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Innovation: It's in our DNA

  • Published
  • Headquarters Air Force Reserve Command Public Affairs

Air Force reservists are working hand in hand with their active-duty counterparts to stand up a new cyber innovation center at the Air Force Academy here.

The Air Force is poised to spend $58 million in operations, military construction and personnel costs over the next five years to make the center a reality. 

The goal is to have it operational for a pilot project and initial cadet class by the fall semester this year.  While 28 full-time positions are coming by fiscal year 2019, none are actually in place yet, and the Air Force Reserve is filling the gap.

Dr. Jim Solti, the academy’s chief scientist, reached out to the Reserve for support during a cyber development team meeting last year at the Air Reserve Personnel Center at Buckley Air Force Base near Denver.  Col. Dave Schilling, Air Force Reserve Command director of communications at the time, worked with Air Force Space Command, the academy and the secretary of the Air Force’s chief information officer to identify potential candidates. A few months later, Col. Joseph Herold began working full time on orders to support the center’s stand-up.  Since then, six other Citizen Airmen have been brought on for varying lengths of time to provide the expertise and sheer manpower required to get the center up and running.

“The Reserve saved the day,” said Lt. Col. Mike Chiaramonte, director of operations and one of the officers who initially conceptualized the idea for the center. “We are on a tight timeline to be operational by the fall semester. We wouldn’t even be in the ballpark without the Air Force Reserve filling in the gap.”

The cyber innovation center will be the only one of its kind in the Air Force.  Its concept is based on a human-centric approach to design. Rather than solving technical problems, the center will utilize technology to create the human experience users wish to have.

The process will start with two questions: How are humans going to interact with what they design, and what technology do they need to build to make that happen? The end result will be a product or tool that connects to users in a more meaningful way. Most of the user-adopted technologies in use today, such as smart phones, have gone through this type of process, according to Chiaramonte.

“We approach the entire concept from bringing in an interdisciplinary team of people, getting as many perspectives as we can, and then go to a rapid ideation prototyping phase and explore what is possible,” he said.

Rapid ideation prototyping is a design phase in which the idea is to fail fast to succeed sooner. The prototypes they will design are low-end and easily thrown away, allowing developers to flesh out problems early and shorten the acquisition process by seeing fewer problems in the later development cycle.

This concept is used in private industry, which is one reason reservists who have private-sector expertise have helped in initiating the center.

“A benefit of the Reserve bridge is reservists bring in experiences and expertise just not resident in the active force because they have a foot in both the Department of Defense and in corporate America and bring that dual perspective,” Chiaramonte said.

While there are no Reserve positions in the center’s current authorizations, the center envisions adding some in the future. In the meantime, reservists assigned to various organizations around the globe are on active-duty orders to provide support.

To further leverage Reserve expertise, Herold, the industry liaison, said part of the larger vision is to bring in reservists on a part-time or project-oriented basis, depending on the expertise needed for particular projects. This will provide the center access to people with the relevant expertise and experience without taking active-duty Airmen away from their mission.

“This organization has the ability to shape the Air Force, and these seven people get the opportunity as reservists to bring their skills, expertise and experiences to make that real,” Herold said. “You don’t always get this opportunity. This is a chance to really make a difference, not just for the next year but for the next generation of Air Force leaders.”