The United States Air Force is facing a daunting readiness challenge in preparation for a new type of asymmetric warfare and “multidomain” conflict.
Recent reports from Air Force Times indicate that in fiscal 2016, only 72 percent of all aircraft were classified as flyable, and there has been a 20 percent decrease in the maintenance personnel needed to upkeep equipment over the past year — a shortage of 1,400 workers. Even the slightest dip in mission-capable rates can have significant effects on the USAF’s ability to move people, weapons, fuel and mission-critical supplies to support mission needs across the globe.
"Each percentage change [in readiness] is a reduction in capability," Brig. Gen. Stacey Hawkins, director of logistics, engineering and force protection for Air Mobility Command, said. "A [hypothetical] 5 percentage [point] change in the C-17 [aircraft] mission-capable (MC) rate comes out to be approximately 10 aircraft."
As a result, USAF leadership is turning to emerging technologies, like mobile solutions, to close these critical readiness gaps, doubling down on its strategy for next-generation air dominance to drive new efficiencies through modernization. Mobility has the power to deliver advanced capabilities that boost readiness, streamline operations and empower faster, smarter decisions.
Three operational areas that can reap the most from mobile include flight line maintenance, supply chain management and situational awareness.
1. Streamlining flight line maintenance
The USAF employs hundreds of tactical aircraft to complete its missions, making tactical aircraft maintenance specialists integral to ensuring aircraft is maintained to the highest standards. These specialists require seamless communication to make sure aircraft are ready to fly at a moment’s notice so pilots can safely and effectively achieve the mission at hand. But the job of these specialists can prove especially challenging when there aren’t enough maintainers to do this taxing work.
Mobile solutions like e-tools (digital tools and apps) can help leaner teams streamline and optimize flight checklists, safety inspections, equipment maintenance and logistics. Additionally, secure tablets can harness data like sensor analytics to view real-time inventory and schematics, better utilize spare parts, manage aircraft diagnostics solutions, and essentially allow maintainers to stretch resources.
With solutions like electronic kneeboards, the Air Force could minimize or eliminate paper use in cockpits and bring down fuel costs. This can add up to saving $780,000 per year in fuel cost within the Air Force. Having this lightweight access to critical data makes the pilot’s mission easier, as well as those on the ground having to inspect and maintain the equipment — streamlining operations while speeding time to deployment in the field.
2. Optimizing supply chain management and logistics
In recent years, the USAF has pursued many different means to improve readiness, reduce costs and adopt best industry practices — such as outsourcing, global sourcing, supply-base rationalization, single sourcing and lean inventories. While these practices offer many benefits in efficiency and effectiveness, they can also make the supply chains less flexible and increase risk of supply disruption.
With mobile solutions, such as smartphones or tablets equipped with bar code scanners, information technology can verify both the security and integrity of the USAF supply chain and pinpoint assets from any location — with much less disruption. Mobile solutions can also help streamline supply chain management while delivering real-time data on inventory and logistics, resulting in improved productivity, more engaged employees, lower costs, increased visibility and greater supply chain agility.
As Mr. Frank Washburn, director of the 948th Supply Chain Management Group, said: “The most visible change [to Air Force readiness of supply chain] will be having a modernized, integrated solution resulting in more accurate and timely spares requirement of our Air Force.”
3. Transforming in-flight situational awareness
Pilots have some of the most demanding missions, ranging from coordinating with ground leaders, striking targets, delivering supplies, and communicating with command-and-control assets all at the same time.
Mobile devices like tablets and wearables that integrate with peripherals can transform Air Force readiness by ensuring connectivity and seamless communication across these stakeholders. Tools like the Android Tactical Assault Kit, or ATAK, leverage geospatial information and mapping, site survey, radio controls, web browsing, and chat to deliver real-time situational awareness.
In July 2018, the USAF’s 96th Security Forces Squadron began using ATAK in its patrol cars. Soon, the 96th SFS became the testing area for what could become a new Air Force-wide base defense communication platform. With mobile devices, pilots and those on the ground can have improved situational awareness and decision-making with real-time information at their fingertips.
Enabling the Air Force of the future
When it comes to readiness, the USAF cannot afford to miss out on digital transformation. Mobile solutions can help enable the technology modernization needed for next-generation air dominance. By incorporating a mobile strategy, the USAF can up its ante in some of its most mission-critical operations and ensure readiness for the future.