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AMC, AFGSC chief scientists discuss innovation

From left: Col. David Lange, 18th Air Force director of plans and strategies; Dr. Rod Miller, Air Force Global Strike Command chief scientist; Senior Airman Alexis Suarez, 375th Wing Staff Agency unit deployment manager; and Dr. Donna Senft, Air Mobility Command chief scientist, discuss the KC-135 Stratotanker mission with Maj. Andrew Hale, 906th Air Refueling Squadron aircraft commander, before an aerial refueling flight Feb. 28, 2018, at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tara Stetler)

From left: Col. David Lange, 18th Air Force director of plans and strategies; Dr. Rod Miller, Air Force Global Strike Command chief scientist; Senior Airman Alexis Suarez, 375th Wing Staff Agency unit deployment manager; and Dr. Donna Senft, Air Mobility Command chief scientist, discuss the KC-135 Stratotanker mission with Maj. Andrew Hale, 906th Air Refueling Squadron aircraft commander, before an aerial refueling flight Feb. 28, 2018, at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tara Stetler)

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. — Air Mobility Command’s and Air Force Global Strike Command’s chief scientists met Feb. 27 and 28 to discuss ways the two commands can work together to foster technological innovation. 

Dr. Donna Cowell Senft, AMC’s chief scientist, and Dr. Rodney L. Miller, AFGSC’s chief scientist, serve as the scientific advisers for their respective commands, providing authoritative scientific counsel, and leading efforts to technologically enhance their respective commands’ capabilities.

“We advise on innovative ideas that may come into the command, make connections with industry partners, and interface with the Air Force Research Laboratories, other research organizations that provide technical capabilities for the Air Force,” Senft said.

According to Miller, the relationship between AMC and AFGSC is unique. 

“We cannot execute our nuclear deterrence mission without the support of Air Mobility Command,” he said. “It is important that we maintain a relationship, not just operationally, but from a science, technology and innovation perspective so that we can continue to ensure we can provide nuclear deterrence for the nation.” 

AMC’s mission aids AFGSC in multiple ways, to include refueling bomber aircraft, extending the reach of uninterrupted power projection and deterrence to any point on the globe.

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson noted at last month’s Air Warfare Symposium, innovation takes place both inside and outside of the Air Force. This highlights a critical part of Sneft and Miller’s roles — finding ways to collaborate with industry, academia and the research community to help drive innovation.

“One of my roles as chief scientist is to talk with the research community about what AMC’s capabilities gaps are and what technologies we’re going to need in the future,” Senft said. “Many of these institutions have research funding they can apply to our problems. However, they need to know what those problems are before they can address them.”

Miller stated his role at AFGSC mirrors his counterpart’s. 

“I talk about our mission and how we support the nation,” he said. “Then we work together to try to find ways to collaborate with industry partners so we can be more effective in our mission.” 

Senft’s office is working on a few projects such as examining the possibilities of using recent technologies and enhancements in the realm of aerial ports. 
  
“I’ve done a project for Aerial Port of the Future discussing how we can use robotics and artificial intelligence, along with the technologies used by our commercial mobility partners like FedEx in-house. This can benefit our operations and make us more effective, efficient, and also reduce injuries in our Aerial Port personnel.”

Aerial Port of the Future is a team of scientists and researchers from Air Mobility Command, Air Force, Army, Navy and Department of Defense research labs working  together to learn current operational requirements and processes while identifying the impacts such improvements could have on AMC’s rapid global mobility and the DOD as a whole.

According to Miller, AFGSC is establishing an innovation and collaboration space with the Cyber Innovation Center to enhance communication between the command and industry partners.

“Additionally, [AFGSC] has the responsibility to manage a council of chief scientists in the Air Force’s nuclear community,” he said. “We are developing a construct for this council with the purpose of advising the AFGSC commander on science and technology issues.”  

Another topic on the agenda was STEAM. As the Air Force continues to develop and modernize its forces and equipment, the need for science, technology, engineering and mathematics professionals within the service grows. AMC is contributing to this endeavor via its Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics Advisory Group.  

The group, headed by Senft, teamed up with four local schools and members from Scott Air Force Base to develop STEM summer camp activities. The camp’s activities show the importance of science, technology, engineering, and math in relation to aviation and aeronautics. 

The group’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. They were recently named a finalist for the BMO Harris Bank Spirit of St. Louis Award. The award honors a company, organization or institution for risk-taking, advancing an innovation, cutting-edge technology, or industry best practice that extends St. Louis’ rich history and global reputation as a hub of innovation and forward-looking vision.

The scientists’ level of encouragement is not limited to non-military avenues. Both scientists play a key part in promoting Air Force innovation programs designed to inspire, empower and challenge Air Force personnel to find new innovative ways to improve legacy processes.

A recent example is Air Force’s first-ever Spark Tank innovation competition, which allowed Airmen to pitch their innovative ideas to Air Force’s senior leaders through the Airmen Powered by Innovation portal. Master Sgt. Bartek Bachleda, 22nd Air Refueling Wing aircraft boom instructor, won the inaugural competition cup for his proposal to reengineer the boom operator instructor platform position for the entire KC-135 fleet. 

“I was on the committee that review the submissions for Spark Tank,” Senft said. “I was pleasantly surprised to see how many winners were represented, and it’s great to see that kind of innovation in the command.” 

Miller said a chief scientist’s key responsibility is to be a proponent for innovation, and to ask the question “what if?” 

“As chief scientists, our jobs are to help people have good ideas and not just kill [an idea] off simply because it’s not something we’ve done in the past,” Miller said. “We want to give people the tools to think outside the box and to take risks that are appropriate to move our mission forward.”