Edwards looks toward future of testing

  • Published
  • By Col. Arnie Bunch
  • 412th Test Wing
What does testing look like in the future?

This is one of the most frequent questions I am asked and a question Air Force leaders wrestle with each and every day. While I can't predict with 100 percent certainty what it will look like, I can tell you Team Edwards is working closely with the rest of the test and evaluation enterprise to shape the future of testing.

Edwards is a key member of the team in building the Air Force test and evaluation roadmap. The roadmap focuses on test and evaluation capabilities across the Air Force. It identifies capability shortfalls and excesses, identifies capabilities that exist today that must be sustained for the future, identifies new test capabilities that must be developed to test new technologies and prioritizes capability and capacity needs so limited resources can be appropriately focused.

Using an enterprise approach to problem solving is a critical component of the Air Force test and evaluation roadmap and today's test efforts.

Given today's fiscal environment, it isn't about what Edwards, Eglin Air Force Base or Arnold Force Base can do; it is about what Edwards, Eglin and Arnold can do together. While Edwards has always teamed with others on past test efforts, this cooperation must continue to grow stronger. We must work together more closely to meet future test challenges. The Air Force cannot afford to do testing any other way.

This teaming relationship must extend beyond developmental tests to include operational testing.

For years, Team Edwards has used combined test forces to synergize developmental and operational testing. Most of the sorties flown today in our bomber and cargo test efforts have mixed crews of operational and developmental testers. In the fighter testing arena, we share resources, test flights and data with numerous operational test organizations. By working together, we have reaped numerous benefits such as reduced test program costs, identified weapons system problems early, provided early operational tester involvement and fielded systems quicker.

In the future, the developmental and operational test bond must grow even stronger so the entire test community can do its part to shorten the acquisition cycle from concept to fielding.

In dealing with the future, Team Edwards has consciously focused on five future test capabilities for further development -- directed energy, net centricity, uninhabited aerial systems, electronic warfare and hypersonics. This does not mean the other test capabilities we have today are unimportant or will go away. Many are still key components of future testing, and we must make wise fiscal decisions in these areas to ensure we adequately meet future customer needs.

It is important to focus in these five areas. Each one introduces new test methodologies and processes needing refinement. While we have done some testing in these areas before, our capability and capacity in all of these areas must be improved to meet tomorrow's Air Force needs.

For example, does the laser light emitted from Airborne Laser simply stop when it reaches a range boundary? Obviously not, so we have built predictive tools to ensure it is safe to fire the laser even if it misses the intended target and goes beyond our range boundaries.

Can a hypersonic vehicle fly completely within our range airspace and be recovered for reuse? No way. So, we are building and coordinating hypersonic corridors outside our range boundaries to make this possible.

Can the operator in a B-2 Spirit know that all the nodes linked in a net-centric warfare scenario are correct and identify the one providing latent data? Impossible. So, we are establishing a network and instrumentation to test all nodes in the net.

These are just a few of the efforts we already have on going and we have many more planned to meet future needs.

We are fielding a Design of Experiments concept to ensure we conduct the right amount of testing -- not too much or too little, but just right. We will field this approach in phases as we must train our people and put the right tools in place. However, it is already showing great promise. 

In a recent Benefield Anechoic Facility test, the 412th Electronic Warfare Group used Design of Experiments methodology to cut a two-month program to three weeks. This schedule reduction translated directly into savings and helped reduce the concept-to-fielding cycle time while still ensuring the system was thoroughly tested.

While building these capabilities is critical, the most critical piece of the puzzle is our people. We must continue to develop engineers, pilots, navigators, program managers and maintainers to test these systems and "find stuff so the warfighter doesn't."

Again, we must and will continue to develop our people in all skill sets to meet these challenges. They are what make it all happen.

So what does the future of testing look like? CHALLENGING AND BRIGHT!!!
Tomorrow's testing will focus on enterprise solutions, more combined developmental and operational testing, the five futures outlined and much more.

It will be challenging, but I am confident given the professionalism, innovative spirit and dedication of Team Edwards, we will meet those future challenges. We must. Our nation depends on it.