The warfighter's trump card

  • Published
  • By Katherine C. Gandara
  • Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center
The Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center is a one-of-a-kind organization with a population less than one-quarter of a percent of the entire Air Force. The center's almost 1,200 military, civilian and contractors are currently testing more than 100 programs that include systems like the Joint Strike Fighter, CV-22 Osprey and Small-Diameter Bomb.

The center is charged with testing all new weapon systems in realistic battlespace environments to provide decision makers accurate, balanced and complete assessments of mission capability. Additionally, from concept development to system fielding, AFOTEC maintains an operational focus to ensure that America's warfighters have the right tools to win today's and tomorrow's battles.

AFOTEC is a direct reporting unit that reports to the chief of staff of the Air Force. In July 1970, the President's Blue Ribbon Defense Panel concluded that operational test and evaluation was most effective when the testing organization reported directly to the service chief and worked with both the developer and the user, but remained organizationally independent. Public law requires that the center test items acquired by the Air Force to ensure that required capabilities are delivered to the warfighter to enhance military power and dominance in the battlespace.

The center tests systems for the Air Force and joint warfighters that range from off-the-shelf technologies to the complex F-22 Raptor and from ground radios to satellites. The "O" in AFOTEC ensures that all of this is done from the perspective of operators employing weapons systems in an operationally realistic environment.

AFOTEC strives to be involved with programs as early as possible because early involvement is critical to system success. The biggest advantage of AFOTEC being there at the beginning of a potential program is that developers can correct problems early. AFOTEC provides a "fly before you buy" data point derived from the developed system's intended operational environment. The logic is that it is easier to spend a few dollars early in the test and development process than to have to spend many, many more dollars later after production.

In the test and evaluation arena it is important that there is a clear concept of operations regarding what is expected of a system from the beginning so that AFOTEC has a clear framework for testing. The center's early involvement in the test process allows AFOTEC testers to contribute valuable operational insight and experience into defining capabilities.

The way the Air Force acquires and tests new systems is changing. Under the Air Force Agile Acquisition Initiative, integrated testing coordinates developmental testing and operational testing objectives and participation to the maximum extent possible. The focus is on early planning to efficiently use test resources. This approach promotes collaboration in early requirements definition and system development activities.
Integrated testing verifies both design and operational use meet warfighter requirements. Integrated testing moves away from the pass or fail process to continuously assessing system capabilities and limitations before fielding. This process requires key stakeholders to integrate their efforts and it allows AFOTEC to meet its Title 10 responsibilities through an independent and dedicated period of operational test and evaluation.

AFOTEC testing is system-of-system, end-to-end mission testing. Current U.S. involvement in conflicts reveals how inter-operability affects military forces' ability to fight. System-of-systems testing ensures systems work in their intended environment, where they interact with other systems.

In today's world, the U.S. does not fight a war alone, just as each military service branch does not fight a war alone. This fact makes it crucial that new systems not only work, but work in conjunction with the Army, Navy and Marine Corps. This means taking an approach to test and evaluation that ensures systems work with other Department of Defense services, as well as with coalition forces.

AFOTEC's headquarters here, provides centralized command and decentralized execution support to its six detachments located at Kirtland, Eglin AFB, Fla., Peterson AFB, Colo., Edwards AFB, Calif., and Nellis AFB, Nev. The center also has more than 20 geographically-separated operating locations around the United States. The center stands up and stands down operating locations and detachments as needed to maximize effective and efficient use of manning and facilitate co-location and teamwork with the user and system program offices.

The concept is to go where AFOTEC's testers are needed and leave once the mission is completed. This puts the organization in the right place at the right time to provide the right information to senior acquisition decision makers and the warfighter. AFOTEC's primary purpose is to support the warfighter whose mission is to defend and protect the United States of America.

This purpose was reinforced when former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield said: "If there's one thing that has become clear since Sept. 11th and our activities in Afghanistan, it is that we clearly not only need to be able to win the war on terror today, but we also need to be prepared to win the wars of tomorrow. And to do that, we've got to assure that the U.S. armed forces have what they need to meet the threats and challenges of the 21st century."

American's cannot forget that we are at war. Our warfighters are the tip of the sword and AFOTEC is sharpening its leading edge for tomorrow and beyond because as independent operational testers, AFOTEC is the warfighter's trump card.