9 AF (AFCENT) hosts first Innovation Day Published Feb. 21, 2023 By Lt. Col. Marnee Losurdo Ninth Air Force (Air Forces Central) SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Ninth Air Force (Air Forces Central) hosted its first Innovation Day at the Carolina Skies Club Feb. 15. More than 70 industry partners and 230 participants attended the event designed to connect 9 AF (AFCENT) with solutions to problem sets in their 21-country area of responsibility. Ninth Air Force (AFCENT) Airmen discussed cultivating industry partnerships to mature and enhance Integrated Air and Missile Defense, the common operating picture shared between coalition and joint forces, Air Force and joint targeting artificial intelligence tools and off-the-shelf solutions to impede adversary operations and decision making. Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, 9 AF (AFCENT) commander, opened the event and welcomed everyone in attendance. He explained the importance and need for innovative solutions. “We are a combat Air Force in every sense of the word,” he said. “We have combat air patrols over Syria and Iraq protecting our forces on the ground ready to provide close air support and defensive counter air. We have Airmen here in the tactical command and control node commanding and controlling those aircraft in order to make sure we are protected on the ground.” “It’s a dangerous region, and there are people attacking us every day,” said the general, who added that many of those threats include unmanned aerial systems equipped with explosives. “We’ve got the best operators on the ground intercepting these threats, but we can’t always rely on that, which is why we need to be able to provide new technologies and new approaches in new ways that increase the length of time we have to engage.” Innovation Day is only one of 9 AF (AFCENT)’s tools to enhance mission execution. The recently-established Task Force 99 is the corner stone of 9 AF (AFCENT)’s approach to U.S. Central Command’s intent of building a Culture of Innovation by using commercial off-the-shelf technology. Task Force 99 is the aerial complement to the U.S. Navy’s Task Force 59 and the U.S. Army’s Task Force 39. These task forces create a technology development ecosystem that allows increased awareness and faster decision-making across all domains and to place cutting-edge tools in the hands of warfighters and decision makers. Lt. Col. Erin Brilla, who took command of unit in October, leads a small group of Airmen from a variety of specialties who have been working with vendors and leaders from academia and government agencies, as well as coalition partners, to innovate and experiment with this technology in a hostile and austere environment. Innovation Day is another opportunity for the unit and AFCENT to further develop these partnerships. “I’m very excited to export some of the solutions we see here today that we can build upon as an operational innovation unit and to have the opportunity to experiment with in the field,” she said, adding that they work side-by-side Airmen in the AOR who encounter these challenges. “We have the opportunity to shorten the conversation between the operator who is going to use [the technology] and the person who is developing it. Our goal is to get those two in the same room on a regular basis and keep that conversation ongoing to ensure we are developing the tools that are going to be the most useful. That, in my opinion, is a win for everyone.” Ninth Air Force (Air Forces Central) plans to host the second Innovation Day in early 2024.