Air Force Labs

Air Force Labs

Program Overview

The program is designed to support founders pursing a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Award with the U.S. Air Force. MassChallenge will provide strategic exposure for small businesses with novel technologies seeking to connect with end users within the U.S. Department of Defense.


Air Force Labs addresses challenges identified by the U.S. Air Force to deliver defense innovation at speed to sharpen the nation’s competitive edge and to drive solutions used to win in the field. 


Selected small business are invited to a six-week, virtual, accelerator program with curriculum supported by the greater MassChallenge dual-use community including U.S. Air Force program offices, government agencies, defense primes, investors, research institutions, and subject matter experts.  


Founders will receive mentorship from acquisition-focused Air Force personnel who completed the MassChallenge Banshee Innovation Training.  Mentorship will focus on how to navigate the Department of Defense, response to current U.S. Air Force challenge areas, and access potential end users and funding.  


Graduating founders and their mentors will be invited to pitch their solution and potential use case to U.S. Air Force leadership in Boston this autumn as a part of the greater Hanscom AFB & MassChallenge Partnership. 

Apply Today

All small business applications are required to create a profile on the MassChallenge Accelerate Platform here.

Contact: Vijay Sekhara, Director of Strategic Partnerships

Eligibility Requirements

  • US-based small business looking to scale through commercial & federal markets 
  • Fewer than 50 employees and in operation for fewer than five years 
  • Less than $25 million raised with an annual revenue of less than $10 million 
  • Pursuing a traditional Phase II or Direct to Phase II (D2P2) SBIR with the U.S. Air Force


Program curriculum will take place virtually on Tuesday & Thursday afternoons. 


Air Force Labs is sponsored by the Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence, & Networks (C3I&N) Directorate, the Digital Directorate, and the Cyber Resiliency Office for Weapons Systems (CROWS) through a Partnership Intermediary Agreement with The Griffiss Institute, Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC), and Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). 


Key Dates

Challenge Areas

#1: Cyber Security, Information, and Access Controls  


The Air Force seeks cyber resiliency and security innovations that accelerate and/or facilitate deploying capabilities. Cyber innovations in specific areas of interest include Civil and Unencrypted Data Links, Logistics Systems, Industrial Control Systems, Commercial Transport and Storage, Holistic Supply Chain. Solutions sought should: 

  • Effectively detect, monitor, protect and sustain weapon system platforms’ information flows in contested operating combat environments, to permit continued secure communications, navigation, and execution of mission objectives 
  • Authenticate operational users of systems and networks in disconnected environments to include identifying valid nodes/users and denying access by inappropriate systems/users 
  • Emulate both airborne components and ground support systems software performance to assess and compare before and after performance states plus finding and identifying platform alterations 


#2: Systems Integrations 


Currently the Air Force has several distinct systems that exist on separate, disparate infrastructures with limited ability to directly share data real-time outside of secret and other, higher-level networks. As the Air Force looks to accelerate its ability to engage targets, it needs to develop a plan to merge these warfighting weapon system infrastructures into a single network with common tools. To do this, high performance computing infrastructure and connectivity as well as resilient and accessible sensor data for tactical users in a highly contested environment will be needed. 


#3: Resilient & Agile Operations 


The Air Force requires the ability to operate in an agile environment using resilient systems. As forces are forward deployed, it will need sustainable and rapidly reconfigurable sensors that can be used across a diverse mission set (force protection, air defense, air traffic control, etc.). Given the focus on command and control, these sensors must then be able to pass that information to decision-makers with a scalable communications capability that can operate in denied and degraded environments and with new waveforms.  


#4: Moving Target Detection & Common Operating Picture  


End-users need to take advantage of commercially available technology to reduce the burden of 24/7 operations that include moving target detection and feeding into a common operating picture. Across multiple divisions, the Air Force has a need for artificial intelligence / machine learning (AI/ML) to assist operators with earlier detection, identification, and faster processing of incoming threats. Also needed are tools to integrate these new systems into a common operating picture to accelerate the ability to engage targets. 


#5: Encryption Systems 


The Air Force is seeking innovative research which demonstrates a path toward effective advanced cybersecurity solutions, robust enough for the protection of classified data. These can include novel key management & re-key solutions as well as AI-driven encryption solutions. These solutions will need to completely satisfy the confidentiality, integrity, availability, and non-repudiation requirements for sensitive or classified data at all times and in all states (in-transit, at-rest, in-use), are transparent to operators and easily managed by support personnel. 


#6: Cybersecurity   


The Air Force is also seeking innovative research applying effective advanced cybersecurity solutions with an emphasis on AI/ML. These can include AI-driven cybersecurity and dual-use defense and offensive cyber solutions. The eventual solutions will need to be suitable and effective for military applications yet simplistic enough to provide a satisfying user experience, all while addressing the urgency and timeliness criticality due to the fast pace of technology and innovation in the cyber domain. 


#7: Cybersecurity and Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Aerial Networks  


The Air Force cybersecurity protections are adequate for the adversaries we currently face; however, the landscape is constantly evolving, and our network protection and AI analytics must evolve to stay ahead of all possible threats. Cybersecurity and AI innovations for aerial network threat detection and mitigation are needed for resource scheduling and allocation scheme, security and privacy issues, and routing technology, all in aerial computing. 


#8: Built-in-Test Capabilities Across Aircraft Platforms  


As software platforms evolve, flightline diagnostics are becoming siloed. Needed today by the Air Force is the creation of a common, portable interface for support equipment that can be used to diagnose and fault isolate using existing Built-in Test (BIT) capabilities across aircraft platforms. These innovations will provide the Air Force with a standardized process to run these tests more effectively and efficiently. 


#9: Enterprise IT Systems  


To support the continuity operations plan (COOP), the Air Force seeks secure global resource management of multiple cloud/edge/on-prem infrastructure and the ability to take over management of these platforms locally when required. This technology would support the Continuity Operations Plan (COOP) while in denied, degraded, intermittent, or limited (DDIL) communications environments. Examples include Commercial Solutions for Classified (CSfC) technology and novel zero-trust solutions such as Software Defined Perimeter Agent and Agentless solutions for discovery/E2E Encryption/security policy enforcement. 


#10: Open Topic 


To support a broader range of novel technologies, Air Force Labs is accepting small businesses innovating to solve challenges identified throughout the U.S. Air Force. Examples of these technologies include Advanced Materials & Manufacturing; Alternative Fuels; Digital Twins, Modeling, and Simulation; Directed Energy, Electromagnetics, and Lasers, High Performance Batteries; Human Performance; Hypersonics and Energy Optimization; and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. 


The Department of the Air Force’s engagements with non-government organizations does not imply or constitute approval or endorsement by the Air Force or the Department of Defense.