AFWERX Sets Sights on ‘Base of the Future’

Air Force technology innovation hub AFWERX wants to help bring the “base of the future” to life as its flagship effort of 2020.

At the core of that endeavor is Tyndall AFB, Fla., which was largely destroyed by Hurricane Michael, a Category 5 storm that swept through in late 2018. The Air Force has seized on the opportunity to modernize the installation with wireless connectivity on the flightline, multipurpose facilities for everything from aircraft maintenance to family time, sensors that track a building’s health, and more. 

The reconstruction timeline is tight: The Panhandle base wants to begin hosting F-35s in just three years. Rebuilding Tyndall is slated to cost about $5 billion, nearly twice the Air Force’s entire yearly military construction budget. When it’s finished, it must be able to withstand the power of other potential hurricanes.

Base modernization isn’t a new issue, but the Tyndall problem, a costly backlog in maintenance projects, and a National Defense Strategy that advocates for a different approach to installations are adding a sense of urgency. Now, AFWERX is taking on that challenge. 

The organization, which is trying to grow the Air Force’s ties with small businesses, cultivate new uses of technology among airmen, and speed the time it takes to get unique products out to the field, named the “base of the future” concept as the focus of its 2020 Fusion event.

“Approximately 200 teams will present their innovative solutions as part of an open showcase to attendees, including top Air Force leadership and other military decision-makers and operators,” the organization said on its website. “Concurrently, there will be live demos, keynote speakers, workshops, and panel discussions.”

Fusion showcases are AFWERX’s largest annual competition. Winning proposals can move on to additional demonstrations, and any participant can find new investors and customers for their products. AFWERX itself doesn’t issue contracts, but connects industry and academia to Air Force organizations that do.

Last June, Tyndall officials visited AFWERX in Las Vegas to brainstorm applications and tools that would make the base more intuitive, resilient, and secure.

“Technologies such as frictionless entry or a fast-pass lane at a gate where you swipe your ID card or possibly use your fingerprint to go through a secured gate is technology in the commercial space that we need to leverage for our benefit,” Tyndall Program Management Office Executive Director Brig. Gen. Patrice Melancon said in a release.

AFWERX’s discoveries won’t just affect Tyndall. Any installation can take its own steps toward becoming better equipped for the 21st century.

“Their team allowed us to listen to key presentations about the ‘base of the future’ and how to improve resiliency within our facilities,” a group of airmen that brings new ideas to Eielson AFB, Alaska, said about AFWERX in a Jan. 18 Facebook post. “We learned how to apply innovations currently beginning at Tyndall AFB to Eielson AFB.”

AFWERX hasn’t yet scheduled a date for its third Fusion showcase. The inaugural event in 2018 addressed perimeter security, and the second in 2019 looked at technologies for multidomain operations.

This year’s Fusion appears set to host nearly twice the number of teams as last summer’s gathering of 115 groups.