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Defense Technology Exploration Continues to Thrive at JIFX

Defense Technology Exploration Continues to Thrive at JIFX

Two NPS students, U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Alan Gutberlet and Lt. Taylor York, look on as a technician from Odys Aviation prepares a drone for flight testing during the May Joint Interagency Field Experimentation (JIFX) event at Camp Roberts, Calif. (U.S. Navy photo by Dan Linehan)

The Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) conducted its spring Joint Interagency Field Experimentation (JIFX) event in May, with a technological focus on command, control, communications, computers, cyber, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C5ISR) and countermeasures.

Held quarterly at the California Army National Guard’s Camp Roberts, JIFX offers unparalleled opportunities to conduct applied research for NPS students, faculty and staff, industry technologists, and stakeholders. This latest iteration of JIFX drew 170 participants, with field experiments utilizing 18 unique technologies, and a total of 52 sorties were flown by uncrewed aerial systems (UAS).

“JIFX gives technology performers something they often can’t get on their own: an operational field environment to see how their prototypes work in the real world, with immediate feedback and insight from DOD end-users,” said Jon Lazar, a JIFX sponsor who serves as Director of Innovation and Modernization (I&M) within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (OUSD (R&E)).

The interaction between technologists and stakeholders at JIFX serves to rapidly advance innovation that can specifically address gaps in operational technology.

In April, NPS signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) to expand complementary efforts and future opportunities targeting education, research, and innovation, including collaborative experimentation. JIFX is an excellent fit that effectively manifests this endeavor.

“JIFX provides a great example of how NPS can help accelerate concepts to capabilities,” said Dr. Kevin Smith, NPS Vice Provost for Research and Innovation. “It combines new technologies and operational experience into innovation learning opportunities.”

U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Steve Butow, Military Deputy for DIU and commander of the California Air National Guard, recognizes the importance of JIFX to current and future DIU projects.

“JIFX provides an extraordinarily unique environment to incubate game-changing technologies and accelerate their progress from development to deployment,” said Butow. “By partnering with California National Guard’s Camp Roberts, JIFX connects the technologists to testing grounds and airspace that are necessary, but very difficult to access any other way.”

WeatherHive, a swarming meteorological measurement system being developed by GreenSight, is one such project funded by DIU for the U.S. Air Force Weather Wing. By deploying 10 small quadcopter drones from a portable “hive” canister, the system can collect weather data not just for tactical weather forecasting, but for “nowcasting” – what's happening right now and in the immediate future.

Having experimented with WeatherHive during the last four JIFX events, GreenSight has found the use of the expansive, controlled airspace at Camp Roberts vital for expediting the development of its technology.

“The airspace access situation here is really unique. We're able to come here for an entire week and get almost unfettered access to high-altitude airspace,” said GreenSight CEO and co-founder James Peverill.

“We can get a lot more testing done here, and it’s a lot more representative of how we want the system to be used in the real world. We can go up to full altitude. We can go full out. And we can really test the system's full range in a way that we really can't do much anywhere else.”

Peverill finds that accessibly to stakeholders is another tremendous benefit of JIFX. Though initially funded for the U.S. Air Force, feedback has led to new applications for other stakeholders across the Department of Defense (DOD).

The director of JIFX, retired U.S. Army Col. Michael Richardson, believes these types of interactions that regularly happen at JIFX are big wins – for all of the stakeholders involved.

“NPS and DOD stakeholders win by identifying technologies that have the potential to solve operational challenges, and technologists win by learning about the needs of DOD,” said Richardson. “Both communities win by establishing relationships that can result in needed capabilities and business development.”

The director of the NavalX Central Coast Tech Bridge at NPS, retired U.S. Navy Capt. Marco Romani, often participates in the JIFX events and emphasized NavalX’s commitment to supporting JIFX’s innovation mission. 

“The Navy sees JIFX as an invaluable tool for technology discovery,” said Romani. “The NPS JIFX offers the lowest barrier to collaboration with DOD for any size company, from a one-person start-up to the major defense primes. JIFX is all about learning and everyone embraces the mantra ‘fail fast to succeed sooner’ in a shared learning environment.”

The next JIFX event coming this summer will run from Aug. 5-9 with a focus on “Non-Standard Communication & Navigation.” For more information on the JIFX, and to register for a future event, check out 

Participation in Joint Interagency Field Experimentation (JIFX) events does not constitute endorsement of participating companies or their products or services by the Naval Postgraduate School, the Department of the Navy, or the Department of Defense.

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