New office at Wright-Patt will test weapons technology

A Wright-Patterson-led initiative will test “game-changing technologies” like directed energy and hypersonics to determine if the weapons can be fielded on future battlefields, its new leader says.

The Air Force Strategic Development Planning and Execution Office, with a staff of just 15 based at Wright-Patterson, will report its findings to the top Air Force general and the secretary of the Air Force, the top civilian leader, said Jack Blackhurst, the new office’s director.

“This is a new way of doing capability development for the Air Force,” Blackhurst said.

The Air Force included $400 million in its fiscal year 2017 budget request to Congress to fund the office for five years, he said. Congress OK’d a continuing resolution that avoided a partial federal government shutdown Friday, extending a deadline to pass spending legislation until Dec. 9.

The new field office will target Air Force-wide “strategic” requirements, rather than major command “tactical” needs, Blackhurst said.

The initiative will report on the results of experiments, war gaming, modeling and simulation research, and the feasibility of prototypes as future weapon systems, officials said. The new office is a part of the Air Force Research Laboratory headquartered at Wright-Patterson.

“We might be asked to go do some experiments to get something in the warfighters’ hands to go try out and see if they really work or not in the capacity that they want them to,” he said.

Loren B. Thompson, a senior defense analyst with the Virginia-based Lexington Institute and an industry consultant, said the goal is to make the Air Force “more agile.”

“When an operation gets as big and far-flung as the Air Force, there’s a danger that its various communities will become isolated from each other and too inward-looking,” he said.

People who design weapons requirements may not talk to the operators who use them, leading to costly delays if the weapons don’t meet the needs of the battlefield, he said in an email.

“This is an important initiative that will help the Air Force to keep its military edge over potential enemies without wasting time or money,” Thompson said in an email.

A year ago, the Air Force’s top general asked Air Force Materiel Command commander Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski to set up the office, Blackhurst said.

“We really didn’t have a field office addressed at looking at (strategic planning of new technologies) and getting the data for the Air Staff,” he said.

Blackhurst will remain “dual-hatted” as director of the AFRL Plans and Programs Directorate.

“I can go into the laboratory and get the things I need for strategic planning,” he said.

With a nearly $5 billion budget, AFRL counts $2.1 billion in Air Force-funded research while corporate and government agency sponsors fuel another $2.7 billion, according to the agency,

AFRL has about 10,000 civilian employees and military personnel, most of whom work at one of Wright-Patterson’s four directorates.

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