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Air Force general: New ideas, business collaborations needed for US to stay ahead of adversaries

Gen. James "Mike" Holmes, the commander of Air Combat Command, engages with senior leaders from the 124th Fighter Wing during his visit to Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho, March 28, 2019. The leaders, both officer and enlisted, had the opportunity to frankly ask questions to Holmes.

JOSHUA C. ALLMARAS/U.S. AIR FORCE

By MAX FILBY | The Dayton Daily News | Published: June 20, 2019

DAYTON, Ohio (Tribune News Service) — For the U.S. to continue outmatching its adversaries, one four-star Air Force general said it will take unusual ideas from businesses that don’t normally work in the defense industry.

Having goals for working with small businesses is a “good start” to finding the ideas of the future, but succeeding when it comes to innovation will require more experimentation and different thinking, said Gen. James “Mike” Holmes, commander of air combat for the Air Force.

“I think the future here is going to places that we haven’t normally been and and trying to build relationships with people that we haven’t normally had relationships with,” Holmes said in an interview with the Dayton Daily News on Wednesday.

Holmes is one of around 1,200 people in town this week for the fourth annual Life Cycle Industry Days event at the Dayton Convention Center. The three-day military conference focuses on the state of the Air Force’s weapons systems and improving “warfighter readiness,” according to the Life Cycle Management Center.

Based at Wright-Patteson Air Force Base, the LCMC is tasked with developing and sustaining the Air Force’s weapon systems. It is a more-than $238-billion enterprise and pumps more than $1 billion a year into Ohio businesses, said Tom Zerba, LCMC director of staff.

The event allows for an exchange of ideas that is “foundational” and serves as an annual “capstone” to the work conducted by the LCMC, a more than $238-billion enterprise based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, said executive director Kathy Watern.

“It’s just amazing the representation that we get and that we can all come together and have open dialogue about our newest weapon systems, where we’re going with innovation, rapid sustainment and things like that,” Watern said.

Working with small businesses and companies outside the norm is a major focus of this year’s event.

Doing so will require more streamlining of that work to eliminate barriers to collaboration. One barrier, Holmes said, is that private businesses want to make contract deals quickly rather than wait around for a year or more for the military to work through its processes.

A recent example of the Air Force working with a nontraditional company occurred when the military branch’s leaders started looking to update flight helmets for the future, Holmes said.

Air Force leaders, Holmes said, wanted to know if there was anything they could learn and use from bike helmet manufacturers. Bike helmet makers answered the call and talked to Air Force leaders about how they could possibly make flight helmets lighter and stronger at the same time, Holmes said.

“(We’re) trying to go to people that don’t normally work with us and see if we can get their ideas into the process,” Holmes said. “And, let the best ideas win.”

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