CENTCOM Launches Competition For Innovation from Troops

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Christopher Young, a 3rd Munitions Squadron munitions support equipment maintenance crew chief, uses the 3D printer in the Arctic Spark Lab at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Aug. 26, 2021.

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Christopher Young, a 3rd Munitions Squadron munitions support equipment maintenance crew chief, uses the 3D printer in the Arctic Spark Lab at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Aug. 26, 2021. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jordan Smith

The ‘Shark Tank’-like competition will pull solutions from active-duty personnel for possible use in the field.

U.S. Central Command is launching a contest to elevate new technology solutions to military problems. But rather than reach out to industry and established defense contractors, the command is asking service members to submit ideas for possible scale up across the broader U.S. military. 

The effort, dubbed Innovation Oasis, is open to all active service members, reservists and National Guard members, as well as all DOD civilians, until September 16, 2022. Judges include executives from Google, SpaceX, and NASA, as well as senior uniformed leaders from across the U.S. military.

“In the US military, we sometimes think of innovation as a function that we sprinkle on top of our plans once they're developed, or this function that comes in as we're developing a new idea. Well, that's not going to work. Innovation has to be part of who we are,” Col. Joe Buccino, a CENTCOM spokesperson and executive producer of the Innovation Oasis, told reporters Thursday. 

The effort is modeled after a competition at Fort Bragg called Dragon’s Lair, in which service members offer up new technologies that address big problems they’re facing. Some of the previous entrants in Dragon’s Lair include a formula that can predict the interior layout of buildings from satellite images and an AI helicopter pilot program that learns by observing human operators. 

The winners of the Innovation Oasis competition, which concludes in October, will have the “opportunity to implement their idea across the command,” according to a statement from CENTCOM. 

That opportunity doesn’t automatically mean that a solution will be implemented or deployed across the broader U.S. military, and the Defense Department has not always been successful moving good ideas into active use. But Buccino said the command does have a path to help the Pentagon use the ideas that come from the competition. 

The CENTCOM science and technology office will first consider the solution and how it would help that command. From there, “We’re laying inroads and we've already started laying inroads with the [Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, now part of the Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office,] and the [Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering.] So we're laying the groundwork,” said Buccino. 

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