US Air Force looking to Europe for commercial technologies, official says
RAF FAIRFORD, England — The U.S. Air Force will lean heavily on commercial technology to achieve its near-term goals more quickly and wants to hear from potential suppliers in Europe during two major air shows this week, the service’s top acquisition official said.
Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall last year outlined a list of seven issues that are crucial to the service maintaining resilience in the future. Those “operational imperatives” range from ensuring space capabilities can operate in a contested environment, determining the suite of long-range strike systems that will complement the B-21 bomber and developing the Advanced Battle Management System to better share data and connect forces on the battlefield.
Andrew Hunter, the Air Force’s acquisition executive, told reporters July 16 during a briefing at the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford in England that in order to make fast progress, the service must work closely with industry and the scientific community through organizations including the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Defense Innovation Unit, which partners with innovative companies to transition commercial capabilities for military use.
“A big piece of what we’re doing with the operational imperatives is harvesting recently developed technology,” he said. “Some of that is from DARPA, some of that is from the Air Force Research Lab activity, some of that is form the kind of work that DIU has done on the commercial side and our own efforts to reach out to commercial industry.”
Hunter said the service wants to begin fielding new capabilities to support its operational imperatives within the next few years, a timeline that he called “a very quick turn.” Transitioning mature commercial technology brings the added challenge of making sure a system is prepared to operate in a military environment, he said.
“Commercial capability really lends itself to that approach where it has direct application to military problems,” he said. “The hard part is making sure that they’re missionized in the right way and integrated with their other capabilities.”
During his time at RIAT this weekend and at the Farnborough Airshow next week, Hunter said he wants to hear from European companies that are doing innovative work that the U.S. Air Force might be able to leverage. Of particular interest are space capabilities, unmanned aerial vehicle technology and air refueling systems, he said.
“Being here, a lot of the focus is talking to European heritage companies, because we can have a lot of robust dialogue with our US primes when we’re back in the states,” Hunter said.
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She previously covered the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force for Inside Defense.