Bringing squadron-, wing-level power to bear at AEDC

  • Published
  • By Col. Keith Roessig
  • AEDC/Test Operations Division

The engineering development complex that bears General of the Air Force Henry “Hap” Arnold’s name was established to ensure that the Air Force would never again be caught unprepared as it was in 1939. The technical focus at that time was transonic aircraft and turbine engines. As the Air Force’s mission has expanded to winning in air, space and cyberspace, the Complex now also focuses on nuclear weapon modernization, space warfighting in a contested environment, hypersonic weapons and directed energy. These test missions support critical aspects of the 2018 National Defense Strategy, or NDS, that describes a world in which great power competition against near peer adversaries is the dominant threat to the U.S.

Over the last decade as these test missions were becoming more important, the Air Force acquisition community retreated from a strategy implemented during the late 1990s of placing system performance responsibility completely on the original equipment manufacturers. This forced government program offices to take a greater role in understanding and oversight even though manning levels had not returned to pre-Gulf War levels. Arnold Engineering Development Complex must therefore take a greater role in the analysis and evaluation of developmental systems as program offices either cannot hire more technical staff or intentionally minimize technical staff for rapid acquisition strategies. To accomplish this, AEDC requires clear knowledge of system requirements to collect appropriate data, the tools and techniques to analyze the data, and a technically competent workforce to conduct the analysis.

At the recent AEDC strategic offsite, Col. Jeffrey Geraghty stated his intent to apply wing- and squadron-level power to the problems outlined by the NDS and test missions assigned to us by the Air Force Test Center. Geraghty also asked AEDC leadership to take a look at how AEDC can adjust its processes and organization to implement wing- and squadron-level power. So the first question most will ask is, “What do wing- and squadron-level power mean?”

Gen. David Goldfein, chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force, has stated that, “The squadron is the beating heart of the United States Air Force; our most essential team.” In a letter to all the commanders in the Air Force, he stated, “It is in the squadron (and in civilian-led squadron like organizations) where the missions of the Air Force succeed or fail. It is where lethality and readiness are generated, aligned and sustained.”

Squadron-level power means aligning the responsibility, authority, resources, and accountability within a specified unit to execute the core mission. While for fighter squadrons that is organizing, training, and equipping the unit for combat operations, for test units it is producing the decision-quality data and analysis to the program offices to prove the weapons systems effectiveness for the warfighter. 

Wing-level power emerges from combining the capabilities of a single squadron with others to have effects that no single squadron can have alone. We need to combine the aerodynamic data of the Hypervelocity Wind Tunnel 9, thermal protection results of the High Temperature Lab Arc tests and the lethality test from the Holloman Air Force Base High Speed Test Track to understand overall hypersonic weapon performance. We need to combine the aerodynamic data of the von Kármán Gas Dynamics Facility with the navigation capability of the 746th Test Squadron and the booster stage thrust performance in the Large Solid Rocket Motor test cell J6 to understand Ground Based Strategic Deterrent missile performance. Space warfighting in a contested environment requires the Space Threat Assessment Testbed to combine environmental effects with the man-made effects from threat systems examined by the 704th Test Group’s Directed Energy Combined Test Force. That same CTF must place U.S. systems into Arnold AFB wind tunnels to examine lethality effects under realistic flow conditions. In classic AEDC test missions, mission execution analysis can combine control authority wind tunnel data with National Radar Cross Section Test Facility results to simulate mission effectiveness. This is what is meant by wing-level power for AEDC.

So in our final recommendation to Geraghty on how we best can support the 2018 NDS, care must be taken to clearly and transparently communicate with the AEDC workforce the roles and responsibilities that may change due to a changing strategic environment.

As Goldfein stated in a 2018 letter addressing squadron revitalization, “Every Airman in a squadron needs clarity of purpose to understand how they contribute, add value and are valued.”

Only in this way can all of AEDC take ownership of the mission, produce squadron- and wing-level power, and fulfill Arnold’s vision of a U.S. Air Force “Second to None.”