Sustaining Air Power Lethality For Combat Overmatch

Lt. Gen. Gene Kirkland
Air Force Sustainment Center

From Armor & Mobility, July/August 2019 Issue

Lt. Gen. Donald E. “Gene” Kirkland is the Commander, Air Force Sustainment Center, Air Force Materiel Command, headquartered at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma. As the AFSC Commander, he leads more than 40,000 Total Force U.S. and U.K. Airmen across three air logistics complexes, three air base wings, and two supply chain wings, operating from a global network of 26 locations.

The AFSC is responsible for $26 billion in assets generating $16 billion in annual revenue. The command provides global logistics and sustainment planning, operations and command and control, including agile software development and sustainment, supply chain management and execution, weapons systems maintenance, modification, repair and overhaul, as well as critical sustainment for the Air Force and Navy nuclear enterprise. The AFSC also provides mission essential support to joint and interagency operations, allies, coalition partners, and foreign military sales partners.

General Kirkland entered the Air Force in 1988 through Officer Training School. He is a career aircraft and munitions maintenance officer and has served on the logistics staffs at U.S. Central Command and the Joint Staff. He also served as Executive Officer to the Chief of Staff of the Air Force and Commander of the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex. Prior to his current assignment, he was the Director of Logistics at Headquarters U.S. Air Force.

A&M had the opportunity to speak with Lt. Gen. Gene Kirkland, Air Force Sustainment Center Commander, regarding some AFSC efforts for maintaining U.S. dominance in the skies of a global battlespace.

A&M: Please provide some context as to AFSC primary focus and mission sets at present.

Lt. Gen. Kirkland: Our sole mission and the primary focus that guides all of our activities within the Air Force Sustainment Center is to sustain weapon system readiness to generate airpower for America. We do that in myriad ways at multiple locations, but with the single, driving focus of keeping warfighters in the air.

Our three complexes – Ogden Air Logistics Complex at Hill Air Force Base, UT; Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex at Tinker Air Force Base, OK.; and Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex at Robins Air Force Base, GA, provide logistics support and maintenance for aircraft, engines, avionics, missiles, accessory components, and software.

It takes all three Complexes to sustain a single weapons system and to sustain critical components of the nuclear enterprise.

In addition, our supply chain management and supply chain operations wings ensure parts availability for those processes.

The Sustainment Center impacts not just individual systems but every system in the Air Force fleet, whether by operating its supply chain, repairing the air vehicle and its components, overhauling its engines, managing its fuel or war reserve materiel, or maintaining its software.

With more than 40,000 personnel, at 26 geographic locations, this is just a brief overview of a very broad mission that holds significant strategic value to our nation.

A&M: With regard to current Air Force materiel sustainment goals, what are some of AFSC’s target support efforts?

Lt. Gen. Kirkland: First and foremost, all of our support efforts focus on providing readiness for the National Defense Strategy (NDS). Our AFSC-specific goals are in precise alignment with both NDS and Air Force Materiel Command strategies.

First, we deliver cost-effective combat readiness. We are continually working to increase levels of readiness while keeping costs reasonable, as it takes more money to keep older aircraft combat-ready. The average age of our aircraft is now 28 years old. By employing a constraints-based management philosophy known as “Art of the Possible,” we make our processes more efficient and, ultimately, provide more value for our weapons system customers.

Next, we aim to deliver supply chain readiness to enable combat power. One focus is improving supply support to meet the Secretary of Defense requirement to improve the F-16 Mission Capable rate to 80 percent by the end of fiscal 2019. Two ways we plan to do that is by surging depot and contract repair efforts and increasing the breadth and depth of items stocked at F-16 bases.

In working with the F-16 System Program Office and the Defense Logistics Agency – Aviation, the 448th Supply Chain Management Wing has reduced the Total Non-Mission Capable for Supply rate by 3.6 percent and is postured to continue that downward trend.

Also, we also want to develop mission assurance enablers. By that, I mean making sure our IT networks are resilient, our infrastructure is meeting our needs, and that we are being responsible stewards of energy, which again affects our cost savings.

Last and most importantly, we will develop and support Airmen, both military and civilian. Our people are the forces of readiness that drive this AFSC machine. We will make sure those people have the training and support they require.

A&M: As the Air Force prepares for delivery of the first KC-46 aircraft, how is AFSC preparing for the transition?

