• A Gulfstream C-37A taxis on the flight line at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, May 3, 2021, carrying Gen. Mark Kelly, USAF, commander of Air Combat Command and his team for a visit about the base’s rebuild. The Air Force’s innovation hub, AFWERX, is conducting a new consecutive three-part challenge to bring in solutions for flightline security, advanced sensors and communication, and aircraft maintenance. Credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anabel Del Valle
     A Gulfstream C-37A taxis on the flight line at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, May 3, 2021, carrying Gen. Mark Kelly, USAF, commander of Air Combat Command and his team for a visit about the base’s rebuild. The Air Force’s innovation hub, AFWERX, is conducting a new consecutive three-part challenge to bring in solutions for flightline security, advanced sensors and communication, and aircraft maintenance. Credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anabel Del Valle

AFWERX Launches Challenge to Improve Airfield Operations

June 16, 2021
By Kimberly Underwood
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Air Force innovation hub calls for industry solutions for flightline security, enhanced sensors and communication, and aircraft maintenance.


The U.S. Air Force’s innovation arm, AFWERX, is looking for state-of-the-art data, sensor and communication solutions in three concurrent competition areas: the Aircraft Maintenance Operations Challenge; the Flightline Security Challenge; and the Airfield Maintenance and Repair Challenge, which are all part of a greater effort called the Revolutionizing USAF Flightline Operations Challenge.

Specifically, AFWERX is soliciting technologies or ideas from the private sector that can advance aircraft maintenance operations, increase flightline security through automation and innovative data analytics, improve communications for maintenance personnel and develop more integrated teams. For the service’s air fields, the organization is seeking to leverage autonomous technology, enable data-driven decision-making and integrate emerging airfield surfaces.

“The AFWERX Revolutionizing USAF Flightline Operations initiative is made up of three challenges targeted at leveraging the best technology and services to create an integrated flightline while maintaining security, being resilient and increasing agility,” said an AFWERX statement about the challenge.

The challenge is open for industry white paper submissions through July 8. AFWERX is also hosting a networking session on June 22—for companies to find possible partners to submit combined solutions—followed by a webinar on June 29 to provide more information and answer questions about participating in the challenge before the deadline, Mark Rowland, AFWERX innovation actualizer, explained during a June 15 presentation.

If selected, company ideas will be showcased during an in-person and virtual event in Las Vegas in late August. AFWERX expects to announce its selections by July 30.

“We expect the use of advanced data analytics and automation to kind of go hand in hand, but it is also more into the AI [artificial intelligence] and machine learning-type capabilities to see if it is something that we can tie into existing physical security measures and sensors,” said Mark Shackley, speaking about the Flightline Security Challenge. “And there may be some new technology that is essential, that we haven’t thought of yet that can be employed, such as something that could be put into the ground, or maybe it's in the paint that goes around the restricted area that transmits.”

Flight security solutions need to also address the growing unmanned aerial system (UAS) threat. The Air Force is looking for counter-UAS and anti-swarm solutions for bases or flight lines. “It is not only for detection, but for a defeat capability,” Shackley continued. “[We] would prefer something that is kinetic, that would be awesome, but we know right now that kinetic counter-UAS measures don’t seem to be really mature enough yet for state-side use.”

Lt. Col. Yogi Lebby, USAF, chief, Advanced Concepts, A4/LM, clarified that the three challenges all involve solutions to support improved communication and connectivity. For aircraft maintenance, however, the service needs unique capabilities to support its aircraft maintainers.

“And for aircraft maintenance, it goes into modernizing our data collection, analysis, visualization, decision making and predictive analytics,” Col. Lebby stated. “How can we make things better with all the data information that we have. How do we improve our processes and procedures? We operate in a lot of unique and different ways and we do things by the book, very strategically, but how do we get smarter and do things more effectively and faster as well.”

Interested companies can find more information at https://afwerxchallenge.com/.

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