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9 AF (AFCENT)’s inaugural Innovation Oasis bolsters commitment to Culture of Innovation

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Marnee A.C. Losurdo
  • Ninth Air Force (Air Forces Central)

A Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, radio frequency transmissions system apprentice won the inaugural Ninth Air Force (Air Forces Central) Innovation Oasis, a Shark-Tank style competition to attain innovative solutions, inventions and ideas, here April 19.

U.S. Staff Sgt. Thomas Lankford and deployed members of the 378th Expeditionary Communications Squadron at Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia, developed an inexpensive mass notification system using commercial off-the-shelf technology that can operate on communication networks worldwide.

Lankford will represent 9 AF (AFCENT) at the U.S. Central Command Innovation Oasis competition at MacDill AFB, Florida, May 25.

“The mass notification and warning system is critical and has proven its worth in being able to accelerate message delivery from leadership to the lowest level in a mission environment, ensuring the health, welfare and safety of the force,” said Lankford.

Lankford deployed to the CENTCOM theater in late 2022 where he co-created the solution to optimize installation mass notifications and enhance Agile Combat Support capabilities, ensuring potentially life-saving communication flow to personnel in harm’s way. He and his team developed a portable system that was not only installed throughout PSAB but was also deployed to forward operating locations in theater.

During the competition, six finalists presented their ideas— which were in line with the Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force’s Innovation Challenge— to operationalize agile combat employment, an operating concept that increases survivability by shifting generation of airpower from large, centralized bases to networks of smaller, geographically dispersed forward operating locations.

These ideas were presented to: Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, 9 AF (AFCENT) Commander; Maj. Gen. Clark Quinn, 9 AF (AFCENT) deputy commander; Chief Master Sergeant Kati Grabham, 9 AF (AFCENT) command chief; Col. Robert Smoker, Task Force 99 commander; and Mr. Graham Archer, senior research engineer, George Mason University’s Rapid Prototyping and Research Center.

While 9 AF (AFCENT)’s competition had only one winner, Lt. Col. Christopher Phillips, chief of AFCENT’s Innovation Division and an intelligence officer, will also present his concept “Comprehension” that proposes using machine learning applications and artificial intelligence to enhance existing intelligence analysis programs during the CENTCOM Innovation Oasis.

All of the submissions received support to move ahead for either immediate implementation or further study.

“Every one of these ideas is fantastic,” said Grynkewich. “It was a tremendous effort by everyone and there is a way forward for every single one of these ideas.”

The ideas presented which require further research will be supported by the new 9 AF (AFCENT) Command Technology and Data Office, which has been tasked to oversee the research and implementation of technology that promotes enhanced data-driven decision-making throughout the organization.

“Ninth AF (AFCENT) is building the Culture of Innovation needed to optimize our mission through our two greatest strengths: our people and our partnerships,” said Lt. Col. Chaz LeDeatte, 9 AF (AFCENT) deputy chief of staff, chief data officer, and interim chief technology officer.

“Innovation can be iterative to disruptive, and our innovation approach focuses efforts on process, technology, and approaches to enable campaign support and mission execution to include command priorities and focus area execution. Prime examples to enable our Culture of Innovation are the creation of our new Command Technology and Data Office to shepherd our innovation and digital transformation and events such as our inaugural 9 AF (AFCENT) Innovation Oasis supported by our teammates at George Mason University.”

Innovation Oasis was only one of 9 AF (AFCENT)’s efforts to build a Culture of Innovation. In Fall 2022, 9 AF (AFCENT) established Task Force 99 to leverage digital and unmanned technologies to create dilemmas for adversaries and opportunities for collaboration with partners. Additionally, in February 2023, the command hosted its first Innovation Day, working with more than 70 industry partners to generate solutions to problem sets in the 21-country area of responsibility.