimentation.
7. In addition, the committee will address any other factors deemed to be relevant, such as organizational structure or concepts of operation that could enhance the likelihood of successfully implementing a robust experimentation program within the Air Force acquisition community.
|F-7||R-1, R-2, R-3, R-4, R-5, R-6|
Recommendation 5: The Air Force should carefully and cautiously consider metrics, as bad metrics could quickly derail any effort to stimulate greater experimentation and innovation.
Recommendation 6: Senior leaders should establish a clearer set of messages and incentives encouraging a culture of experimentation and risk-taking.