A new innovation organization has quietly joined the military’s WERX universe.
ARCWERX, co-founded by Air National Guard Capt. Bobby Carbonell and Maj. Hans Jagow, was initially pitched to provide “education, connection, and facilitation across the Air National Guard,” though those aims were soon expanded to cover the Air Force’s entire reserve component, the duo told Air Force Magazine.
Carbonell said the true heart behind ARCWERX’s founding was a desire to leverage the proverbial superpowers hidden within ANG and Reserve ranks—be they doctoral degrees in engineering, start-up experience, legal backgrounds, side hustles designing space technology, or otherwise. He said he also hopes to be able to capitalize on the geographical locations of some Guard and Reserve units, since they can be prime for organizational and academic partnerships.
“We wanted to build something that can leverage all of that unique capability in the Air National Guard [and] Air Force Reserve, to not just innovate for our own mission sets, but help the Total Force be more effective, more ready, and more lethal,” Carbonell said.
ARCWERX is primarily concerned with ideas born in the field, and is equally excited about innovative technologies as it is about conceptual or strategic innovation, he said.
While it lacks “a particular focus area, per se,” Carbonell said emerging areas of interest include:
- Improving training for cyber Airmen
- Developing diagnostic and communications tools for aircraft maintainers
- Coming up with tech that makes life and work easier for security forces Airmen
- More efficiently synthesizing personnel data so commanders can more easily “understand their force structure, … and their readiness,” and manage their organizations more effectively
ARCWERX is also assembling a working group to leverage innovation to solve recruiting problems within the Air National Guard, he said.
“We have a bird’s eye view of what all of the units in the Guard and Reserve are working on, so we can put these … groups together, and they can leverage some economies of scale in building prototypes, sharing best practices, and then we put that together with the right level of functional expertise from either [the National] Guard Bureau or Air Force Reserve Command and their Active-duty counterparts,” Carbonell said. “And that’s when we start seeing higher-level … pilot programs like we’re doing with CoachMePlus.”
From an org-chart perspective, ARCWERX is a directorate nestled beneath the Air National Guard-Air Force Reserve Test Center (or AATC). According to Jagow, AATC is also the reason ARCWERX is headquartered in Arizona.
“Based on the mindset of the organization, along with the partnerships that were already standing within the organization, [and] the host-unit support that we get from the 162nd Fighter Wing, all of those things were very well placed to be able to support an emerging innovation organization,” he said.
It’s also intentionally small, boasting only six full-time personnel—five of whom are military, and one of whom is a civilian contractor, Jagow said.
“There will be some additional manpower coming from [Air Force] Reserve Command, and we are always investigating ways that we can bring traditional Guardsmen and Reservists into the mix as a part-time, like, augmentation to our force, but we don’t see a team growing exponentially,” Carbonell said. “We think a small team can do a lot with the right tools and resources.”
ARCWERX is still new enough that it doesn’t yet have a website (though, like any good networker, it’s on LinkedIn).
And while the duo had planned to unveil the organization’s Tuscon, Ariz.-based headquarters innovation facility in March (“COVID threw a bit of a mix in that,” Jagow notes), the hub is now slated for a June 8th opening.
Once it gets up and running, though, the hub—which is strategically placed in “a commercial-type space” instead of on a DOD installation—will be “a primarily no-uniform zone” where military, academia, industry, and non-governmental players can comfortably co-mingle and collaborate in a setting free of “the access-control limitations of being on-base,” Carbonell said.
“We want people to be able to take off the rank,” he explained. “We want a wing commander sitting next to a brand new Airman discussing … how to solve the problem without worrying about … being able to talk openly and freely about ideas, because really, it’s about ideas and solving problems.”
The hub is also optimized for reconfiguration, so that it can accommodate smaller working groups—and is decked out with whiteboards, smartboards, and audiovisual equipment. There’s also a plan in the works to acquire technological equipment for the hub, Carbonell said, noting that the center is likely to “get a 3D printer and a couple of other tools.”
In the meantime, the group is doing what innovators do best: adapting.
“We’re pivoting to a virtual environment to be able to host those education events and connect ideas from around the force and facilitate projects to scale and fruition,” Jagow said.
Jagow and Carbonell were also strategic about ensuring its IT capabilities are up to the challenges of the new abnormal created by the new coronavirus pandemic.
“With the COVID crisis, we’ve made sure to include in our IT plans the ability for us to not only have in-person presentations, but to be able to be turned into almost like a broadcast studio, so that we can hold virtual events from the hub and then broadcast that out through Facebook Live, and YouTube, and Zoom, and other tools,” Carbonell said.