Wednesday, June 19, 2024

The Big Impact of Small Business Innovation on AFGSC’s Mission Capability

by BIZ Magazine

By Air Force Global Strike Command Public Affairs

As the Department of Defense (DOD) aims to maintain its global technological edge, small business contractors have been recognized as key to maintaining national and economic defense. However, ongoing challenges have disincentivized these businesses from working with the DOD, driving down participation by over 40% in the last 10 years as reported in the 2023 DOD Small Business Strategy.

To combat this trend, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III recommended immediate action to better engage, retain, and utilize small business relationships.

“If we do not,” Austin warned in the report, “we risk losing mission critical domestic capabilities, stifling competition and innovation, and potentially weakening our supply chains.”

Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) created the A5N, also known as the Commercial Capabilities Integration & Transition Division (CCIT), a special division to identify and harness small businesses’ commercial technologies to solve problems within the command and to mitigate any barriers for mutual success. Since its inception, the CCIT has secured $100 million in contract awards for 45 companies supporting AFGSC, with $209 million in pending contracts for an additional 47 companies to be funded beginning in 2024.

“We’re excited to work with new partners and work on the hard problems,” said Col. Kevin Kippie, Deputy Director of Strategic Plans, Programs and Requirements for AFGSC. “One of the greatest things about Barksdale is the support it gets from the outlying community. The Small Business Innovation Research process allows us to work with many outstanding companies with great technology that might have never had the opportunity to work with AFGSC or the Air Force before.”

Two B-52 Stratofortresses assigned to the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, arrive at Navy Support Facility, Diego Garcia, in support of a Bomber Task Force mission, March 22, 2024. Bomber missions enable crews to maintain a high state of readiness and proficiency and validate our always-ready global strike capability. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Staci Kasischke)

Local Louisiana companies such as BetaFlix, Praeses, and Archem have been integral to the modernization of the B-52 Stratofortress and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) fleets, and it is the relationship between the command and these small business partners that ensures mutual success.

“Recognizing Global Strike Command’s need for cutting-edge technologies to enhance its operational readiness and effectiveness, BetaFlix saw an opportunity to provide our innovative multi-modal learning technologies and tools solutions,” commented BetaFlix COO Sree Sanakam.

The company’s close collaboration with Global Strike’s maintainers and instructors helped launch the BetaFlix B-52 Fuel Systems XR trainer in 2023, a virtual reality instructional platform for critical maintenance skills training.

BetaFlix President and CEO Jim Davison highlighted the strategic importance of building their company locally noting, “Louisiana’s growing tech ecosystem and its strategic location near Louisiana Tech University and Barksdale AFB offer unique opportunities for collaboration and access to a vibrant community of innovation.”

“As a Shreveport-based company with a contingent of veteran employees, we take great pride in supporting the military and its technological development,” said Praeses Vice President James D. Hunsicker.

Praeses has significant projects underway in the ICBM missile fields, at the Joint Nuclear Operations Center, and at the Stand-off Munitions Application Center; with an additional opportunity in 2024 to support B-52 modernization with the development of its new Agile Pod. These technologies will deliver significant improvement in nuclear weapon situational awareness and decision making for our warfighters by bringing real-time data directly into weapon system operations centers and cockpits.

The tangible benefits of engaging with small businesses goes beyond command support, impacting the local Louisiana community.

“Barksdale AFB and Global Strike Command are incredible drivers of economic activity,” said Archem CEO Alex Burke. “There are great opportunities in North Louisiana to support the defense industrial base, and the Pentagon appears to recognize that investments will go a long way here.”

The CCIT and its Louisiana-based consultants—the Small Business Consulting Corporation, BRF, and its Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program—directly implement the three objectives outlined in the DOD Small Business Strategy. Those objectives urge the DOD to streamline management approaches, ensure small businesses align with national security priorities, and recognize the potential capabilities of these businesses while reducing obstacles to engagement.

“Some of the most innovative minds in the country come from smaller companies, and in an era of strategic competition small businesses are one of our greatest tools,” said Austin in the report.

The role of small businesses in technological innovation along with their capability to adapt and field products rapidly is critical to maintaining the command’s operational edge.

“As we field the new [technologies], we have to maintain full operational capability on all our weapon systems,” explained AFGSC Commander Gen. Thomas A. Bussiere in his September 2023 speech at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyberspace Conference. “The threat demands that we field these capabilities; we can’t take a knee.”

Kippie echoed these sentiments, saying, “I’d like to emphasize that Global Strike Command is always ready to meet our needs… and partnering with our local communities allows us to get after some of the hardest problem sets we have.”

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