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Air Force to Give Each Squadron Up to $30,000 for Innovation

A 366th Training Squadron electrical systems apprentice course student at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, tests out a new medium of training, which involves virtual reality while digital designers James Rumfelt and Felton Joshua supervise the experience Jan. 26, 2018. (U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Pedro Tenorio)
A 366th Training Squadron electrical systems apprentice course student at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, tests out a new medium of training, which involves virtual reality while digital designers James Rumfelt and Felton Joshua supervise the experience Jan. 26, 2018. (U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Pedro Tenorio)

ORLANDO -- During a speech about future innovation here at the Air Force Association's Air Warfare Symposium, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein announced the service will give every total force squadron thousands of dollars in the next few weeks to preserve the "lethality of the force" but also jumpstart new and rapid projects.

A program called the "Squadron Innovation Fund" will distribute $64 million across the service, Goldfein said. That amounts to roughly $10,000 to $30,000 per squadron with operations and maintenance funding.

"Our success is going to be driven by airmen, who live and work in squadrons and squadron-like organizations, because you've heard me say consistently the squadron is the beating heart of our Air Force," Goldfein said. This "will kickstart squadron-level innovation [with] a tactical edge," he said.

Squadron commanders "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 our nation relies on us to be incredibly innovative as we look to increase our lethality and our readiness in this increasingly contested world," he said.

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Goldfein wants squadrons to begin thinking and acting like startups independent of Pentagon oversight.

The idea was birthed during his trip to Beale Air Force Base, California, where U-2 Dragon Lady pilots, maintainers and mission planners work with Silicon Valley tech companies routinely for better technologies to keep the spy plane flying.

Airmen will be encouraged to use the service's AFWERX program -- which "encourages partnerships with academic institutions, science and technology communities and private industries with an invested interest in solving complex security issues," according to the Air Force.

The program should function as a building block for networking and learning initiatives, the service said in a release following Goldfein's speech.

"Our roots are in a bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio," Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said in the release, referring to the Wright brothers and their first flights. "We tinker. This fund will support the bicycle mechanics in our squadrons.

"As I travel around our bases and visit flight lines and shops, I find airmen building better tools and trying out new ideas. This fund will enable more innovation from the squadron up, not the top down," she said.

"We cannot afford to go slow," Goldfein said Friday. "It's time to push up the throttles."

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana.pawlyk.

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