For the first time, two teams tied to as winners of the Spark Tank 2020 competition at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida, in February. The Low Cost Threat Emitter Replication, submitted by 1st Lt. Daniel A. Treece, Air Education and Training Command, Luke Air Force Base, Arizona; and the Weapons Loading Smart Checklist, submitted by Chief Master Sgt. Gabriel L. Flagg, were the winning solutions.

U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. James Richardson

Spark Tank, which began in 2017, is an annual competition in which airmen are encouraged to submit their innovative ideas to improve Air Force processes and products. The program is part of the Air Force’s effort to build and further its culture of innovation and intrepreneurship. More than 200 airmen submitted their ideas through the Ideascale website, and six finalists were chosen to present their ideas to Air Force senior leaders at the Air Warfare Symposium. The finalists competed for the funding, personnel or other necessary resources to implement their ideas.

The judging panel included Secretary of the Air Force Barbara M. Barrett, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright, Toni Townes-Whitley, president, U.S. Regulated Industries, Microsoft, and Gene Kim, Tripwire founder and author of "The Unicorn Project."

Treece, 56th OSS intelligence readiness chief; Capt. David Coyle, 56th OSS weapons officer; and, Wylie Standage Beier, Arizona State University electrical engineering PhD student, were selected for their project ‘Making Waves,’ a low-cost, mobile threat emitter system to be used in training for fifth-generation aircraft.

“The problem we currently face in the Air Force is being able to replicate threats at a large number,” said Coyle. “As we look towards the future fight that we’re likely going to be involved in, the number of threats we’re going to face on the battlefield are higher than what we’re able to replicate on our range. The solution we’ve come up with is to create a low-cost emitter.”

A prototype threat emitter system is set up Jan. 17, 2020, at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Leala Marquez.

The Barry M. Goldwater Range in Arizona currently features four threat emitters and three Garmin radars. The emitters replicate surface-to-air missile systems equipped with a radar designed to track, shoot and guide a missile to a target. Military aircraft are equipped with sensors to detect the radar emissions and alert the pilot where the threat is and what it is doing.

“These other systems [at the range] are very large, difficult to move, require significant infrastructure and the cost is high,” said Treece. “With our system, because we are using commercially available equipment, the cost is much lower, allowing us to bring more systems and more mobility due to its compact size.

Because the current systems are difficult to move, they are usually located in the same place, providing little variation in the training scenarios.

“How do you create a dynamic training scenario when the threat is in the same place it was yesterday, last week or even five years ago?,” said Coyle. “The new systems are going to increase our lethality and survivability overall because we’re going to be able to train against a larger number of threats that are going to more accurately represent what an adversary is capable of doing.”

Currently, the systems are designed for fifth-generation aircraft: F-35A Lightning II and F-22 Raptor; and, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft.

“It’s been an awesome opportunity to learn,” said Treece. “I’m thankful that our leadership has been supportive and they’ve allowed us this opportunity. We always believed in this idea and to have an opportunity to prove it, would be tremendous.”

Source: US Air Force