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NEWS | May 3, 2022

Michigan Air National Guard fuels ability to accelerate change; increase value through hybrid innovation

By MSgt. David Eichaker Michigan National Guard

SELFRIDGE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mich.—Since September 11, 2020, the Kelly Johnson Joint All-Domain Innovation Center (KJJADIC) has been at the forefront of innovation, leading transformational impacts to change the ways organizations conduct operations. On March 14, through Academia, Industry, Military, Hybrid Innovations (AIM-HI), the Michigan Air National Guard and KJJADIC sponsored the Cohort 3 Pitch Day, where Guard members who embrace modernization were given an opportunity to present innovative solutions to National Guard, US Air Force, and Department of Defense (DoD) agency leadership. AIM-HI is an Air National Guard innovation program to educate military members on the process of innovation through challenging problem-statements to combat near-peer threats to advance the modernization of our military.

The Pitch, which happened during Cohort 3, used real-world problems to grow the innovation ecosystem and integrate with diverse, non-traditional organization to expand capabilities of the Air Force, Air National Guard, and the DoD.

“We are trying to make innovation tactically ready,” said Michigan Air National Guard member Lt. Col. Dave “Brew” Brewer, currently assigned to the Innovative Solutions and Disruptive Technology Division, Air Force Futures. “We combined Michigan Air National Guard, National Guard Bureau, and U.S. Air Force priorities along with other entities and lined that to the greater construct of what the National Guard can produce to the active duty component.”

The future of operations can be contested and ensuring Airmen can operate in austere locations is key.

As eight teams presented their solutions to leadership, one team presented a solution to Agile Combat Employment (ACE), allowing Airmen to disperse and fight. ACE can enable warfighters while promoting and improving effectiveness of multi-capable Airmen in the field. Multi-capable means Airmen performing basic non-Air Force Specialty Code tasks in critical situations. One suggested solution- virtual reality (VR) training utilizing VR headsets.

“We are proposing VR functions for maintenance personnel and multi-capable Airmen in the field,” said a team member pitching this idea to leadership. “Giving Airmen the resources they need at their fingertips at the moment they need it.”

The idea is to have a non-maintenance qualified Airmen and a qualified maintainer who are geographically apart communicate with each other through a VR headset and conduct maintenance. Through the VRs, the maintainer will see the issue as multi-capable Airmen physically resolve the issue.

“Virtual reality training will make Airmen more multi-capable,” said Col. James Rossi, commander, Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, Michigan. “VR technology allows aircraft with a challenging maintenance issue and not having the right certified maintainer to address that issue to live feed it to a command and control center where they do have experts providing over-the-shoulder assistance to address a real problem on the ground.”

The concept of ACE is relatively new. Within an environment where there is agility, there is a chance for innovation, creativity, and diversity of thoughts.

“We have an opportunity in the Michigan Air National Guard, the National All Domain Warfighting Center, and the Kelly Johnson Joint All Domain Innovation Center to help our active duty partners and help develop what this could potentially look like,” said Lt. Col. Michael Whitefoot, with the KJJADIC.

Another pitch solution was leveraging the capabilities of multi-domain dominance, focusing on communication across the DoD, touching on a simple but sometimes complicating use of technology—Email.

The proposed change is to combine Non-classified Internet Protocol (IP) Router Network (NIPRNet) and Secure Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet) email systems while using one domain.

“Every day, we (the DoD) sends tens of thousands of Emails across the DoD,” said a team member from Dominator X, who was pitching this concept. “One force, one (Email) domain is the concept that will lead the DoD into the future … and the change must happen.”

The experiential training environment mixes in academics which makes Cohort 3 more than just a class as these National Guard university-level students pitched their solution concepts. In return, participants will receive a special certificate.

“The Guard members are going through a program that’s in conjunction with and sourced through the University of Michigan—that’s what makes this a graduate level equivalent class,” said Brewer. “It is a Michigan Air National Guard program that is in collaboration with ARCWERX and the University of Michigan for the certificate.”

“Students will earn a Certified Professional Innovator certificate through the University of Michigan,” he said.

Last summer, the KJJADIC was involved with the first-ever Agile Combat Employment highway landing proof-of-concept on U.S. soil, which saw U.S. military aircraft land on a section of state highway in Northern Michigan to simulate operations in an austere environment. Support for this kind of groundbreaking activity will continue throughout 2022 during events at the National All-Domain Warfighting Center, with emphasis on command and control and communication.

“It will involve communication across avenues where there were previously no communication connections,” said Rossi. “These teams here are coming up with solutions for the joint all-domain command and control communication challenges.”

The Kelly Johnson Joint All-Domain Innovation Center’s mission is focused on critical thought and collaboration for efforts such as Joint All-Domain Command & Control applications. This center is the ground breaking effort setting the strategic vision for Michigan Defense Research, Development, and Disruptive technologies. Leveraging a history of changing capability, this center will have three core tenants, focusing on critical belt-way relationships and partnerships, incorporating indigenous Michigan industrial and institutional education, and linking innovations to local DoD missions.