Delivering Performance at the Speed of Relevance

  • Published
  • By Brig. Gen. E. John Teichert
  • 412th Test Wing

In the past few days, the developmental test team at Edwards Air Force Base and the Air Force Test Center completed a vital test effort that directly impacted the warfighter. It was a joint effort with combat capability on the line. It didn’t take a decade to complete; it didn’t take a year or even six months. In fact, this critical test took less than a month from the initial program office request until the testing was finished and decision-quality data were delivered to the customer.

Recently, the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) became aware that there was a problem with its Navy and Marine Corps F-35s that limited their ability to fully employ and train at night. The operational community had determined that the existing F-35 B/C air refueling probe light was inadequate for KC-135 drogue operations, and an immediate fix was needed for homestation and deployed forces. That word quickly made its way to Edwards AFB – “the Center of the Aerospace Testing Universe” – and the team sprang into action. In doing so, they punctuated the meaning of National Defense Strategy guidance to provide “the capabilities and agility required to prevail in conflict and preserve peace through strength” by “delivering performance at the speed of relevance.”

The 412th Test Wing at Edwards wasn’t sitting idly by waiting for this urgent need. In fact, the F-35 test team was busy testing new combat software, qualifying the automatic ground collision avoidance system, and certifying the F-35 to refuel behind the KC-46. Tanker test professionals were busy certifying F-35 and C-130 receivers paired with the KC-46, and preparing for certification of B-2 and F-22 receivers. They were also engaged in writing numerous reports to support the KC-46 acquisition decisions and Initial Operational Test and Evaluation.  Additionally, tanker test teams were busy testing fixes to KC-135 autopilot software to be incorporated into future operational software. The entire team was already focused on important warfighter needs, but this particular requirement was too important to let linger. Thus, the Edwards AFB team shuffled manpower and resources to plan, support, execute, and report on this F-35B and F-35C test program with minimal interruption to their other important priorities.

The next days were filled with a textbook example of AFTC’s enduring principles:

  • World-Class Risk Management
  • Customized Teams and Products
  • Relentless Focus on the Warfighter

The Navy and Marine Corps test team crafted an initial test plan that was reviewed by the Air Force team charged with executing the testing. Edwards AFB test professionals created an integrated Test and Safety Review Board tailor-made to ensure test adequacy and apply proper risk management while maintaining constant communication with the F-35 and tanker program offices. The test experts then conducted ground testing of the lighting alternatives and selected the one most likely to resolve the concerns, followed by flight testing in fleeting operationally relevant conditions to verify the fix. The success of the modified air refueling probe light was quickly fed to the F-35 JPO to drive an immediate fielding decision to lift nighttime restrictions. 

All of this was accomplished in less than a month!  In doing so, it showcased the agility and innovative spirit of those charged with shaping and molding America’s arsenal through developmental test and evaluation. It didn’t require a declaration of a test acceleration. It didn’t require the establishment of a Joint Urgent Operational Need. It didn’t require up-front funding from the program office. It didn’t require a formal task passed down through the chain of command. It only required the dedication of a test team determined to meet the needs of the warfighter by delivering performance at the speed of relevance.