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The Air Force seeks to accelerate efficiency

U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Sean Carnes

U.S. Air Force CV-22 Ospreys fly in formation in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility Jan. 29, 2021 (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Sean Carnes).

WASHINGTON, D.C. --

As modern warfare continues to evolve, the Air Force has renewed its focus on maintaining secure fuel networks and optimizing operations for maximized combat capability. Over the past year, the Air Force Operational Energy office targeted specific initiatives that aim to increase operational efficiency, incorporate modern technology and processes, and improve sustainment. Furthermore, these efforts have an added benefit of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a critical aspect of the Secretary of Defense’s climate change prioritization. Here is a breakdown of our latest accomplishments and how we’re bringing 21st century energy solutions to the Air Force.

Mobility planning software proves its return on investment

When the digital tanker planning tool Jigsaw first launched in 2017 by the Defense Innovation Unit, the benefits were rapid and impactful. It dramatically decreased the time spent scheduling aerial refueling missions at the Combined Air Operations Center from 8-12 hours to just 4 hours. It improved tanker asset utilization by 3.6%, reducing the number of required tanker sorties per day by 1.8. What’s more, by increasing the effectiveness of each sortie, the Air Force could meet mission requirements with 180,000 fewer gallons per week and 9 fewer aircrews.

In 2020, we continued to support and fund the development and fielding of Jigsaw’s auto-planning feature to further optimize tanker planning and scheduling. We estimate the automation capability will reduce planning time to less than 30 minutes and increase scheduling efficiency by another 10%, equivalent to executing an average Air Tasking Order with five fewer tankers. These efficiencies enable the Air Force to maintain the same combat sortie rate while decreasing fuel use, and reducing operational risk.

Additionally, we funded the purchase of security software for the Aloha Spark Innovation Cell, TRON to accelerate mobile app development, data collection, and migration to digital forms. Implemented this past October, the software, NowSecure, meets Department of Defense requirements for secure software development and will enable TRON to fast-track app transition to the operational environment, getting tools into the hands of warfighters faster and facilitating collection of fuel use and flight currency data.

Likewise, Magellan, the global mobility allocation tool we began funding and supporting in 2019 became an Air Mobility Command system of record this past year. The software merged multiple manual processes into a collaborative, transparent platform for the Readiness Driven Allocation Process and saves planners an estimated 300 hours per month. The tool reached initial operating capability in July 2020 and is now the sole data source for allocation decisions at Air Mobility Command.

Integrated data-analytics inform operations

Using the Air Force cloud computing platform, we helped develop real-time analytic pipelines to provide insight into aviation fuel usage and productivity, integrating multiple data sources to produce actionable insights into major weapon systems. These pipelines are a critical component of the Operational Energy Data Collection Strategy and expand visibility into Air Force operations. The data has already led to insights into how fuel planning affects aircraft availability and the impact of fuel efficiency improvements on tanker operational efficiency.

For example, we evaluated 10 years of data on fuel planning and aircraft availability for the C-17 Globemaster III and the KC-135 Stratotanker. The results showed that precision fuel planning increases aircraft availability by reducing stress on aircraft components and related maintenance requirements, improving the time the aircraft is available for training or operational missions. Carrying just 10,000 lbs. less fuel through precision fuel planning has historically been associated with aircraft availability rates about 1% higher than the current baseline.

Similarly, using the Aerial Refueling Model, we identified a link between fuel efficiency and improvements in endurance, fuel offload, and receivers and tankers required to fulfill the mission. In this scenario, operational efficiency resulted in: tanker offload increased by roughly twice the fuel efficiency gain, extended time-on-station, and multiplied the engineering effect of reduced fuel burn.  

Modernizing engine sustainment

Our office, along with AFWERX, Air Force Special Operations Command and industry, sponsored two programs to demonstrate how nucleated foam washing on the CV-22 Osprey and KC-135 engines reduces specific fuel consumption and exhaust gas temperature, lowers maintenance costs, decreases carbon dioxide emissions, and extends time-on-wing. Preliminary results from the KC-135 testing, which occurred in November 2020 at Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base, Ohio, indicate a significant reduction in engine temperature using nucleated foam as opposed to water; a good indication of the potential for improved engine performance. Testing and analysis of the CV-22 foam wash began in December at Hurlburt Field, Florida, and is expected to continue through December 2021.

Incorporating operational energy into joint wargaming

As part of our energy in wargaming effort, we provided key support to the Pacific Energy Distribution and Critical Infrastructure Wargame, led by the Navy. The game highlighted vulnerabilities between the Navy’s capabilities to support Air Force fuel requirements and informed senior leaders on how to address gaps and future investments. Furthermore, we helped deliver several modeling and simulation tools, such as the Joint Operational Energy Modeling System, to better integrate fuel into wargaming scenarios. In support of the Futures Game 2020, we contributed to the development of a logistics database module for STORM to support operational planning and to integrate with a combat generation simulation developed by the Air Force Warfighting Integrating Capability office.

These initiatives are just the tip of the iceberg for what is possible with operational efficiency. Countless other high ROI technologies and innovations will extend aircraft range, reduce emissions, and increase combat capability while also providing added value to Airmen - giving them one more pass in training or saving hours in planning time. We are building a culture that understands efficiency is not about compromising capability – but maximizing it.