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Innovation backing weaves WIDOW into reality

By Airman 1st Class Samuel Colvin | 673d ABW/PA | July 28, 2020

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON —

In May 2019, U.S. Air Force Maj. Brad Short, then-3rd Wing chief of weapons and tactics, was conducting mission planning the same way it has been done since the 1940s: on a chalkboard, whiteboard or mapboard. He decided it was time to bring the process into the 21st century — to digitize and automate the process.

“Folks have talked about this in my circles for years, but it’s difficult to go through a traditional contracting process to try to get something you want that makes sense and get it in a timeline where you can actually use it,” Short said.

In August 2019 at AFWERX’s first Spark Collider, a two-day innovation symposium to pair Department of Defense problems with viable solutions, Short pitched his idea for WIDOW, which stands for Web-Based Information Dominant Warfare. WIDOW is an online mission planning cell tool that digitizes the mission planning process, synchronizes real-time inputs from every user, creates mission products with one-click functionality, and streamlines administrative processes. His pitch won second place and was awarded $75,000 from AFWERX.

“Right after that, I came back to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and let 3rd Wing leadership know I’d won the money, and the idea had some steam,” said Short, now a Blue Horizons fellow at the USAF Center for Strategy and Technology. “Right away, Colonel [Matthew] Bradley, who is the 3rd Operations Group commander, was totally on board. He did everything he could to connect me with the right people and in front of the right decision makers, not only at JBER but Air Force-wide.”

Bradley’s advocacy sparked immediate support from two more 3rd WG colonels — Commander Col. Robert Davis and Vice Commander Col. Shawn Serfass. The wing allocated $150,000 in innovation funds to build the WIDOW prototype, paying for approximately two-thirds of a program that is now being adopted Air Force-wide.

“WIDOW improves your ability to lead in a warfighting situation as a mission commander, and I can’t say enough good things about it, the people who supported it and the emphasis Colonel Davis put on it,” Serfass said. “It really was an awesome team effort across multiple wings.”

Bradley advocated for WIDOW to be the foremost innovation topic briefed to U.S. Air Force Gen. Charles Brown, Pacific Air Forces commander and soon-to-be 22nd Air Force Chief of Staff, during Brown’s virtual tour of JBER in June.

“Major Short gave a dynamic briefing and demonstration of WIDOW to General Brown,” Bradley said. “General Brown immediately directed to fund it for the rest of fiscal year 2020 to ensure it would be available for Valiant Shield, Red-Flag Alaska, and other exercises.”

Bradley was also instrumental in gaining support from U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles Corcoran, commander of the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, for Headquarters Air Force-level engagement to fund WIDOW in 2021 and beyond.

“Colonels Davis, Bradley and Serfass all supported me on a daily and weekly basis,” Short said. “I had to go on temporary duty travel multiple times before COVID-19 to put all of this into motion, and I got support in that realm. They also supported me spending a lot of my work days working on WIDOW in addition to my job as the chief of 3rd Wing weapons and tactics. It was helpful to have leadership who had a positive outlook on innovation and it wasn’t just a buzzword to them.

“They could really see the value in WIDOW, so they gave me a lot of latitude to make it happen,” Short continued. “Whenever I ran into a roadblock, if I wasn’t able to get around it myself, I could call either one of those three directly and ask for help. Every single time the roadblock was gone or a new or different way to get it done was presented.”

Short also credited JBER contracting and finance personnel for their efficiency. Their work allowed for the timely development of WIDOW into a fully-functional application that was able to be tested at the Weapons School Integration at Nellis Air Force Base, from May 26 to June 10, 2019.

“[U.S. Air Force] Staff Sergeant Shannon Simmons and Technical Sergeant Michael McKenzie [673d Contracting Squadron contract specialists] were able to take us from essentially nothing to a fully signed, executable contract within a matter of weeks, and that usually takes months,” Short said. “That enabled the development of WIDOW and the WSINT test to happen. The cool part of the WSINT test was the ability to have direct operator feedback throughout the entire process.”

Short said John Nykanen, the 3rd WG budget team lead assigned to the 673d Comptroller Squadron, was instrumental in collecting the funds provided for WIDOW. At the time, WIDOW had received funding from three different sources: AFWERX, the 3rd WG, and the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center.

“I obviously can’t do any of this alone and there have been a lot of people who have made it happen along the way,” Short said. “This is an Air Force-wide success story that started with some very dedicated people at the 3rd WG and 673d Air Base Wing.”

Short is scheduled to have a fireside chat on WIDOW July 29 at AFWERX Fusion, a three-day virtual event to present innovative solutions to top Air Force leadership and other military decision-makers and operators. By the end of July, WIDOW is planned to be available Air Force-wide through Platform One’s single sign-on function.

For more information on WIDOW, visit https://www.widow.app/.

For more information on AFWERX Fusion, visit https://www.afwerxfusion.com/.