Air Force's Tech Warriors put new tools to the test

The annual simulated exercise puts scientists and engineers into the field to give them a better idea of what ground troops need.

The Air Force recently held a simulated exercise designed to accomplish a two-pronged purpose: allowing first-responder and disaster response personnel to train in a realistic environment while giving scientists and engineers the chance to stand in their shoes.

The exercise, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, involved the Air Force National Guard and Army National Guard, along with community first responders and local universities, and focused on three key areas: combat rescue, disaster response and airbase defense, the Air Force said in a release.

The goal of the annual event, dubbed Tech Warrior, is to provide responders with realistic training while also letting personnel from the Air Force Research Laboratory, who might not have much field experience, to get a feel for what it’s like on the ground. Ultimately, the idea is to get new tech into the hands of personnel more quickly. “This allows our scientists and engineers to walk in the shoes of the warfighter,” Lt. Col. David Shahady, AFRL Tech Warrior commander. “The importance of that is they will build better products, better capabilities and empower our warfighters to continue to be the best in the world.”

In what Air Force officials described as a “full immersion experience,” participants took part in joint operational scenarios that focused on the integration of new technologies. “We have been doing this for over 10 years and every year it grows larger with more technical innovation displayed,” Shahady said. “It is very rewarding to see our participants show-up on the first day and not know anything about what it is to be a warfighter, then to see them on the last day proclaim, I get it, I will never design something with a 20 pound battery because I now understand how heavy a backpack can be.”

Among the technology areas covered were human-centered analysis, health and performance monitoring, command and control, battlefield situational awareness, unmanned aerial vehicle operations and cyber attack response.

Tech Warrior is designed to let researchers and developers get a better idea of what personnel need in the field. During last year’s exercise, for example, researcher spent eight days setting up a base camp and going on a variety of missions—from dismounted patrols and searching tunnels for weapons—while testing technologies such as wearable sensors, an array of video cameras and augmented reality glasses.

“We are very excited not only for AFRL scientists and engineers to understand what it’s like to be a deployed warfighter, but, also to see some of the technologies that have been displayed here for the past years, developed by small industry partners, some even local,  to be put into the field,” Shahady said. “I think we have a hand in expediting these products and we take great pride in thinking we help get these vital products into the hands of our warfighters even faster.”