Lieutenant Colonel Michael Chiaramonte, Director of AF CyberWorx, had the honor of being the guest speaker at the monthly Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) Rocky Mountain Chapter luncheon, held May 16 at the Peterson Air Force Base Club.
The AFCEA Rocky Mountain Chapter serves the defense, intelligence, national security, and military health communities surrounding the five major military installations in Colorado. AFCEA’s 800 local members assist the Colorado Springs community by unifying the robust military, government, and industry partners to advance the continuing education of today’s young leaders in science, technology, engineering, math, and computer science fields.
Lt Col Chiaramonte, a 2001 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) who holds a Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering from Arizona State University and has been Director of AF CyberWorx since February 2018, described the history, purpose, and ambitions of this innovative organization before a packed room of attendees.
Lt Col Chiaramonte explained that AF CyberWorx was originally proposed in 2014 to spur innovation and rapidly develop cyberspace solutions for the Air Force. The Air Force Academy was chosen as the ideal place to house the new organization because of USAFA’s designation as a federal laboratory, the academic resources available in a university setting (including a pool of 4,000 cadet innovators), and the unique industry partnering opportunities available for leverage. In addition to taking advantage of the cadets’ creative problem-solving today, AF CyberWorx is able to imprint these future Air Force leaders with the mindset and skills they will need to help the Air Force identify and deliver solutions to future challenges.
Lt Col Chiaramonte described AF CyberWorx’s strategic design process which sets it apart from other similar organizations. In its approach to projects, which originate in operational Air Force units, the organization works with industry partners, using human-centered design and user-focused empathy to drill down to the root of the problem and identify possible solutions that align with the mission of the sponsoring organization. Some solutions are selected to be prototyped, from which one may be selected for further development and ultimately delivered back to the user and potentially scaled for use Air Force-wide.
AF CyberWorx’s process and culture are counter to the Department of Defense’s way of doing business through its traditional requirements process. The DoD uses five-year budgets and demands that a product is fully defined prior to production, with delivery most often projected several years in the future. That process may be appropriate for major programs like fifth-generation fighter aircraft, but it does not work in the rapidly-evolving cyber realm. Instead, AF CyberWorx allows Airmen to use a solution, collect feedback, and iteratively improve upon the solution. This culture gap is also the source of AF CyberWorx’s biggest challenge – getting their solutions adopted into a program of record for widespread delivery and long-term sustainment.
Lt Col Chiaramonte went on to discuss several past AF CyberWorx projects as examples of the kinds of problems the program addresses, including a mobile phone app to provide precise positioning, navigation, and timing without a GPS signal, a cyber risk dashboard for non-cyber operational commanders called Cyber Risk Ecosystem, and a personnel readiness dashboard that aggregates data from disparate databases reflecting an Airman’s fitness to deploy.
To date, AF CyberWorx has partnered with over 200 companies and established 20 cooperative research and development agreements (CRADAs). Through their partner intermediary, Center for Technology, Research, and Commercialization (C-TRAC), AF CyberWorx targets for partnership small businesses and non-traditional defense contractors that can provide insight into novel or emerging technology. Using C-TRAC, a nonprofit, to do industry outreach prevents conflicts of interest between the government and its industry partners.
Lt Col Chiaramonte further expressed optimism about AF CyberWorx’s future. Their realignment under Air Combat Command’s cyber superiority portfolio will offer access to a broader range of problems and solutions while providing stronger bureaucratic support and advocacy for solution delivery into programs of record. Additionally, AF CyberWorx expects to break ground in the next few months on a new 44,000 square foot facility funded through a public-private partnership between the government and the USAFA Endowment. The new facility will include state-of-the-art labs for sophisticated prototyping, bringing together all of the cyber-related organizations at USAFA, and will be more accessible by industry partners.
The luncheon was an excellent opportunity for AF CyberWorx to engage with the local community and industry leaders while describing the culture shifts in DoD acquisition that it is leading.