AFTAC leads charge on R&D Roadmap for USAF

  • Published
  • By Susan A. Romano
  • AFTAC Public Affairs

For the past five years, the Air Force Technical Applications Center has hosted its annual Research and Development Roadmap Forum for the scientific community within the U.S. government and beyond. This year was no exception.


From Oct. 22-23, the nuclear treaty monitoring center welcomed nearly 200 experts to the Doyle Northrup Auditorium here to focus on AFTAC’s multi-faceted global mission and linkages to research and development projects that impact the nuclear nonproliferation enterprise.


The keynote speaker for the event was Dr. Richard J. Joseph, Air Force Chief Scientist.


“The overarching purpose of the R&D Roadmap Forum is to codify pathways to meet forthcoming challenges of our treaty monitoring and nuclear forensics mission,” said Dr. William Junek, AFTAC senior scientist.  “We were fortunate enough to have Dr. Joseph join us this year, and his insight during his presentation was invaluable.”


Joseph, a former commissioned officer in the Air Force, has more than 40 years of experience as a physicist, directed energy researcher, senior program manager, national security advisor, and government executive.  In his role as the Air Force’s senior scientist, he advises the Air Force Chief of Staff and Secretary of the Air Force by providing assessments on a wide range of scientific issues.  He is responsible for identifying and analyzing technical issues to bring them to the attention of other senior Air Force and governmental leaders


Day one of the forum began with a collection of briefings by numerous experts from various government agencies and defense laboratories, and focused on organizational goals, requirement gaps and current R&D efforts across the enterprise.


The second day featured a series of working group sessions with an emphasis on geophysics, modeling and simulation, atmosphere and space, and materials.


“Each session was designed to give external organizations an opportunity to provide direct feedback regarding the contents of the roadmap and blueprint,” said Tech. Sgt. Walter J. Slocum, project officer for the forum.  “The feedback we receive from the participants is cataloged into a database and used to identify products that can be transitioned into operations over the next several years, and to highlight the R&D areas that may require greater advocacy by the nuclear nonproliferation community.”


In an interview after his presentation, Joseph touted the importance of the R&D Forum and how it benefits not just those in attendance, but the Air Force as a whole.


“AFTAC is an interesting organization with a long legacy of being on the front line of research, development and innovation,” said Joseph.  “It is made up of vibrant, energetic people who are filled with intellectual curiosity and who play a very important role today’s multi-domain operations.”


Joseph said he’s always impressed with what comes out of the forum each year.


“This center is a shining example of what science and technology means for the Air Force,” he said.  “You carry a huge operational burden as the sole agency that monitors the fierce weapons that can potentially wipe out civilization.  Our competitors – the enemy – force us to consistently re-evaluate our operations, and the R&D Roadmap is one way we accomplish that.  The way you know you’re making progress is when you rigorously validate your work.  AFTAC does that every day.”


In addition to the briefings and breakout sessions, Joseph and Junek presented three forum attendees with the Air Force Institute of Technology’s Endowed Chair Awards.  AFIT’s School of Engineering and Management and AFTAC formed a research and education partnership in 2016 and one of the initiatives within the partnership included the establishment of an “Endowed Term Chair.”

The 2019 recipients were Dr. John W. McClory, chair of AFIT’s Nuclear Engineering Program; Lt. Col. Robert C. Tornay, AFIT Assistant Professor of Atmospheric Science; and Dr. Mark E. Oxley, Professor of Mathematics in AFIT’s Graduate School of Engineering and Management.


This year’s forum was the largest to date, seeing almost 30 more representatives in attendance compared to 2018’s event.  Slocum believes that’s due, in part, to the ease of registration and extensive word of mouth.


“Our revamped registration process certainly made attending the forum more streamlined than in the past,” he said. “The team worked extremely hard on making it as seamless as possible, and we also fielded dozens of questions and concerns from the attendees, many of which were first-time participants. Everyone was crucial to making the event a success, and I expect we’ll see even higher attendance next year after all the positive feedback we received. That ultimately leads to a better final product.”


Prior to her retirement in May 2019, former Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson unveiled a new and ambitious Science and Technology Strategy designed to better identify, develop and deploy breakthrough technologies to maximize and expand the Air Force’s technological advantage.


Junek thinks the R&D Roadmap Forum helps to advance Wilson’s strategy.


“AFTAC’s R&D corporate process works to align the center’s needs with higher headquarters’ requirements as outlined in the National Defense Strategy and Secretary Wilson’s S&T Strategy,” he said.  “The data we up channel helps to arm senior decision makers with the information they need to craft national security policies that affect not just the Department of Defense, but also our allies and international partners.”


The nuclear treaty monitoring center has already begun planning for the 2020 forum.