By Michael Pierson
Air Force Space Command Public Affairs
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The kind of dramatic innovation that brought the world the Global Positioning System is desperately needed today in military space and cyberspace, according to Air Force Space Command’s Vice Commander.
“Innovation is really what defines us as a Service,” said Lt. Gen. John Hyten at the annual National Security Innovation Competition held here Apr. 25. “Our Service has been built on Airmen doing amazing things, fueled by innovation.”
“There are some spectacular examples of innovation ,” in the Air Force’s history, General Hyten told the audience of about 50 college students and technology professionals. The Air Force was one of the first to put integrated circuits to use in the early 1960’s as part of the guidance system for Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles. Probably the best-known innovation, he said, was the Global Positioning System, better known to the world as GPS.
Early in the development of GPS, even Air Force leaders could not fully appreciate the potential uses of global, precision navigation and timing. “Very few could think out of the box and look into the future and see there was a different way of doing business” said the general.
Today, of course, people all over the world depend on not only the navigation GPS provides, but many financial systems depend on the precision timing signal. “You can’t buy gas without GPS,” in the United States, he said. GPS, “fundamentally changed warfare; it fundamentally changed the world.”
Innovation is a central theme in the new Air Force Vision. “Our Airmen’s ability to rethink the battle while incorporating new technologies will improve the varied ways our Air Force accomplishes its missions,” wrote Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and Chief of Staff General Mark Walsh III, in the document released in January, 2013.
General Hyten challenged the competitors to fight for their innovations, even in the face of opposition from bureaucracies and naysayers.
“We have a desperate need for innovation in both space and cyber,” he said. “We have declining budgets. We have a completely different threat environment,” in both cyber and space. “We need to figure out how to fight through contested environments,” he said. “We have to come up with new ideas. If we don’t, we fail as a nation.”
As Vice Commander, General Hyten helps lead more than 40,000 professionals engaged in military space and cyberspace operations for the Air Force, a mission which requires experts with a Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics education.
The National Security Innovation Competition links students conducting cutting-edge research on concepts and technologies intended to meet national security capability needs with government and industry customers. Finalists this year included teams from the U.S. Air Force Academy, U.S. Military Academy at West Point, University of California, Davis; University of Colorado at Colorado Springs; Virginia Tech; Colorado Technical University and the University of Wyoming.
Innovations presented at the conference included an underwater texting system, search-and-rescue robots, cyber security software, and nerve agent detectors.