September 30, 2019

Beyond the Buzzword

by  Rachel S. Cohen

AFWERX, one of the newest additions to the Air Force’s technology innovation ecosystem, aimed to hold its biggest event to date in July. It almost didn’t happen.

With hubs in Las Vegas, Washington, D.C., and Austin, Texas, the two-year-old AFWERX is designed to seek out interesting ideas and invest seed money to try to help get them from the laboratory into production. But the unique format of its 2019 “Fusion Xperience,” where about 120 businesses vied to move on in a Las Vegas competition for innovative, multi-domain tech, raised red flags for Air Force lawyers.

More than 1,000 people had signed up to attend, meaning the competition didn’t neatly fit into the service’s idea of what an event of that type should be or how the military should scout new products. Their advice: shut it down.

“We had to make some last-minute changes,” said Lt. Gen. Jerry D. Harris Jr., the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for plans and programs. “I had counsel—it was good counsel—that recommended I cancel the event.”