Pentagon officials, California National Guard leadership, local Congressmen and defense industry representatives met Feb. 22 with members of the 163d Attack Wing at March Air Reserve Base, California, for the California Air National Guard wing’s innovation showcase and dedication ceremony for the wing’s new Hap Arnold Center located on base.
The day-long event gave technology partners and military personnel the opportunity to demonstrate new and existing tools for collaboration across military branches and civilian agencies for use in federal combat operations and domestic missions such as emergency response.
“Everyone’s got a different widget,” said James “Snake” Clark, who serves as the Director of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) Modernization and Infrastructure and as Deputy Chief for ISR at Headquarters Air Force inside the Pentagon.
“How do you get them all the same piece of information if something happened?” Clark asked.
Industry representatives demonstrated software platforms and equipment to solve that problem and illustrate how agencies can mesh data across systems.
Presentations included the Multi-Intelligence Smart Processor (MISP)-IV, mission planning using immersive three-dimensional virtual reality workstations and software by zSpace and Tanzle, SIRIS mission collaboration overlays for Google Earth, and other tools.
Additionally, the Department of Defense’s Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) and managing partner Raj Shah, a former Air National Guard fighter pilot, invited three recent technology partners to present their latest projects, developed in collaboration with the DIUx team. One such company, Sonitus Technologies, Inc., showed a wireless, hands-free, two-way communications device that is worn in the mouth to convey sound using the bone that connects teeth to the ear canal.
Bringing industry partners together for a day of demonstrations, networking and collaboration was important, said Col. Dana Hessheimer, 163d Attack Wing Commander.
“It was good to see all the contractors come in to support this so it wasn’t just a military operation,” Hessheimer said. “We couldn’t have done this without them.”
As the day went on, he could see companies sharing ideas and coming together.
“You could see the contractors playing off of each other, sharing their technologies, and bringing their skillsets together as one unit,” Hessheimer said.
The event also gave military leadership and contractors an opportunity to talk with elected officials Rep. Ken Calvert, who represents California’s 42nd District and sits on a defense subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations, and Rep. Mark Takano, a who represents California’s 41st District, and is the vice ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
“We had a good discussion about how our private sector innovators are partnering with the Defense Dept. (sic) to put the latest technology to use to keep our soldiers safe and complete their mission,” Calvert said in a social media post following the event.
For elected officials, wing leadership and contractors alike, the common theme was taking care of troops.
“I’ve been really impressed with the enthusiasm, the spirit, and the drive to do what’s right for the warfighter,” said Chris Pehrson, Vice President of Strategic Development for General Atomics Aeronautical, which makes the MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft flown by the 163d.
The event culminated with hands-on equipment and software demonstrations at the wing’s new Hap Arnold Center using real-time imagery and data from disaster response efforts in northern California, and a short dedication ceremony for the facility.
The center is an operational development facility promoting the kind of vision and innovation forecasted by its namesake and former March Air Reserve Base commander, Gen. Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, at the end of World War II. “The next war may be fought by airplanes with no men in them at all,” Arnold said.
At its core, the center is a place where Airmen can work together with industry partners to problem solve and innovate with technology in an unclassified environment and on an unclassified network.
“Airmen can bring in their technology, plug it in here, and feed data onto our ISR network to test and develop new tools,” said Maj. Mike Baird, who serves as the Hap Arnold Center’s project officer for the 163d.
“This is a place for all Airmen to get away from their workcenters, think about a problem, brainstorm, and work toward solutions,” Baird said.
That goes for any Airman and any collaboration for training or real-world use, Hessheimer said.
“The Hap Arnold Center is not about the wing, it’s about saving and protecting the lives of both civilians and military personnel,” Hessheimer said. “Our goal is to train first responders and military members, using the most current tools, to defeat the enemy or defeat a disaster,” he said.
As state officials work to address flooding due to a series of storms in northern California, finding ways and new platforms to work together between agencies and cross-communicate for domestic operations is a topic of much discussion.
“This couldn’t be more timely,” said Brig. Gen. Laura Yeager, California National Guard Director for Joint Staff, who spent most of the day learning about the center and partner technologies. “You guys are really pushing the envelope with technology and what you are doing here.”