February 15, 2024

Sparta Software Awarded Phase I Research and Development Contract to Address Chronic Spine Health for Air Force Fighter Pilots

Partnering with Medical College of Wisconsin researchers to address chronic spine disorders commonly affecting Air Force fighter pilots' long-term health and readiness.

(MENLO PARK, California)– Sparta Sofware Corporation announces it has been selected by AFWERX for a Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Phase I contract in the amount of $109,330 focused on better understanding and addressing fighter pilot spine health utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities to address the most pressing challenges in the Department of the Air Force (DAF). The Air Force Research Laboratory and AFWERX have partnered to streamline the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) process by accelerating the small business experience through faster proposal to award timelines, changing the pool of potential applicants by expanding opportunities to small business and eliminating bureaucratic overhead by continually implementing process improvement changes in contract execution. The DAF began offering the Open Topic SBIR/STTR program in 2018, which expanded the range of innovations the DAF funded, and now on 8 December, 2023, Sparta Software Corporation and partner the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) will start the journey to create and provide innovative capabilities that will strengthen the national defense of the United States of America.

“This STTR project allows us to work in collaboration with leading research experts to address the chronic spine disorders that are so common in fighter pilots due to sustained and repetitive endurance of high G-forces while flying high-performance jets,” says Dr Phil Wagner, Founder and CEO of Sparta Software. 

Sparta Software Corporation has recently completed several Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) projects utilizing their advanced human data platform to support assessing and managing mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) and Operator Syndrome. In this Phase I STTR, they are collaborating with a team of experts from MCW, led by Dr Brian Stemper, with over 60 years of experience and 340 peer-reviewed publications in spine injury biomechanics research.

In 2022, DAF started the first program to optimize pilot performance from cradle to grave: Comprehensive Readiness for Aircrew Flying Training (CRAFT). Sparta Software Corporation intends for the outcomes of this Phase I R&D effort to lead to a Phase II contract that will contribute to this ongoing work by the CRAFT program. “The goal is to integrate this data to drive operational decision-making through CRAFT, OHWS (Optimizing the Human Weapon System), and other existing initiatives to improve the long-term health and resilience of the fighter pilots,” says Dr Wagner. 

A vast and growing body of research shows chronic spine disorders (CSDs) are contributing to a pilot shortage within the Department of the Air Force (DAF). CSDs are a primary problem among military fighter pilots, particularly back and neck pain caused by factors both inside and outside the cockpit. Sustained high G-forces, along with demographics and changeable lifestyle factors, often cause chronic, career-ending back problems. 

Research has shown that 89-93% of fighter pilots will have spinal disorders over their lifetime, compared to only 20% among the general population. “Understanding different etiologies and functional impairments associated with these pain symptoms will aid in the treatment and rehabilitation of back pain in military personnel,” says Dr Brian Stemper of MCW. 

Sparta Software Corporation and the Medical College of Wisconsin are pursuing collaboration on this project with operational USAF and Air National Guard fighter commands. The project will support mission-relevant data collection and analysis to generate fighter-pilot-specific phenotypes that can be utilized to identify, address, and mitigate correlated CSD risk. 

(Mandatory disclaimer) “The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Air Force, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.”

About Sparta Software Corporation

Sparta Software Corporation is an enterprise software and services company that helps organizations develop data-driven solutions to support their readiness initiatives.  Trinsic, our Human Data Platform (HDP), offers advanced human data capabilities to collect, analyze, and operationalize real-world health and performance data at scale.

About the Medical College of Wisconsin

With a history dating back to 1893, the Medical College of Wisconsin is dedicated to leadership and excellence in education, patient care, research, and community engagement. More than 1,400 students are enrolled in MCW’s medical school and graduate school programs in Milwaukee, Green Bay, and Central Wisconsin. MCW’s School of Pharmacy opened in 2017. A major national research center, MCW is the largest research institution in the Milwaukee area and second largest in Wisconsin. In the last 10 years, faculty received more than $1.5 billion in external support for research, teaching, training, and related purposes. This total includes highly competitive research and training awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Annually, MCW faculty direct or collaborate on more than 3,100 research studies, including clinical trials. Additionally, more than 1,600 physicians provide care in virtually every specialty of medicine for more than 2.8 million patients annually. For more information, visit mcw.edu

About AFRL  

The Air Force Research Laboratory is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development, and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 12,500 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit afresearchlab.com. 


As the innovation arm of the DAF and a directorate within the Air Force Research Laboratory, AFWERX brings cutting-edge American ingenuity from small businesses and start-ups to address the most pressing challenges of the DAF. AFWERX employs approximately 325 military, civilian and contractor personnel at six hubs and sites executing an annual $1.4 billion budget. Since 2019, AFWERX has executed 4,697 contracts worth more than $2.6 billion to strengthen the U.S. defense industrial base and drive faster technology transition to operational capability. For more information, visit: afwerx.com.   

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