By Marisa Alia-Novobilski, Air Force Materiel Command / Published April 17, 2020
With a focus on high priority, critical operational needs and ensuring the health and safety of Airmen, the Air Force Materiel Command continues to maintain support to the Air Force across all mission areas in the face of COVID-19.
“Our number one priority is taking care of Airmen and their families. They are the foundation of AFMC,” said Gen. Arnold W. Bunch, Jr., AFMC Commander. “I am really proud of what our Airmen are doing across the mission. We’ve never been here (in a pandemic) as an Air Force. The team is really leaning in to innovate and get missions done.”
With more than 85,000 military and civilian Airmen operating at centers and installations across the U.S., the AFMC manages installation and mission support, discovery and development, test and evaluation, and life cycle management services and sustainment for every major Air Force weapon system and platform. The command is critical to ensuring Air Force readiness across the mission set.
However, as COVID-19 continues to infiltrate the communities in which AFMC Airmen live and operate, prioritizing those items key to near term readiness is important to ensuring sustained support for the long term while ensuring the right health and safety protections are in place for essential operations.
“We are looking at critical milestones in our missions and balancing them with needs in the field. We are taking smart looks at what we need to execute now while ensuring we sustain our force for the longer term, so as risk goes down, we can ramp back up,” said Bunch.
As the command continues to execute both COVID-19 related as well as everyday missions across the spectrum, the importance of communication and collaboration have emerged as key drivers of success. Two recent examples of this close coordination and increased communication are highlighted in the success of the Air Mobility Command-led aeromedical mission using the Transport Isolation System and across the test community during the recent F-35 canopy test.
Teams at the Air Force Research Laboratory worked closely with members of Air Mobility Command to provide training to operators for the Transportation Isolation System, recently used to transport three positive COVID-19 patients from Afghanistan to Ramstein Air Base for treatment. The TIS is an infectious disease containment unit designed to minimize risk to aircrew and medical attendants while still allowing in-flight medical care for patients afflicted by contagions like COVID-19. Two Airmen from the AFRL United States School of Aerospace Medicine’s Center for Sustainment of Trauma Readiness Skills trained operators on disease and infection prevention and control, personal protective equipment, and risk management during patient transport, setting the stage for safe execution of this and future TIS flights.
A recent joint effort between members of the Air Force Test Center, F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office, Lockheed Martin, Martin Baker, BAE Systems, and leadership at the Holloman Air Force Base High Speed Test Track led to the successful test of an F-35 static ejection seat using a canopy transparency from a new manufacturer. The purpose of this test was to demonstrate that the ejection seat could penetrate through the canopy without severely injuring the pilot should the Transparency Removal System, a charge designed to fracture the cockpit canopy acrylic prior to ejection, fails to activate. This was a critical milestone for the F-35 Enterprise as it works to qualify a second vendor to ensure there are sufficient canopies available to meet the demands of the global fleet.
“These unique times require us more than ever to rely on strong communication and collaboration with our partners across the joint enterprise,” said Bunch. “Maintaining open and clear lines, and being willing to take calculated risk for high priority missions, is crucial to our ongoing success in both our everyday missions and in the fight against COVID-19.”
While the long-term impacts of COVID-19 to the AFMC mission are largely unknown, the command continues to execute its critical Air Force responsibilities in line with health and safety guidance while continuing to support the whole of government response to the pandemic.
“We’re adjusting to a whole new normal, and I am really proud of what our Airmen are doing,” said Bunch. “Our installation commanders are making the best decisions for our Airmen, and we’re making sure to hit high priority, critical items and as many other items as we can while we sustain our force for the long term.”