Operational Acquisition

Aug. 1, 2004

Air Force Materiel Command is in the midst of a major restructuring, one that could bring to AFMC its most significant change of course since it was created from the merger of Air Force Logistics Command and Air Force Systems Command 12 years ago.

AFMC leaders have high hopes that the makeover will cure some ills that have plagued the acquisition community for years. They believe that, by clarifying lines of authority, the command will be able to speed the introduction of new technologies, improve efficiency, and become more responsive to operational “customers.”

A by-product could be improved morale. According to Gen. Gregory S. Martin, AFMC commander, his people often are unfairly blamed for weapon systems being over budget and behind schedule.

Martin believes the restructure ultimately will enable the command to share capabilities across weapon systems, reducing the number of individual program offices. Martin also expects it to pave the way for a new management approach, one that he thinks will provide greater confidence that programs will succeed.

Air Force Secretary James G. Roche is expected to make the AFMC restructure official within the next few months. The command intends to revisit the restructure at six-month intervals through 2005 to ensure that the changes have produced the desired effect.

Operationalizing AFMC

The basic plan entails regrouping units within AFMC’s centers into wings, groups, and squadrons. The intent is to make AFMC more closely mirror the operational Air Force rather than the “business world,” said Martin.

“We can conduct ourselves in a ‘businesslike’ manner, but don’t be confused; we are a military organization, not a business,” wrote Martin in the command magazine, Leading Edge.

Converting to wings, groups, and squadrons will make AFMC units more accessible to their “customers”—the operational commands. Lt. Gen. William R. Looney III, commander of Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, said the structure change will ensure that “everybody else in the United States Air Force understands who you are and what you do.”

Many in the service look upon Materiel Command as an enigma with an organizational arrangement that is unintelligible outside AFMC. Command leaders believe the new structure not only will help eliminate that confusion, but also will enable AFMC to group like elements and take advantage of crosscutting capabilities.

For instance, one of the new ASC wings will be the Fighter/Attack Systems Wing. It will comprise all the current fighter programs under ASC control. The F-15 and F-16 System Program Offices will become the F-15 Systems Group and F-16 Systems Group, respectively, under the wing.

The wing will also have a combat systems squadron that will orchestrate the addition of new capabilities that can be applied to various fighter platforms.

When these platforms are bundled together, Martin said, “there will be some synergies between the platforms that can occur that will keep you from having as many people in each of these programs.” For example, instead of having four engineers on each fighter program working on a helmet mounted cueing system unique to that aircraft, there could be fewer engineers developing a helmet system that will apply across the board. The same would go for radios, onboard sensors, ejection seats, and other components. There would be a manpower savings up front and savings in commonality in production downstream.

This has not been done before, said Martin. The whole process has been “platform-centric,” he said, when it should be centered on a capability area.

Looney noted that at ASC, he had no single person to ensure that all the platforms are making design decisions and setting up their schedules for the “capabilities that we consider crosscutting,” such as the Small Diameter Bomb and Link 16. Such things would “fall through the cracks,” he said, causing huge scheduling, operational, and cost headaches down the road.

Attempts to lay on such crosscutting programs over the last couple of years have not always been successful, according to Maj. Gen. Robert W. Chedister, commander of the Air Armament Center at Eglin AFB, Fla. Previously, he said, “it was always kind of a forced fit.” Now, he emphasized, the wholesale restructuring of AFMC will “formally create those crosscutting opportunities and those capability-focused organizations.”

AFMC plans first to restructure its product centers, followed by similar reorganizations at the air logistics centers and test centers. Officials were quick to point out that the effort is not a budget-cutting drill, nor is it driven by the base realignment and closure process. And it will not require legislative changes.

The restructure does not mean that certain types of activities will pick up and move to other installations. Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in Georgia, for instance, focuses mainly on mobility aircraft, but it also manages the sustainment of the F-15. The F-15 work won’t move, said Maj. Gen. (sel.) Michael A. Collings, commander of WRALC.

