Our national defense priority is now once again on the high-end fight, requiring the Services to embrace the need to modernize rapidly. However, in many cases our military advantage has eroded away from decades of resisting change on an institutional level, and lack of budget to effectively transform. With the real threat of near peer conflict looming, some might say our peers have surpassed our capabilities, leaving many to ask if it is too little, too late.
For decades, USAF maintenance support equipment has been one of the least funded portions of the budget. Many of these items were delivered with the aircraft they support roughly 40 years ago. Importantly, while the aircraft have undergone numerous upgrades, such as supporting Smart weapons, the armament support equipment which is required to keep them fully mission capable has often been neglected. In fact, most armament test equipment has become obsolete, in that the equipment does not support the functional testing requirements of the modernized aircraft armament systems.
Enabling Agile Combat Employment
As the U.S. Air Force further refines what is needed to Fly, Fight, and Win, a new doctrine note was recently released defining the concept called Agile Combat Employment (ACE). ACE, like the overarching directive to Accelerate Change or Lose from Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., requires many elements to be successful.
To be most effective, those in the Air Force responsible for procuring armament test equipment need to adopt a new method of assessing and replacing obsolete armament support equipment. In other words, modify their approach to adapt to the ACE concept that demands innovative approaches such as armament test equipment easy for multi-capable Airmen to employ across the multiple types of armed aircraft they will be required to support found in tailored force packages. ACE puts a premium on easy to use, easy to sustain, easy to deploy, high-performance, small footprint, and rapid test time equipment. The armament support equipment should be capable of supporting all Air Force armament test. Most current Air Force armament test sets can only test the aircraft they were fielded with, and as stated earlier, often lack the ability to perform the functional tests required to support Smart weapons.
For full realization of the maximum potential of ACE and other concepts needed to “Fly, Fight, and Win,” warfighters should be exploiting existing advancements, most importantly COTS solutions to reduce acquisition cost and fielding time. One such COTS solution was developed by Marvin Test Solutions and has been deployed worldwide since 2011 – The MTS-3060A, SERD #75A77, Universal O-Level Armament Test Set – known globally as the SmartCan™. The SmartCan is the most advanced handheld armament test set serving on the flightline today in 12 countries, and most recently purchased by the Air National Guard to support all of their armament test needs on their A-10, F-16, and F-15 fleets.
SmartCan has the power to address many of the current test gaps found in the armament community and the capacity to meet future requirements. Importantly, the ANG has published post-demonstration reports addressing the capabilities of the SmartCan™ to support not only their aircraft, but those of Air Combat Command as well, including their F-15Es and F-16 Block 50s.
In order to ensure the armament test needs of today and the future are met – across the USAF’s inventory of armed aircraft – commonality, capability and configurability should serve as the cornerstone for armament test equipment managers with the overall goal to support tailored force packages with a minimal footprint. Importantly, the SmartCan has already proven its ability to eliminate many armament test sets on the flightline and support multiple aircraft. SmartCan, for more than a decade, has been helping to transform air forces and their flightline maintenance operations around the world meet these goals.
The threats to National Security move at the speed of our enemies and not at the pace of the bureaucracy. Change should not should not be prevented or delayed; aggressive action is needed at all levels to ensure that high-tech solutions have the foundational support required to maximize their effects. Now more than ever, it is time to accelerate change or lose. And, losing is not an option.