Air Force giving $64 million to squadrons next week to spur innovation

ORLANDO, FLORIDA -The Air Force is trying to spur creative ideas from the ground up with a new $64 million investment in squadrons.

The Squadron Innovation Fund gives the Air Force’s basic unit about $10,000 to $30,000 to start new programs and invest in new ideas.

The Air Force puts the money in the hands of wing commanders. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said Feb. 23 at the Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium that wing commanders easily field ideas from airmen on their needs and wants in the battlefield.

“This money is designed to let the commanders on point, who know what their units need best, to test, to experiment, to refine their best tactical ideas. This is about trusting and empowering commanders and your airmen because the nation relies on us to be incredibly innovative as we look to increase our lethality and our readiness,” Goldfein said.

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The squadrons will get the money as soon as next week and commanders have already received guidance on the new program.

“It’s time to think big, start small, but scale fast,” Goldfein said. “We need our squadrons to be aggressively persistent and take risks in the pursuit of new ideas and solutions. No one knows the problems we face day-to-day more than the airmen in our squadrons.”

The program is part of a larger push by the Air Force and the Defense Department as a whole to speed up the acquisition cycle and build new weapons that can operate in the cyber and electronic warfare realms.

In the fall of 2016, Goldfein announced the squadron revitalization effort, which set up task forces to focus on squadron structure and makeup, joint training and intelligence integration.

“When we talk about revitalizing squadrons we aren’t talking about taking money and manpower and throwing them at this issue, quite frankly we don’t have it. This is to step back and ask ourselves the fundamental question ‘What does a 21st-century squadron need to look like?’ I think it looks different. I think there may be a civilian/military mix to it. … We have one Air Force with three components that are joined at the hip and we ought to look at that at the squadron level and see if there is a different mix we ought to look at,” Goldfein said during the revitalization roll out.

The Air Force went directly to airmen to find out how to best change squadrons. Last year, the service asked airmen to log in online to comment, share and vote on ideas that will better its squadron units.

With the innovation fund, the Air Force is putting more responsibility and leadership in the hands of squadron leaders.

Space and military life

Along with the announcement of the innovation fund, Goldfein reprioritized the role of space within the Air Force.

“It is time for us as a service, regardless of specialty badge, to embrace space superiority with the same passion and sense of ownership as we apply to air superiority today. Air and space are a continuum, as it must be with our Air Force because I believe we are going to be fighting from space in a matter of years,” Goldfein said.

Over the next year the Air Force will also revolutionize how it develops its enlisted airmen and officers.

Goldfein said the Air Force will look at new ways to educate its airmen and incentivize creativity and good leadership.

In addition, Goldfein said he heard airmen “loud and clear” that they need more flexibility in their lives. The service will work on those issues over the next year, but has already taken some steps to give airmen more flexibility.

The Air Force reduced additional duties and training required by airmen over the past two years and is using pilot programs to let airmen leave the service to take care of family and then reenter the military.