WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force Test Center plans to stand up more than 130,000 square feet of new simulation capability by the end of fiscal 2023, with the hope of improving tests for existing and future high-end assets.
The first location, at Edwards Air Force Base, California, features 72,000 square feet of space primarily designed for developmental testing, Eileen Bjorkman, the test center’s executive director, told reporters Monday. The official added that the service plans to break ground in February 2021. The second location, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, will be 52,000 square feet, with a groundbreaking in November.
Once the Edwards facility is complete, the plan is to first focus on the F-35 and F-22 fighter jets for follow-on testing and to “develop advanced tactics,” Bjorkman said. But both sites are designed for flexibility so multiple systems run through each modeling and simulation location. And it is possible the new locations will have cross-service benefit.
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“We are working very closely with the Navy,” Bjorkman said. “I would anticipate in the future that we will be able to connect the systems together, both Navy and Air Force. We have done that in the past and in other facilities, and I would anticipate [that in the future.] But we’re definitely building the architecture in such a way that we’ll be able to connect those systems.”
While there are no plans to connect the systems with international partners right now, “we’re building the architecture in such a way that we could bring in” those nations, she added.
The new locations are part of a broader push into digital training and testing. While that’s hardly a new idea, Bjorkman said digital simulation systems are finally getting to the level where the benefits may surpass traditional training ranges.
“We need this to be able to test our jet aircraft and then of course our sixth-gen aircraft as those start to come online. And there’s a lot of reasons for that. The current ranges that we have are starting to be limited in terms of their size, and when you have aircraft that fly at supersonic speeds on a regular basis, instead of just a short burst like our older weapon systems did, we start to just simply run out of room on a range,” Bjorkman said.
“And in other cases, we may have security considerations. And in some cases, it’s just very difficult to bring together all the systems that we need in order to be able to build that complex battlespace that we have as we move forward [into] our new pure competition, our great power competition types of scenarios.”
While the new facilities are being set up, the test center is using the time to hire software engineers and other specialists, as well as developing digital models for Air Force assets so that both locations will be ready for business on Day One.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.