Air Force’s 350th Spectrum Warfare Wing Tries Some-Fin Special on EW

The wing, which is tasked with spearheading electronic warfare capabilities, hosted a shark tank competition to draw out new ideas from service members.

WASHINGTON — After the commander of the Air Force’s 350th Spectrum Warfare Wing asserted that personnel are key to closing a gap with China in electronic warfare capabilities, the 350th held an unconventional event to answer their commander’s call: a “shark tank” style competition, where military and civilian members alike could pitch ideas to improve the wing’s operations.

The shark tank faceoff was held earlier this month at the 350th’s home of Eglin Air Force Base, where a panel of five judges with backgrounds ranging from cybersecurity to aircraft expertise selected a total of seven new ideas to fund based on airmen’s pitches.

“Our boss, Col. [Joshua] Koslov, understands that innovation can come from any level,” Chief Master Sgt. Michael Sterling, who served as one of the judges on the panel, told Breaking Defense in a June 13 interview. “Whether young or old, experienced or novice, we encourage that culture and environment. We’re trying to build airmen to meet their full potential.”

The competition was open to all, with a focus on how to make both defensive and offensive electronic warfare operations more effective.

“Sometimes we get kind of immersed in the mission, and we think that our problems are either smaller or larger than they are,” Sterling said. Providing a forum like the shark tank event allows younger airmen to share fresh perspectives on those problems, he said, and foster a more innovative culture that enables ideas from lower ranks to rise to leadership.

Activated in 2021, the relatively nascent 350th is “still understanding where our expertise comes from,” Sterling said, and is working hard to recruit the workforce it needs to support its objectives. Beyond improving the wing’s internal workings, bringing new ideas to the fore through events like the shark tank competition are also meant to demonstrate to potential recruits that the 350th can be their home, Sterling said.

“It’s hard to get the right talent for where we’re going,” he stated. “I need cybersecurity experts. I need guys that are smart with aircraft systems, electronic systems. I need pilots to understand what the problems are in the field. And I think part of our issue is trying to get everyone [who is] in those individual specialties to understand how they can come together to make this mission happen,” he added.

Lt. Benjamin Aronson, a spokesperson for the 350th, said that of the seven winning entrants for the shark tank event, four concerned quality-of-life improvements. One of the other three ideas concerns a simulation module to train new members on “how to perform mission data and simulation programming,” which can be uniformly implemented across squadrons to save time and ensure standardized “high-level training.”

The second idea, according to Aronson, involves an improved mobile trailer that personnel of the 87th Electronic Warfare Squadron would use for Combat Shield assessments, where an aircraft’s electronic warfare systems are tested to find and remove deficiencies. “This trailer also will allow for it to be parked next to an aircraft and most of the work to be done within the aircraft, ensuring the mission can carry on even in extreme weather conditions and limits the chances of damage,” Aronson explained.

The third is an electronic attack laboratory, a type of waveform development lab that “would serve to expand upon our current waveform development mission the wing performs,” Aronson stated.

The contest’s victors were not compensated monetarily. “If your idea was chosen and implementable, the younger airmen, we gave them some compensatory time off — like a day or so, same for civilians,” Sterling said.

The winning ideas were selected earlier this month, and a full list of the champions is included below.

  • 2nd Lt Deep Kumar
  • Mr. Michael Rafferty
  • 1st Lt Dane Syed
  • TSgt Reginald Davis
  • SSgt Stephen Lentz
  • SSgt Preston Leeling
  • Mr. Carlos Vasquez De Velasco