Air National Guard Program Cuts Red Tape for Quick Solutions
By Judith Snyderman
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 25, 2009 An Air National Guard program designed to cut through bureaucracy has led to safety solutions for problems as vast and varied as avian flu, pilot fatigue and reducing the carbon footprint.
Five years ago, some Guard members deployed to Iraq brainstormed to share tactical data in a new way using secure computer technology. The result was Project Black Mountain, a program that improved combat safety and led to the creation of the Disruptive Solutions Process, which cuts through bureaucratic static that can bury good ideas and prevent critical problems from surfacing.
“We are imposing upon ourselves a disruption to our own process; we want to see where the weaknesses are,” Air Force Lt. Col. Edward Vaughan, deputy director of Air Force Blue Horizons, said in a Sept. 23 interview on “Armed with Science: Research and Applications for the Modern Military” on Pentagon Web Radio. Blue Horizons is a program that studies long-range solutions.
Vaughan, an F-16 fighter pilot who calls himself “networker in chief” of the DSP program, said commonsense solutions can save lives. For instance, some older models of F-16 jets lacked built-in voice-activated warnings that instruct pilots to pull up when they get too close to terrain. Air Force engineers and vendors had an easy fix for the problem, but no access to decision makers, he said.
“We had some folks who were in the software development world who contacted us and said, ‘we can add this in very inexpensively,’” Vaughan said. He added that “by connecting these folks to our disruptive solutions group, we were able to push the solution out and get that voice warning put into those jets. As recently as this summer, we were able to log an actual save, where a guy without that warning probably would have hit the ground.”
Improvements that help achieve the defense mission also may help the civilian work force.
The DSP is credited with a program that tests and tracks the movement of bird-borne pathogens, including H5N1 “avian flu” and, potentially, the H1N1 “swine flu” viruses. The program, found at http://dbird.us/, started with the realization that both the Defense Department and Federal Aviation Administration already were capturing statistics on birds struck by military planes.
"The birds, and bird remains, are sent in for identification, [it] turns out by the Smithsonian Institution, and in years past, those thousands and thousands of data points were not being tested for pathogens," Vaughan said. Now the Defense Department is working with the Smithsonian, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Agriculture Department and other governmental agencies to make better use of the existing data.
Another DSP-initiated program, Flyawake.org, aims to mitigate fatigue among pilots, air traffic controllers and others. The program, led by Air Force Capt. Lynn Lee, takes algorithms developed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in D.C. for the analysis of air mishaps, and puts them to work to prevent mishaps in both military and civilian sectors.
The DSP group maintains an open pipeline to capture ideas from frontline military personnel, and then acts quickly to select those with the most potential, Vaughan said.
The program’s most successful Defense Department-wide project to date, Maintenance Resource Management, found at http://afmrm.org, is credited by the Air Force Safety Center with reducing major human-error caused, maintenance-based aviation mishaps by as much as 75 percent in three years. MRM’s program manager, Air Force Lt. Col. Doug Slocum, is now the Air National Guard’s director of safety.
A current DSP project with potential, Vaughan said, is a computer “dashboard” application that raises awareness of energy use on military bases to help reduce the department’s carbon footprint.
Vaughan estimated that for every hundred ideas that are received, just 15 to 20 are pushed forward. “Fail fast, fail early, fail cheap,” is a motto he adapted from Silicon Valley technology gurus to ensure the DSP spends limited resources wisely. However, he added, ideas are always welcome.
(Judith Snyderman works for the Defense Media Activity’s Emerging Media directorate.)