Building the Base of the Future

Nearly two years after Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., was slammed by Hurricane Michael, leaders there are working not just to rebuild that base, but to create a “base of the future” with a focus on resiliency, sustainability, and smart technology that can serve as a model for the entire Department of Defense. 

“Innovation is at the very core of what we’re doing, not only in the smart technologies that we’ve implemented, but in the agile process, the ‘how’ of building the base we need, not the base we had,” said Brig. Gen. Patrice A. Melancon, executive director of the Tyndall Program Management Office, during a panel discussion at AFA’s virtual Air, Space & Cyber Conference

The Air Force has “reached a critical point in time” where it must assess the “enduring strength, resiliency, and efficacy of its installations,” explained Brig. Gen. William H. Kale III, the Air Force director of civil engineers and deputy chief of staff for logistics, engineering, and force protection. 

“We face some formidable challenges right now,” he said. “Our installations are not sanctuaries, as we continue to compete with near-peer adversaries. Our installations are not immune to severe weather and climate events. Our installations are not modern and must be upgraded to meet the future operating environment and withstand threats across all domains.” And the necessary changes and upgrades must be done under “continuous budget constraints.”

But there is an opportunity now to rebuild Tyndall and Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.—which sustained significant flood damage in 2019—as “installations of the future,” he said. 

For Tyndall, that means rebuilding the installation “to withstand natural disasters and optimize mission readiness,” Melancon said. “By integrating the newest technology and infrastructure, updated cybersecurity, and the most creative innovations, we’re ensuring Tyndall is going to be around for the next hundred years, despite the environmental and climatic norms of Florida.”

Kale said the Air Force is taking a “holistic look,” not just at the weather, but also at readiness issues. And after seeing the “new innovation and technologies” being installed at Tyndall and Offutt, “We’re going to take those opportunities and then exploit them across the rest of the enterprise,” he said. 

Partnerships with civilian companies like AT&T, as well as the Defense Logistics Agency and Army Corps of Engineers, have been a crucial part of the effort, Melancon noted, because the Air Force does not own the utilities at Tyndall. 

The key to those partnerships is trust, said Lance Spencer, a retired Air Force colonel and client executive vice president for AT&T. 

“We need to trust each other. We need to come together and figure out how to collaborate and solve problems,” he said. Though AT&T declared nationwide 5G in July, it is “tough to get on military bases and build and get that coverage,” but it’s “fundamental to the base of the future environment. … So I would encourage the Air Force to find ways to basically open the gates and help companies like us get in there and provide that foundational capability that will underlie all the base of the future capabilities.” 

Eric Silagy, president and CEO of Florida Power and Light, echoed Spencer’s point. 

“It’s really about trust,” he said. “You can exchange information, and then you establish that trusted partnership, and then leverage it, because there’s so much information and experience out there that you can leverage… that’s off the shelf largely, which will save the Air Force millions, if not billions, of dollars over the long term. And then we can work together with whomever that is to make sure that the base is truly mission ready, and all the critical infrastructure is in place to meet the needs when required.” 

Melancon said she hopes other bases are paying attention. 

“While I would never wish a Hurricane Michael on another base, I think every wing commander has a responsibility to think about these ‘base of the future’ concepts, anytime they look at implementing an infrastructure project or renovation, and take what makes sense for their situation to implement,” she said.