20th IS initiative brings first fully-operational Spark Hub to Offutt AFB

March 12, 2019

Story by: Catherine White

363rd Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. (AFNS) -- In June 2018, five members from the 20th Intelligence Squadron, part of the 363rd Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, began building a network of like-minded Airmen to out-innovate U.S. adversaries. Today, this network, known as Soaring Buffalo, consists of Airmen from multiple Air Force career fields, squadrons, wings, Numbered Air Forces and major commands working together to solve warfighter problems.

Soaring Buffalo is part of the Air Force’s innovation ecosystem and makes up Offutt Air Force Base’s first Spark Hub construct – a decentralized network of Air Force bases around the world designed to execute locally generated ideas and projects.

“We think this is the future for squadron- and base-level innovation,” said Capt. Joshua, 20th IS targeting innovation officer in charge and one of the original five Soaring Buffalo members.

The network gives Airmen access to multifunctional expertise and fosters a culture of exploration to create an environment that lets Airmen test ideas.

“This is a real outlet where Airmen can build, refine and prove ideas,” Joshua said. “It ties them into a larger community of experts they never had access to before.”

Since its inception, the original five have grown to a 37-member network that includes industry, academia, senior military leaders, Airmen and civilians.

“We are focused on failing fast and failing forward,” said Ben, 20th IS intelligence specialist and one of the original five. “It is empowering and energizing for us to receive a platform that accelerates our desire and ability to tackle challenges.”

Partnerships with industry and academia are key components of Spark programs. Through these partnerships, Soaring Buffalo members trained with staff from a local university’s College of Information Science and Technology on some of the most advanced data visualization and analytics topics available.

“(As a result of this training), we have identified weapon systems threats and defense systems in record time,” Joshua said. “We are postured to work on small problems that helps us in the day-to-day or work on big problems impacting Air Force lethality.”

One of the many successful projects members of the Soaring Buffalo team has accomplished encompasses creating a dashboard that allows warfighters to make real-time recommendations; designed and coded by Airmen with the 595th Strategic Communications Squadron, Air Force Global Strike Command and targeteers from the 20th IS, as well as deployed warfighters from air operations centers.

A secure, dedicated lab space is part of the overall network that makes collaboration possible across traditional organizational boundaries.

“The Soaring Buffalo Lab is both a targeting innovation and a rapid DevOps lab that includes a core cadre composed of a rotating team of volunteers with experts from the targeting, intelligence and programming communities,” Joshua said.

DevOps is the combination of practices and tools that increases an organization's ability to deliver applications and services at high velocity; evolving and improving products at a faster pace than organizations using traditional development and internal processes. At Offutt AFB, the lab combines warfighter and intelligence systems with commercial internet for capability expansion.

“This gives us unprecedented flexibility and allows members of the team to understand warfighter problems in-depth at their source,” Joshua said. “We have the ability to build data analysis models, visualization or code new software solutions.”

The Air Force continues to further a culture of innovation through programs like Spark and leadership support.

“Innovation is a fostered culture – the passion our leadership has put into this project and what we have all put into making this happen is something that will stick with me throughout my career,” said Staff Sgt. Sean, 20th IS targeting innovation NCO in charge. “Soaring Buffalo is a prime example of what dedicated and charged Airmen can do when leaders believe in them.”

Sean was not the only team member who praised and thanked leadership for their support.

“I am gratified that our Air Force leaders can see the need for change and are putting their names on the line to advocate for teams like this to exist,” Ben said.