However, he noted that as the Air Force moves from the F-15 to the new F/A-22, Ogden Air Logistics Center in Utah will eventually become the center for fighter aircraft.

“The vast majority of the people in the centers will not see any changes,” said Collings. “It’s more that some supervisors will move, … but the vast majority of people will not see a difference.”

The maintenance for some aircraft components already is grouped at single locations. The Oklahoma City ALC, Tinker AFB, Okla., for instance, handles all Air Force aircraft engines, while Ogden does all landing gear work. The restructure, said officials, has little to do with where work is or will be done. It is about becoming more productive and efficient.

Martin maintained that the AFMC restructure was never viewed as a means to save money by reducing personnel. “We weren’t expecting any big personnel changes from the restructure,” he explained. “If anything, we’re hoping to add people.”

Martin believes the restructure will enable AFMC to standardize units and resources where there have been few standards and little consistency in determining how many people and how much money it takes to field a weapon system or put an airplane through depot maintenance.

Finding a Manpower Model

Manpower standards do exist in the rest of the Air Force. Martin explained that a 24-aircraft fighter squadron receives “a certain amount of resources automatically.” It gets 1.25 pilots per aircraft, a set number of crew chiefs, engine specialists, munitions handlers, and other required personnel. “So when you say you need a 24 [primary aircraft authorized] squadron, a box of resources shows up on your doorstep and off you go,” he said. Fighter squadrons are not shortchanged because it’s well understood how many people are needed to run one.

In acquisition, however, there has been no set organizational structure upon which to estimate how many people will be needed to develop a new system. The command, instead, has been “capped” in its manpower level, said Martin.

Each time the command must create a new system program office, there has been no ready means for gaining personnel to take on the new workload. As old programs close down, those personnel become available, but, Martin said, that’s not happening often enough. More new offices have been created than old ones closed.

That means Martin must “take from other organizations.” He said he makes the best allocation of personnel he can and, often, must hire contractors to fill the gaps. Because “contractors cost about twice as much as government employees,” said Martin, the price goes up. If he pulls Air Force personnel from other programs, those programs are robbed of necessary expertise, increasing the risk that some programs will fall behind.

Martin plans to use the restructuring effort to establish “resource-earning units.” These units will form the basis for decisions about the manpower needed for a project of a certain size or complexity. The number of personnel would vary depending on the various stages in a program’s life cycle, from developing requests for proposals to the endgame of sustaining the system with spare parts, depot maintenance, and modifications.

Just as with the fighter squadron, a certain pool of resources would flow to AFMC each time it undertakes a new program, eliminating the need to cannibalize other organizations or hire contractors to do the work.

Martin said that AFMC currently is working with the Air Force acquisition community to create “unit manning documents” for notional system program units. He said the same approach is being addressed at the command’s depots, where standard-size work units will allow smarter allocation of resources.

Such a process was used on the KC-135 corrosion problem, which had backed up the wait for depot maintenance at the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center to unacceptable levels. The group at ALC “dug themselves out of the hole” using “work units and a lean process,” said Martin. He added, “It’s a team that’s designed to do a certain amount of work [in] a certain amount of time.”

No More “Hail Mary”

The capstone of the restructuring effort will take some selling, admitted Martin. Air Force programs tend to be late and over budget not just because there aren’t enough people to work the acquisition properly, but because the Air Force doesn’t plan sufficiently for the setbacks and delays that are part and parcel of developing new technology.

“Right now what we do is, we describe the schedule as what we want to have happen, and we continue to push to make it happen, even though we’ve fallen behind,” he explained. “We don’t move the IOC [initial operational capability date], we keep everything the same, and here we are hoping for a Hail Mary at the end, and it never happens. So we’re guaranteed to be late.”

Instead, he’d like to institute what he terms “attrition-based planning.” That concept requires studying how previous, similar acquisitions have fared, building some wiggle room in the schedule, and adding funds to deal with inevitable surprises.

After picking apart the execution timeline of a couple of programs, “you’ll start to find some trends,” said Martin.

