Air Force Test Center, Air Force Research Laboratory collaborate during annual Summit

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — The Air Force Materiel Command has built the most powerful Air Force in the world, and our nation is depending on us to build the Air Force we need to secure our nation’s future. Add on a pandemic and let’s face it, collaborating on various platforms has been either a success or successfully overwhelming. Two agencies under the MAJCOM met the challenge of “AFMC We Need” and held their 2nd annual Air Force Research Laboratory/Air Force Test Center Summit last month.

“For the first time, we showcased eight on-going activities within our two centers that either represented excellent examples of existing collaboration or provided wonderful lessons learned to be shared among researchers and testers. Hence highlighting opportunities for future collaboration. We wanted to involve all three AFTC Wings and as many AFRL directorates as possible,” said Tammy Smeeks, chief Policy Development and Functional Strategic Planning.

So many variables have changed since the first Summit. Last year’s event was in-person at AFRL headquarters, Wright-Patterson AFB and was only attended by 70 people. Going virtual this year meant zero TDY costs, and over 230 participants were able to participate during all or some of the Summit; participants could join when their schedule allowed and still accomplish most of their daily duties with minimal impact.

Smeeks said she learned from last year’s planning and used Commercial Virtual Remote Environment Teams to her advantage. To make sure participants received the most from the Summit, she created a structural framework with guidance for creativity, teambuilding, encouragement and hope. Her mantra of “just get ‘er done” became a central theme of the Summit.

“When I got the pre-brief for this event and learned about all the areas that folks are looking into, I was blown away, frankly,” said Brig. Gen. Heather L. Pringle, AFRL commander. “I was really impressed by the topics that were selected. I think they are really valuable and will help us increase lethality and get the right capabilities to our warfighters. It’s not just warfighters in one service – we’re supporting warfighters across the Joint Force. We have a lot of synergy we can build on in research, development, test, and experimentation.”

Smeeks wasn’t alone in the undertaking. From AFRL, John P. Feie, Senior Plans and Programs engineer, in the Capabilities Integration Division, facilitated the distribution of the invitation and event details to the AFRL subject matter experts to provide coverage for all 12 of the Topics of Collaboration.

During the Summit, Topics of Collaboration were established and were continued during breakout sessions held during the week-long event. The ten original Topics of Collaboration were: Common Flight Safety System, Prototype Testing and Experimentation, Infrastructure, Agile Software Development, Cybersecurity, Test Techniques for Emerging Technologies, SLATE and JSE Integration, Facilitate Earlier AFRL-AFTC Collaboration, Space Test, and S&T Portfolio for T&E Needs.

As a direct result of the successful collaboration of the Summit, Digital Engineering & Long Range Strategic Planning and Business Subjects, were added.

Smeeks and Feie will continue to build upon lessons learned for next year’s event.

“There are a few items that I would like to work on to make sure every effort counts. We need a Commander’s Intent to prioritize the work the teams are pushing forward. I know that there is a desire for an Exchange Program between Centers. Also, on my to-do list is investigating the possibility of combining Topics of Collaboration. I don’t want to diminish identified tasks however, I would like to combine a couple of them to strengthen the overall benefit and impact,” said Smeeks.

From the AFRL perspective, Feie said, “While supporting the AFRL- AFTC Summit, I learned a great deal about the immense value in collaboration across the two Centers. The first step to foster collaboration is to bring about awareness. I think one of the biggest achievements of the Summit was providing a venue to share successes and lessons learned. One major take-away that I gathered from the Senior Leader’s remarks during the event is that communicating early and often is a critical part of the process in delivering technologies and capabilities to ensure that the Warfighter is always a step ahead of our adversaries.”

Even though COVID caused delays to all teams, they are finding ways to go forward with tasks in 2021, Smeeks added.

Maj. Gen. Chris Azzano, commander, Air Force Test Center, was pleased with the overall success of the Summit. In a congratulatory email, he said, “I want to thank the dedicated team—some of our best—who labored behind the scenes to make the second annual AFRL-AFTC Summit a tremendous success. You are paving the way for rapid capability development with a framework desperately needed at this time—accelerate change.”

Next year’s mid-year Summit, held in March is already being planned for virtual participation. A possible briefing showcase will include WARTECH, Joint All Domain Command and Control, Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation Office, AFWERX, Directed Energy Combined Task Force, Advanced Battle Management System Update, Distributed Test Operations and Crowd Source Data Collection.