ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. -- The mission of the Air Force Test Center is to “conduct Developmental Test and Evaluation of air, space and cyber systems to provide timely, objective and accurate information to decision makers.”
Arnold Engineering Development Complex is expected to continue playing a vital role in this mission, and recently Brig. Gen. Christopher Azzano and other AFTC leadership descended upon the AEDC headquarters to not only shape the direction of the AFTC but also to meet with members of Team AEDC and get a firsthand look at the facilities that will help the AFTC attain its vision to be the tester of choice both now and in the future.
Arnold Air Force Base hosted the 2018 AFTC Strategic Offsite, Azzano’s first offsite since he took on the role of AFTC commander in August. The offsites, which occur annually, provide leadership across the AFTC the opportunity to gather for strategic planning, including discussions focused on the development of new technologies.
Leadership from each of the AFTC’s organizations were on hand for the recent Offsite at Arnold, with AEDC Commander Col. Scott Cain and AEDC Superintendent Chief Master Sgt. Robert Heckman among those representing AEDC.
Cain said the offsite events are a great way for AFTC leadership to focus on the strategic direction of the organization as a whole, adding this strategic direction focuses the efforts of the AFTC and enables its leaders to execute the mission of the Center more effectively.
“It was significant for Arnold to host this event because so many strategic issues for the Air Force and how we support the National Defense Strategy are tied to Arnold and AEDC,” Cain said. “AEDC has a critical role in developing next-generation aerospace systems and for testing and evaluating systems in new mission areas, such as space, hypersonics and directed energy, all of which directly support the NDS.
“Working with the Air Force Test Center to set our sights on resourcing AEDC to support these missions was the most significant aspect of the event to me. It was also significant because we were able to showcase our people and facilities to the senior leaders. They all came away with a new appreciation for AEDC.”
The AFTC, headquartered at Edwards Air Force Base, California, has oversight of work carried out at three primary locations across Air Force Materiel Command. The organizations making up the Center are AEDC; the 96th Test Wing, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida; and the 412th Test Wing, Edwards AFB.
Strategic planning meetings were held at the Gossick Leadership Center on Nov. 14 and 15. Azzano and fellow AFTC leaders toured several facilities at Arnold, including the Aerodynamic and Propulsion Test Unit and Engine Test Facility, on Nov. 16.
Azzano said one reason this year’s Strategic Planning Offsite was held at Arnold is that the Complex is “front and center” in the efforts of the Air Force to bolster national security.
“Arnold has been a foundation for capability development for decades,” Azzano said. “Intelligent and emboldened adversaries are now challenging our nation’s technical superiority, specifically in hypersonic research and applications. Our nation’s leaders immediately turned toward the Air Force to preserve and extend our strategic technical advantage. The Air Force immediately turned toward Arnold.”
And what the AFTC hopes to accomplish with next-generation systems will start at Arnold, Cain said.
“We’re really where the aerospace systems that come to AFTC start. Getting test and evaluation right during ground test is an enabler for effective flight test,” he said.
Azzano said the AFTC has a “unique opportunity” to rapidly integrate the science developed at Arnold into new technology and systems, adding Arnold is “indispensable” in the development of new technologies and the incorporation of these technologies into next-generation systems.
Cain said discussions stemming from the Offsite will impact operations at Arnold along with the other wing-level organizations under the AFTC umbrella.
“AEDC’s mission will be enhanced by the Air Force Test Center’s strategic plan that results from this Offsite,” he said. “I can’t understate how important AEDC is to the Test Center, the Air Force and the Department of Defense.”
Crawford Parrish, chief of the Strategic Planning and Transformation Branch in the Arnold AFB XP Office, said he and other organizers on base began preparation to host the AFTC leaders as soon as they received notification the Offsite would take place at Arnold. This preparation included arranging the various facilities for meetings and tours, ensuring the computers and projectors needed for the meetings were setup and in working order, and that the visitors from the AFTC had snacks and fare for their working lunches.
“We were informed that it was going to be here and, therefore, we had to support it and be ready to help,” Parrish said. “Actually, we probably got notified about a month before the Offsite was coming and we had to get ready. We worked with the AFTC XP staff, who had done this for the last couple of years at Edwards, about the kinds of things that needed to be done and what we needed to do to get prepared.”
Cain described the Offsite as a “great success” while commending the efforts of those at Arnold who worked to ensure this. He said the Plans and Programs team led by Parrish did an “outstanding job” setting up, facilitating and documenting the event. He also said AEDC Protocol Officer Sonja Smith played an integral role in the success of the Offsite and that the Arnold Services team took great care of the visitors.
“It’s rewarding to see Team AEDC put together a great event like this,” Cain said. “It’s also rewarding to see this amazing place showcased. There’s so much to be proud of at Arnold, and I love showing it off to our distinguished visitors.”
Parrish also said he felt the Offsite went well, adding Azzano expressed his appreciation to those at Arnold who helped pull the event together.
“The tours were very interesting and helpful for him. I think he asked a lot of questions, and I think he appreciated some of the answers because he found out we can do things that he didn’t realize we could do,” Parrish said.
Azzano said he hoped that the Offsite would help the AFTC leadership to achieve better synergy by learning from each other’s ideas and building upon some of their own. Cain feels the Offsite was successful in this regard.
“In addition to being a great technique for developing strategic direction, an offsite is a teambuilding event,” Cain said. “We coordinate our priorities and individual visions for the Wings and the Test Center and, when coordinated, we can produce a better product for our acquisition customers.”
Cain added the success of the Offsite was evident, as AFTC shared compliments and came away from the event impressed by what they had observed and experienced at Arnold.
“They all commented on the hospitality both at Arnold and in the local community, and they all love the natural beauty at Arnold,” he said. “On the mission side, they were very impressed with the quality and motivation of our people, and they were amazed with our test facilities.”