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Fast, but in the right direction

  • Published
  • By Michele Donaldson
  • Air Force Materiel Command

Air Force aircraft demonstrate incredible speed, but what about the process of getting those fighters, bombers and other equipment to the warfighter? Are we fast enough?

Not according to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr. who said in a 2021 interview, “Learn to move faster to counter China, or face catastrophe.”

But speed is not the end all. The Air Force needs to be fast, but also innovative and revolutionary. There are many efforts to “transform” our military, and digital transformation means different things to different people.

The Department of the Air Force Digital Transformation Office was established to unify all those efforts.

To that end, the DTO, in partnership with the University of Dayton Research Institute, Sinclair Community College and many large and small businesses, came together for the Dayton Digital Transformation Summit, August 2-4 at Sinclair Community College, Dayton, Ohio. The summit was an effort to work together to strategize the acquisition process. The DTO team sees transformation as “reimagining business” for the digital age.

“The Air Force culture is not always accepting of change, but change is what is necessary to win,” said Vince “Swath” Pecoraro, the DAF DTO Lead Project Manager.

Collaboration and culture change were the overarching themes of the event.

Pecoraro used the banking industry as an example of transformation and resistance to change. Banks used to be physical buildings with inflexible hours. Drive-through tellers improved the experience for customers, but digital technology introduced online banking and 24-hour service on cell phones. The transformation was not immediate. It took some time for people to trust the application and relearn how to manage their money.

In the same way, the acquisition model for the Air Force was considered extraordinary. during the Cold War. The United States outpaced the Soviets with its five-year model. The problem is that model is still in use. Adversaries are modernizing their military at an amazing rate, and we have no choice but to keep up.

“A five-year model just cannot work,” said Kyle Hurst, DAF DTO chief. “The software we will need five years from now has probably not even been written.”

“The software that is highly customized today will just be the standard features of tomorrow’s software,” added David Diaz, DAF DTO Chief Architect.

That’s why collaboration and seamless sharing of information between the military and industry is critically important.

The DTO has identified five priorities for the transformation process which were discussed in depth at the three-day summit:

          -Culture – Changing attitudes and behaviors to encourage embracement of digital innovation

          -Tools – Designing new tool sets and environments that can deploy quickly and affordably

          -Architecture – Delivering agile and flexible weapons system designs and models

          -Training – Providing relevant, high-quality educational content in easily-accessible formats

          -Standards – Using consistent data management frameworks and communication

It wasn’t a coincidence that the summit was held in Dayton, Ohio. Dayton has a rich history of innovation that has been in place since the early 1900’s. Not only is the area home to the highest concentration of aerospace engineers in the nation, the meeting was held just blocks away from the Engineers Club, which was created to be a place for innovators to meet and brainstorm ideas, and whose membership included the Wright brothers.

Innovation and forward thinking are still the keys to success today. Transformation means adopting a digital-first mindset to improve business processes, streamline operations and drive value for dollars spent. Done the right way, digital transformation can break down the barriers between the digital world and the real world.

“We need to move fast,” said Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall, “But in the right direction.”

More information on digital initiatives can be found on the Department of the Air Force Digitation Transformation Team website: https://dafdto.com/, the AFMC Digital page : https://www.afmc.af.mil/digital, and AFMC Digital Guide: https://usaf.dps.mil/teams/afmcde.

Join the “community of doers” by signing up to receive emails: DTO (dafdto.com).