Commentary: Minuteman III program office leads innovation with new campaign
By Capt. Austin Troya, Minuteman III Systems Directorate, Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center
/ Published May 19, 2021
HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah --
In an Air Force that often laments "the only constant is change," unprecedented encouragement from senior leaders to innovate is dissolving this phrase's negative connotation and driving Airmen at all levels to enact positive change within their organizations.
Innovators from across the Minuteman III enterprise have embraced Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr.’s strategic imperative to “accelerate change or lose,” adopting a rapid, collaborative approach to implementing innovation.
The Innovation Team aspires to serve as a model for system program offices and warfighter partnerships across the Air Force. In March, the team launched a joint Airmen Powered by Innovation (API) campaign to solicit innovative ideas from weapon system operators, maintainers and defenders, to name a few. The campaign is open to submissions from DoD employees and contractors through Dec. 31, 2021.
Minuteman III, America's most responsive leg of its nuclear triad, celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, and engineers and maintainers alike are no strangers to finding creative ways to keep 400 aging missiles on-alert 24/7.
A team of members from Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center and Air Force Global Strike Command, including from missile wings at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana; Minot AFB, North Dakota; and F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming, has taken the lead on an innovation process to deploy projects faster while eliminating delays caused by lengthy or belated engineering reviews. Subject-matter-expert engineers within the Minuteman III Systems Directorate are charged with ensuring any changes to Minuteman III do not sacrifice weapon system integrity, safety or security—these individuals comprise over 1,100 years of experience across all subsystems and critical functional areas ranging from nuclear surety to safety and environmental.
"From my own observation of senior leaders in the acquisition community encouraging innovation and the renewed drive from our Air Force Chief of Staff General Brown, I saw a huge opportunity for Minuteman III," said Col. Erik Quigley, director, Minuteman III Systems Directorate. "I challenged the team with targeting areas of the weapon system or processes where we could take calculated risks and innovate without jeopardizing nuclear surety, safety, or certification."
Spark Cells, which are becoming more common across Air Force bases, are innovation programs created to brainstorm, prototype and rapidly implement ideas locally. However, the Minuteman III Spark Accelerator differs from other Spark Cells and innovation organizations in that its focus is not on generating or implementing ideas. Rather, it provides innovators within the missile wing Spark Cells and AFGSC’s STRIKEWERX program prompt access to the SPO’s subject matter experts.
Typically, weapon system modifications can be very mature prior to being reviewed by the supporting SPO. This approach risks significant re-work if the design does not meet safety, suitability or effectiveness criteria and standards.
The Minuteman Spark Accelerator transforms this linear approval process by removing bureaucratic layers and replacing sequential steps with parallel collaboration. By supporting the earliest stages of development, the SPO can provide feedback throughout the duration of a project, thereby accelerating design, prototyping, and fielding of critical capabilities in support of the warfighter. It formalizes the melding of over a dozen organizations and stakeholders to create a collaborative Minuteman III innovation process.
The API campaign launched this March leverages crowdsourcing ideas and allows innovators to submit their ideas and track progress through implementation. The site allows friends, colleagues and strangers alike to vote and comment on idea submissions. While many commanders welcome the sharing of innovative ideas, the API platform is a more public and open platform wherein Airmen can collaborate and unleash their creativity.
The team is open to a wide scope of ideas, ranging from "quick wins" to long-term solutions that will keep Minuteman III safe, secure and effective for the next 16 years, until Ground Based Strategic Deterrent is fully deployed.
The Minuteman III Spark Accelerator team’s goal is to continue working with Spark Cells and other partners beyond this year to ensure the innovative spirit of Minuteman III will continue and eventually outlive the weapon system as it reaches end of life. The team has already realized the benefits of its new collaboration with user innovation cells and is confident this Minuteman III partnership will serve as a model for other weapon system users and program offices to come together to support the warfighter and answer the call to accelerate change.
Submit your idea and view other submissions at https://usaf.ideascalegov.com/a/campaign-home/222 (DoD employees and contractors only). The Spark Accelerator team can be reached at AFNWC.MMIII.SparkAccelerator@us.af.mil.
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