TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – The 60th Air Mobility Wing Phoenix Spark innovation cell at Travis AFB virtually hosted its first commercial solutions opening event at the base May 20.
A CSO is a strategy used by the Department of Defense to acquire innovative commercial items, technologies or services that directly fulfill requirements, close capability gaps, or provide potential technological advances, according to a memorandum from the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense.
During the event, representatives from five companies shared innovative ways to enhance the Travis AFB mission with more than a dozen base organizations, using video-conferencing software.
“We thought about cancelling the event due to the coronavirus pandemic, but decided against it because it is so important we find ways to enhance upon our mission,” said Capt. Christopher Williston, a C-17 Globemaster III pilot assigned to the 21st Airlift Squadron here, and the deputy chief of the Phoenix Spark innovation cell.
Planning for the CSO began Feb. 18 when the 60th Contracting Squadron requested companies submit their ideas on how they could help enhance operations at Travis AFB.
“Companies had 45 days to respond and we worked with subject matter experts in a number of career fields to identify the best pitches that could enhance the Travis [AFB] mission,” said Master Sgt. Eric Wiltz, 60th CONS contracting officer.
Each company that submitted a proposal had to be a small business, provide a background paper on their company and explain how their solution could benefit Travis AFB, along with the cost of that solution, Wiltz said.
“For this CSO, proposals had to be $30,000 or less and every proposal was carefully vetted by the 60th Contracting Squadron,” he added.
Funding for approved proposals will be paid for through squadron innovation funds, more than $64 million the Air Force allocated service wide to pay for innovation initiatives at the unit level.
A couple companies shared ways to enhance emergency alert systems, which could reduce notification and response times.
“Something like that could save time, and potentially, save lives,” Wiltz said. “With this CSO, we are able to streamline the process and get to an executable solution in months or weeks rather than years. We need to operate at the speed of relevance, constantly train our Airmen, educate them and empower them through technology and every means we have.”
One area Travis AFB leadership is looking to enhance capabilities is making training as realistic as possible for health care workers and first responders as well as other Air Force specialty codes, Williston said.
“Several companies presented ways we could use virtual reality headsets and systems designed to allow instructors to use 3D augmented environments to train Airmen in a variety of specialties,” he said.
With that technology, new nurses at David Grant USAF Medical Center could learn how to perform a variety of functions related to patient care all within the VR environment, Williston added.
“Virtual reality offers us an opportunity to introduce nurses and medical technicians to multiple scenarios before they ever operate on a patient,” said Maj. Regina Tai See, deputy director of staff for the 60th AMW and a registered nurse with 16 years of experience. “This allows them to build confidence and familiarize themselves with the steps necessary for patient care. Surgery can often be unpredictable, so being able to train our Airmen in an environment where they can learn, and perfect procedures is invaluable.”
Williston also explained that this technology could benefit security forces Airmen by training them with realistic scenarios so they are prepared for a number of tactical situations.
James Frazier, 60th Security Forces Squadron training instructor, said he was impressed with some of the VR capabilities shared during the CSO, especially from one company that offered a VR training program for law enforcement officers, featuring 42 different scenarios and more than 100 possible outcomes for each one.
“We’ve never seen something as advanced as what we saw today,” Frazier said. “We have used similar systems in the past, but with that system, it looks like our defenders voice commands would be responded to by the subject in the VR environment. That’s important because that is where any application of force starts.
“Our Airmen have to make split second decisions that could be the difference between life and death,” Frazier added. “With this system, we could test their ability in tense moments to make the right decision. That is extremely valuable.”
The CSO featured 40 participants, including 13 organizations at Travis AFB. Participants called in from 21 different locations and adhered to physical distancing requirements throughout the event.