Lt. Gen. Kirkland: AFSC is poised and ready to take on the KC-46 depot maintenance workload. The Air Force took delivery of the first KC-46 in January at McConnell AFB, Kansas, and we currently expect our first aircraft to arrive at the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex at Tinker Air Force Base for maintenance in late 2020.

The first two hangars where we will house the KC-46 during depot maintenance are nearly complete. Construction of additional hangars will follow. In all, there will be 14 hangars to support the total fleet of 179 aircraft.

The new KC-46 sustainment mission will eventually create about 1,355 new jobs for the Air Force Sustainment Center.

The OC-ALC business office has been working to make sure the aircraft maintenance process itself is fully supportable by going through developmental packages with the technical data to ensure we have all the parts, support equipment and a hiring plan needed to begin depot-level maintenance.

Also, the 448th Supply Chain Management Wing stood up a dedicated KC-46 Supply Chain Management Flight to plan and execute supply strategies that will ensure support for all KC-46 customers for Air Force-managed depot-level repairables.

Our AFSC supply chain and Defense Logistics Agency have developed joint contract strategies for post-interim contract support that leverage DLA’s contracting expertise, as well as provide critical support through their OEM partnerships.

The anticipated benefits of this joint Air Force and Defense Logistics Agency supply venture include minimizing the number of contracts to manage, capitalizing on existing industry capabilities and available material for reduced repair times, minimizing initial inventory, and providing best value to the taxpayer.

A&M: From a partnering aspect, how is AFSC working to reflect govt/industry teaming in advancing the USAF/Joint DoD mission?

Lt. Gen. Kirkland: To ensure our aging weapons systems stay in the fight for as long as the nation needs them, our workforce must find new and innovative ways to apply emerging technology to aircraft that are sometimes more than 50 years old. One way we do that is through partnering with our communities, academia and industry.

Public-Private Partnerships are a strategy that assists in maintaining industrial balance and enhancing warfighting capabilities. To sustain a more agile workforce and ensure future mission supportability, the AFSC partners with the aerospace industry to help achieve this goal.

Through our partnerships, the AFSC is able to reduce costs through improved joint efficiencies gained by leveraging combined strengths and competencies, reduce investments in what could otherwise be duplicative capabilities, increase speed of delivery, introduce new technologies, all while maintaining quality and safety focus.

The government/industry partnership consists of a high performing integrated team that continually monitors and identifies strengths, weaknesses, risks, and opportunities throughout the life of the partnership. These successful partnerships strengthen a reliable, agile and responsive organization, focused on achieving “Art of the Possible,” and enables stronger collaboration and abilities to better identify and exploit mutual benefits to move forward and meet the challenges faced by our Air Force and the DoD.

The innovation centers mentioned previously join academia, government, and defense industry partners to apply today’s technology to aging weapons systems.

The Ogden Air Logistics Complex at Hill Air Force Base entered into membership with Utah Science Technology and Research in 2018, which is a high-tech incubator and prototype lab to foster business development in the tech sector. USTAR offers access to additive manufacturing equipment, milling machines, metal-working equipment and software.

Also, Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex at Robins Air Force Base in middle Georgia signed an Education Partnership Agreement with Georgia Tech, which is committed to embracing agile software development methods. We are employing these methods now to speed up our software development and get solutions to our warfighters even faster.

Collaborating with industry and academia has no doubt moved our mission forward.

A&M: Feel free to speak to other challenges/goals moving forward.

Lt. Gen. Kirkland: As a career logistician, I am convinced there is no more important organization in the business of sustainment to the warfighter. Given the scale of operations and unique capabilities of this center, our combined workforce, facilities and knowledge base is nothing less than a national resource.

Because of that, we strive to recruit, hire and retain the right people to do our work. The AFSC requirement for scientists and engineers, including software engineers, continues to increase, and we compete with commercial industry for their talents. Our scientists and engineers have a wide variety of responsibilities including circuit card analysis, upgrading software for aircraft, designing modifications, chemical testing and more.

Our personnel experts are working right now to make the hiring process easier to bring these STEM professionals onto our team. Initiatives such as the congressionally-authorized Direct Hire Authority are crucial to expedite the process for these career fields. This authority expires in 2025; we hope Congress will make it permanent.

Eighty percent of the AFSC workforce is civilian. Finding skilled craftsmen and technologically minded professionals is crucial to sustaining Air Force fleets for the long-term. We’re a great place to work, and we focus on being a competitive option for the next generation of job seekers.