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AFWERX launches new Prime program

  • Published
  • By Matthew Clouse
  • Air Force Research Laboratory Public Affairs

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFRL) – AFWERX, the innovation arm of the Department of the Air Force and a directorate within the Air Force Research Laboratory, announced the Innovative Capabilities Opening, or ICO, of Autonomy Prime Jan. 30, 2024.  

The newest innovation program in Prime, a division within AFWERX, will focus on the development and implementation of emerging autonomous technologies. Similar to other Prime programs, Autonomy Prime will partner with the private sector to accelerate testing and affordably deliver game-changing technology to the warfighter.  

“Stemming from the successes of Agility Prime, we surveyed emerging tech markets and created a new Prime focused on autonomy because we recognized a need across the Department of the Air Force,” said Lt. Col. Bryan Ralston, AFWERX Autonomy Prime branch chief. “The combination of industry maturity and technological advancements over the past five to 10 years drove AFWERX to focus on accelerating autonomy technologies. By partnering with Program Executive Officers, we are looking forward to delivering cutting-edge technologies to the warfighter.”   

The vision for Autonomy Prime began in early 2023. Ralston and his team created a strategy for the organization and then had to get approval from senior leaders in AFWERX and Air Force acquisition.  

“Just like a startup, we were trying to convince investors to believe in our idea,” Ralston added.  

The final pitch was to Andrew Hunter, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, who gave Autonomy Prime the green light in April 2023.

Since then, Autonomy Prime developed four lines of effort to achieve its objectives and goals. The first was to create an autonomy proving ground to accelerate testing. The Autonomy, Data, and AI Experimentation Proving Ground was established at Duke Field, Florida, and hosted its first autonomy developer for a week of testing in October 2023.  

Located 10 miles north of Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, Duke Field was strategically selected as the test field as it is located within restricted airspace and features several safety mechanisms. This allows vendors to conduct safe autonomous flight tests and rapidly iterate on their products to make corrections in hours, not weeks. 

“Creating an environment to evaluate and produce safe and trusted autonomy is at the core of our mission,” Ralston said. “By employing a trusted ‘sandbox’ environment, we will be able to accelerate emerging technologies more rapidly because we won’t have to go through a test approval process every time we discover a bug in an algorithm.”  

Ralston added that businesses can expect to see several autonomy topic calls under the ICO in the near future. For the latest information and to get involved, visit

About AFRL 
The Air Force Research Laboratory is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development, and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 12,500 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit   

About AFWERX   
As the innovation arm of the DAF and a directorate within the Air Force Research Laboratory, AFWERX brings cutting-edge American ingenuity from small businesses and start-ups to address the most pressing challenges of the DAF. AFWERX employs approximately 325 military, civilian and contractor personnel at six hubs and sites executing an annual $1.4 billion budget. Since 2019, AFWERX has executed 4,697 new contracts worth more than $2.6 billion to strengthen the U.S. defense industrial base and drive faster technology transition to operational capability. For more information, visit