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New $64M fund will give US Air Force squadrons chance to spearhead tech projects

ORLANDO, Fla. — U.S. Air Force squadrons will get a collective $64 million that will allow squadron commanders and their airmen to design and kick-start new projects to boost lethality and readiness, the service’s top general announced Friday.

The new “Squadron Innovation Fund” will dole out about $10,000 to $30,000 per squadron. The hope, Gen. David Goldfein said, was to give squadrons the power to problem solve and make incremental, cutting-edge technological improvements without the having to rely on often slow approval from leadership at the Pentagon.

“This money is designed to let the commanders on point who know what their units need best to test, to experiment, to rely on the best tactical ideas. This is about trusting and empowering commanders and your airmen, because the nation relies on us to be incredibly innovative as we look to increase our lethality and our readiness in this increasingly contested world,” he said.

“Wing commanders, you’ve got an email from me in your inbox waiting for you, pushed out an hour ago, explaining the details,” he added.

The initiative was born after Goldfein visited Beale Air Force Base, California, in November. Defense News, which accompanied Goldfein on the trip, watched as U-2 pilots and combat system officers from the 99th Reconnaissance Squadron briefed the chief on how they had cut costs and worked with base-level contracting officials to partner with commercial industry to test and buy new products.

“Gen. Goldfein has told me as a commander to get ready for the fight. I cannot succeed at the mission that he’s laid out for me if I wait on the Air Force to give me the answers,” Lt. Col. Matt Nussbaum, commander of the 99th Reconnaissance Squadron, told Defense News in a Nov. 30 interview.

So the 99th took matters into its own hands, using squadron funds to purchase Garmin watches and tablets for U-2 pilots, as well as new computing equipment for mission planners.

“When you work with the Pentagon or the Air Force, it’s very cumbersome if you’re a business partner, and it sucks. But if you’re Amazon, you work directly with your customer,” Nussbaum said. “Well, the Air Force squadrons are the end customer.”

As squadrons push forward with projects, they will be able to rely on AFwerX — a new Air Force organization formed to help it network with academia and innovative tech companies outside of the defense contracting norm, the service said in a news release.

“We cannot afford to go slow. It’s time to push up the throttles,” Goldfein said.

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