Message at Air Warfare Symposium 2018: Innovation critical to lethality and readiness

  • Published
  • By Corrie Poland
  • Air Force Operational Energy

Senior leaders from across the Air Force, and defense and technology industries gathered in Orlando for the 2018 Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium February 22-23 to discuss the central theme: “Innovation: The Warfighter’s Edge.” 

The Honorable Heather Wilson, Secretary of the Air Force, kicked off the event with the State of the Air Force, driving home the point that the Air Force must rapidly innovate to maintain a warfighting advantage. Wilson spoke of the necessity to connect with industry partners and the broader scientific enterprise in order to maintain readiness and lethality. She also stressed the importance of stripping away cumbersome approval chains and acquisition processes.

“The creativity, initiative, and spirit of the American Airmen and American industry must now be leveraged in new domains in more contexts to solve more problems faster,” Wilson said.

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, Kaleth O. Wright, mirrored her message. “We must allow Airmen to fail forward. We must listen and provide opportunities. Do you have a culture in your organization that allows Airmen to share their ideas?” asked Wright.

Throughout the two-day symposium, attendees heard stories of ideas coming to life, such as the innovations created by young Airmen and showcased during the Spark Tank competition. They also heard from industry leaders such as Peter Wincher of Singularity University about how technology advancements grow exponentially over time, and from Milo Medin of Alphabet Inc. (Google’s parent company) on the criticality of leveraging artificial intelligence and data. Attendees were urged to ‘Ask why’ and challenge processes that are no longer relevant.

The message throughout was clear: Start innovating. Our Nation’s security depends on it.

Air Force Operational Energy has been an early adapter of this mentality and is already working hard to pioneer DoD energy optimization strategies through technology, data, and innovative ideas. A top priority of the office has been to track and maintain fuel consumption data across all aircraft to better understand where optimization opportunities exist. Early data collection and analysis efforts have already led to increased efficiency, such as those seen by decreasing excess fuel (more than required reserves) on heavy aircraft.             

Another priority is to utilize modern technology to streamline operations. Air Force Operational Energy partnered with Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) to develop the aerial refueling planning tool “JIGSAW” and save millions in fuel.  By using modern tools to help planners match refueling aircraft with receivers, not only has planning time been drastically reduced, but the scheduling efficiencies gained have reduced the launch of at least one tanker per day.

Like the symposium speakers said, asking why when processes don’t make sense is critical to continuous improvement. For instance, Air Force Operational Energy noticed that aircraft from Barksdale Air Force Base had to travel to distant ranges to complete training requirements. With a relatively simple communications upgrade, aircraft can now accomplish training requirements at the much closer Claiborne Range, increasing training time and decreasing transit time.


The path forward toward a more innovative Air Force may not be the least path of resistance, but Air Force Operational Energy has heard the call of senior leaders for more innovation.

The mission of Air Force Operational Energy is to break barriers by connecting Airmen with technology, data, and innovative thinking to develop and champion energy-informed solutions across the Air Force. For more information and news visit:,, and