For instance, during new aircraft testing, the program schedule will call for a certain number of sorties, of which some number will be lost for whatever reason. The lost sorties still cost money. “If I build a schedule that takes into account the attrition that I’m going to experience, … it will correct back,” said Martin. “Or, now that I’ve studied the attrition, I can do things to minimize it.”

Attrition-based planning requires up-front honesty, he said, emphasizing that if it is done properly, the customer will get a more realistic timeline for aircraft turnover and for how much it will cost. “You’ve given yourself an opportunity to understand where your variances came from, and you can start to work those problems incrementally to reduce the attrition overall,” Martin added.

He said that the Air Force acquisition executive, Marvin R. Sambur, agrees with this approach, although Sambur calls it “expectation management.”

The basic premise is “do a better job of telling our customers what they should expect,” said Martin. However, he said, the Air Force is still “two to three years away from this hitting pay dirt, in my view.”

Overlapping Functions

One major change the Air Force made last year has gone a long way toward purging the “venom” that has existed in the relationship between the Air Force Secretariat acquisition community and the AFMC acquisition community, said Martin. He hopes the command’s new operating structure and procedures will complete the transition.

The missions of the two acquisition groups, he said, have a “significant amount of overlap.” Unfortunately, they sometimes worked at cross-purposes under confusing acquisition rules and laws.

Sambur, as the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition (AQ), is, “by law, responsible” for some of the functions that AFMC has had in its mission statement, said Martin. At least part of the confusion came from a plethora of acquisition rules that don’t have the weight of law but were applied as if they did.

“There were laws, … directives, … executive orders, all of which at one time or another said something about the acquisition chain, authority, and force,” observed Martin. “Many people get them mixed up,” he said, adding that some people applied a directive “as if it were the law.”

Martin said that AFMC experienced “tension” from two sides. On one hand, the major commands blamed AFMC for running weapon programs over budget and late. While on the other, the Secretariat’s acquisition staff and AFMC were often at odds, to the extent that the command “wasn’t allowed to sit in on some of the meetings.”

According to Looney, “It was not collegial, it was not a team, it was not working together, and it was not always headed in the right direction.”

Much of the problem, said Martin, stems from the Goldwater-Nichols legislation of 1986. Among other actions, that legislation took acquisition responsibility away from the service military head and placed it under the service civilian secretary.

Although Martin said the transfer of authority for program execution was the “right thing to do,” it had an unintended outcome. “I don’t think the law intended to split us apart, but that’s what happened, over time,” he said.

Last fall, the Air Force restructured the program executive officer (PEO) function—a move that Martin said has eased the friction between AQ and AFMC “because there’s one person in charge.”

Previously, all of the PEOs, who are responsible for acquisition of major weapon systems in a particular mission area, had been stationed in Washington, D.C., while the program management was the function of AFMC’s product centers. Now, program responsibility resides in the field.

Each of AFMC’s major product center commanders is also designated as the PEO for their respective mission areas. (See Aerospace World, “USAF Recasts PEO Arrangement,” November 2003, p. 16.) The PEOs still work for Sambur, but the new arrangement puts the PEOs more closely in touch with the programs they manage.

Sambur’s organization is in charge of “executing acquisition programs,” said Martin, while AFMC’s job is to provide the right infrastructure—tools, airspace, test and evaluation telemetry—all the elements that support program development through program fielding.

Each PEO/product center commander has the “responsibility to turn the resources loose to support the programs and the execution responsibility for the success of the program,” said Martin. He emphasized that there is now “no one else to blame.”

However, Martin does not think the conflict between AFMC and AQ will evaporate overnight. He expects a gradual melding over “a couple of years” before everyone realizes “we’re on the same team.”

Overall, Martin believes that AFMC’s people now will have the “tools they haven’t had before” to develop “war winning capabilities, on time, on cost.” He said, “Once we achieve that regularly, then we’ll get the next part, which may be faster, better, cheaper.”