Monday, July 15, 2024

Shreveport business secures $26M for Air Force Global Strike Command

by BIZ Magazine

A $26M partnership between Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) and local Shreveport technology powerhouse Outerlink Global Solutions officially launched this August with the announcement of a four-year Strategic Funding Increase (STRATFI) contract award.

This is the first STRATFI contract ever designated to AFGSC, which marks a pivotal step forward in the Command’s modernization efforts as featured in their strategic plan. Outerlink’s focus is integrating their cutting-edge communications equipment, called IRIS (Iridium Certus), to the B-52 Stratofortress, bringing much needed capabilities updates to the bomber.

Vice president and managing director of Outerlink, Don Rucker, is thrilled to take this next step with the Command.

“There was this initiative to incorporate small, nimble, creative companies into the supply chain,” he recounts, “For me, it’s the opportunity for some fresh innovation that’s specific to the Air Force that’s so great. I know when we get these building blocks into warfighter’s hands, there’s going to be some exciting things that we get to do together. I like to create, I like to move forward, and this is a special opportunity.”

Outerlink’s contract award comes on the heels of a demonstrative flight test in June of ‘22, where B-52 crews at Barksdale Air Force Base successfully fielded IRIS’s beyond line of sight (BLOS) communication capabilities. The new tech decreased transmission times by significant orders of magnitude, added new capabilities with video file transmission, and enabled instantaneous push-to-talk radio comms over the entire globe. It’s evident that IRIS may be part of a greater Air Force mindset to shift from solely maintaining the B52’s legacy platforms and implementing modern capabilities. Now after a two-year product testing journey, Outerlink is rising to the next level of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program and may begin equipping the IRIS system with dedicated support from AFGSC.

The STRATFI contract award is a high tier of the SBIR, program supported by AFWERX. It’s designed to build relationships between small US businesses and the military by providing the necessary time and funding to adapt and field commercial technology on government platforms. SBIR grants have enabled thousands of small business innovators to successfully test and deliver solutions to the Air Force.

“Bridging that analog to digital gap is difficult,” says Nate Dawn, Chief of the Commercial Capabilities Integration & Transition (CCIT) Division in AFGSC, “but I think it’s achievable with our bright minds here in America.”

As Nate sees it, the STRATFI is a great win-win for both AFGSC and Outerlink.

“The greatest advantage to leveraging commercial solutions from small businesses is the ability to shape technology attributes for the Command while providing funding to kickstart a company’s research and development. $26M over four years, that’s going to impact not just Barksdale AFB, but also Shreveport and the economic development of Northern Louisiana as a whole.”

The CCIT was developed as a pilot program in 2022 with this vision in mind, Championed by Maj. Gen. Jason R. Armagost, former AFGSC Director of Strategic Plans. The Division is comprised of AFGSC civilian and military personnel, contractors provided by the Small Business Consulting Corporation (SBCC), and a partnership with BRF, an economic development organization, and its Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program (EAP), out of Shreveport. Their collective aim is to facilitate the scouting and integration of modern technologies for the betterment of the Command and greater Louisiana. Outerlink was among the first companies connected to AFGSC through CCIT channels, and the relationship continues to benefit the Command.

“It is imperative this command accelerate dual-use commercial technology transition through a strong partnership with our acquisition teammates and the private sector,” said former Deputy Commander of AFGSC Lt. Gen. Weatherington. “The CCIT, teaming with all our innovation efforts across the command, will change the narrative, ensuring American companies are eager to share their most advanced technologies with AFGSC and operationalize those capabilities for the benefit of our Striker Airmen.” Now in its second year, the CCIT has brought over $100M in contract awards and commitments to AFGSC.

Outerlink’s IRIS platform is a prime example of the symbiotic possibilities between commercial technologies and the Air Force.

“I would say that without the CCIT the STRATFI would have been impossible,” remarked Don Rucker. “To an outsider who may not understand the procurement process or the culture, it would be insurmountable. But the CCIT really levels the playing field with their expertise on how to move forward. That was so beneficial to us.”

With its integration, IRIS is set to allow for seamless coordination across geographic air operation centers and a total replacement of the Global Iridium Bomber Set (GLIBS) that has been in service since 2017. It is also further customizable to improve overall Mission Effectiveness.

“The IRIS platform is essentially a building block,” commented Don Rucker. “There are the everyday capabilities we have demonstrated which are also used commercially, but then there are open possibilities for the Air Force to tailor that platform. It’s exciting to contribute to our warfighter and do something for Barksdale.”

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