The U.S. Air Force Sustainment Center is a 43,000-strong force of allied airmen completely focused on delivering global logistics and sustainment effects for joint and coalition teams. This enormous enterprise delivers combat power through an organic industrial base, which serves as the nation’s war-sustaining insurance policy, setting and supporting theaters and weapons systems when others can’t or won’t. We support joint and coalition forces at the beginning, middle and end of every operation; and we secure our homeland by enabling continuous surveillance and air defense: supporting multiple combatant commanders and the interagency simultaneously.
Critically, AFSC provides logistics and sustainment support for two of the three legs of our nation’s strategic nuclear triad. Our capability to deter, respond to and eliminate threats relies upon our nation’s ability to proactively and continuously develop advanced air, space and cyber capabilities, while simultaneously honing the readiness and lethality of the logistics and sustainment enterprise to meet evolving requirements, increasing demand signals and ever-developing asymmetrical threats. Our obligation to our nation to provide a full spectrum-ready air, space and cyber power requires prosperity of this organic industrial base.
AFSC’s organic industrial base is comprised of three air logistics complexes, two supply chain wings, and three air base wings spread across 28 operating locations around the globe. We provide logistics and sustainment support to our joint forces via a global interconnected ecosystem. The air logistics complexes — Ogden ALC at Hill Air Force Base, Utah; Oklahoma City ALC at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma; and Warner Robins ALC at Robins AFB, Georgia — and the two supply chain wings — 448th Supply Chain Management Wing at Tinker and the 635th Supply Chain Operations Wing at Scott AFB, Illinois — lead the way in providing sustainment and logistics readiness to deliver combat power for America. Organic depot maintenance accomplished at our three ALCs is a ballet of sophisticated theory-of-constraints and guided processes, with the complexes themselves operating in a symbiotic, interdependent manner, forming a logistics and sustainment network that underpins Air Force readiness. These, along with the supply chain wings, form the logistics kill chain needed for a modern military to deter our adversaries and reassure our allies.
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Maintaining a healthy organic industrial base is challenging. Today’s evolving war-fighting concepts demand a fundamental change to the logistics environment to enable global logistics command-and-control capacity that ensures the effective employment of resources. In short: the ability to manage multiple demand streams and repair streams in multidomain, multi-COCOM-contested environments.
Only 10 years ago, the focus of logistics command and control was directed at task-organizing and logistics-mission assignments. Command and control was not automated and was functionally centric and nonintegrated. It also assumed that warfare was linear — that the complex notions of hybrid warfare were not in the forefront of emerging logistics doctrine. Additionally, the focus was not on the idea of a return to a great power conflict. Information was derived from after-the-fact reporting focused on transactional activity and latent whiteboard displays of assets and resources. The predominant characteristic of logistics was achieved by maintaining large stockpiles to meet every possible requirement. Simply put, that world no longer exists.
The new environment demands a logistics command-and-control capability that emphasizes speed and agility.
Agile manufacturing technologies, such as additive manufacturing, enable speed and agility. These technologies support the Air Force Future Operating Concept by providing the Air Force an edge against our adversaries through a smaller deployed footprint, more agile/efficient maintenance and modification, and faster supply-chain resourcing. While additive manufacturing presents itself as a viable solution to rising costs associated with diminishing manufacturing sources, the process requires a rapid reverse-engineering capability and a workforce that understands how to leverage it in order to provide a responsive, resilient parts supply chain.
While leveraging new manufacturing technologies, such as additive manufacturing, results in a more agile and efficient logistics supply chain that can quickly deliver the right part on demand, it also induces risk to the war fighter as we strive to secure our intellectual property against exfiltration to, and exploitation by, our peer competitors. As software becomes increasingly pervasive throughout our weapon systems, test systems and support equipment, our ability to manage and sustain it organically will be critical. One of the tools to mitigate risk with inducing new manufacturing technologies in our processes is to employ and grow a technically sophisticated workforce. Many of the weapon systems sustained within the Air Force Sustainment Center require a vast amount of technology to operate.
As an example, the newest aerial refueling tanker, the KC-46A, requires millions of lines of code to operate; thus, our ability to maintain a skilled workforce going forward is critical.
Our ability to sustain the Air Force for tomorrow’s fight is very real. Every day, threats to the nation and our interests increase.
The Air Force Sustainment Center is leaning forward as a team to provide increased fighter aircraft availability to support a surge in fighter pilot production. At the same time, AFSC is working to extend the life of aging weapon systems through aircraft maintenance and modification.
Logistics may not win a war for you, but it can certainly cause you to lose one. In every instance of crises, the organic industrial base has responded by providing solutions to meet unanticipated demands. We must continue to invest now in the organic industrial base if we expect its performance in the future to meet the needs of an increasingly sophisticated, contested and lethal battlespace in the 21st century.
Lt. Gen. Lee K. Levy II is the commander of the U.S. Air Force Sustainment Center.