By Greg Hadley
The Department of the Air Force is set to embark on a readiness review as it works to dig itself out of a “readiness hole,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said during a virtual Coffee Talk event with Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass.
During the Jan. 27 event, Kendall was asked by a viewer how he planned to address bureaucracy that inhibited acquisition of parts and equipment and affected maintenance. Kendall said bureaucracy is just one of several problems facing the service’s sustainment enterprise.
“I’m very concerned about our readiness levels, our availability of the current fleet. Some fleets like our battle management fleet, AWACS as well, are not anywhere near where they need to be,” Kendall said.
“In some cases, we’re operating pretty old aircraft, and it’s hard to get the parts for them,” Kendall said. “It’s a long lead time to get them made for us because they’ve been out of production for a long time, so there’s a range of things there that we have to look at.”
Reports from the Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Budget Office show the availability and mission capable rates of Air Force aircraft declining over time. The average age of the fleet at over 29 years old, with some of the battle management/C3 aircraft that Kendall referenced is more than 40 years old.
The E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) in particular is frequently cited as being in need of replacement. Commander of Air Combat Command Gen. Mark D. Kelly noted in 2021 that “it takes a miracle … every day just to get it up in the air.”
All these readiness issues, Kendall said, are the result of sequestration—automatic spending cuts that started in 2013 and extended for nearly a decade.
“We dug a readiness hole during that period just because we didn’t have resources for it,” Kendall said. “And to be honest, we’re still digging our way out of it. Sequestration has been gone just a short period of time now, and I think we’re getting better. It’s a trade-off we have to make, between near-term operational capabilities and things longer [term] as we look at budgets, try to balance some of the costs.”
Kendall’s sense that the Air Force’s readiness issues are improving will be put to the test soon. “We’ve got a big readiness review coming up at headquarters here pretty shortly. We’ll be looking at all these issues,” he said.
Regardless of what the review finds, the department needs to take a more integrated approach to sustainment to ensure its aircraft are ready to fly, said Kendall.
“We need to basically design our systems for sustainment, for maintenance. We need to put the systems … in place that will support them efficiently,” Kendall said. “And frankly, we haven’t paid enough attention to that.”
USAF Sees Fewer Major Accidents
By John A. Tirpak
Numbers of major accidents involving Air Force aircraft are down slightly over the past five years, the service reported Jan. 18. There were fewer Class A accidents in fiscal 2021 but a slight increase in Class B mishaps during the year, the third year Class B accidents have increased.
In fiscal 2021, the Air Force saw 21 Class A aviation accidents, down from 30 in fiscal 2020 and “well below the five-year average” of 27.2, the service said. Class A mishaps result in a death or permanent disability, cause more than $2.5 million in damage, or result in the destruction of an aircraft.
Class B mishaps, however, increased from 41 in fiscal 2020 to 42 in 2021, which USAF said was “consistent” with a five-year average of 42.5. A Class B mishap causes permanent partial disability; causes damage valued at between $600,000 and just under $2.5 million; or hospitalizes three people, not counting those admitted for observation or administrative purposes who are treated and released.
The Class A accidents in fiscal 2021 resulted in four deaths, including one contractor pilot, compared with seven who died in Class A events during fiscal 2020. Eight aircraft were destroyed—versus 14 the year before—of which two were Air Force-owned manned airplanes, five were USAF-owned unmanned aircraft, and one was a manned contractor airplane. Six unmanned aircraft were involved in Class A accidents in fiscal 2020, according to data provided as of Dec. 15, 2021.
Of the 2021 “flight mishaps,” 19 were Class A and 30 were Class B, for a total of 49. “Ground operations” accidents tallied two Class A and 10 Class B, for a total of 12, and there were two Class B accidents under “flight-related mishaps,” for a grand total of 63 Class A and B mishaps combined in fiscal 2021.
The Air Force did not provide data on Class C accidents, which cause damage valued at up to $600,000 or result in injuries causing loss of workdays.
The Air Force Safety Center has noted that statistics “fluctuate from year to year,” so it looks at trends in the data in search of significant changes or common issues.
First ‘Integrated Warfighting Network’ to Go Live in 2022
By Amanda Miller
Small teams of Airmen will be able to start taking their work laptops on deployments this summer.
The Department of the Air Force’s Chief Architect Officer Preston Dunlap revealed in a webinar Feb. 1 that the first “integrated warfighting network” will boot up in the summer of 2022. The department’s former chief software officer Nicolas M. Chaillan interviewed Dunlap on LinkedIn.
The new network is designed for troops engaged in Agile Combat Employment (ACE) operations, Dunlap said.
“Whether you’re in a conflict with Russia or China, having a handful of operating locations—or one or two operations centers or intelligence centers—is not going to win the fight,” Dunlap said, describing ACE from an IT perspective. “It’s just too risky with too many weapons pointed at you.”
Instead, the department wants troops to be able to take all those activities on the move.
“We want to be able to break up the ability to do intelligence, and break up the ability to do operational … [command and control], to even small echelons and small units,” Dunlap said. The integrated warfighting network, or IWN, “will tie together two things that have been almost totally separated,” he explained—enterprise IT and “warfighting IT.”
The IWN “is the composition of the equation of enterprise IT, plus edge IT, and together you have integrated warfighting that allows you to be able to go to various strips in Europe or various islands in the Pacific, take that same mobile-computer-laptop-slash-tablet that you’ve got in your office—which we don’t currently have, generally, but we want to make this pervasive on the enterprise level—and that’s the same device that you use at the classified level going out to operate with in the field.”