Q & A with test center commander

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Air Force photograph by Bradley Hicks

Air Force Test Center Commander Brig. Gen. Christopher Azzano, right, is greeted by Sean Smith outside of the Aerodynamic & Propulsion Test Unit during Azzano’s Nov. 16 tour of Arnold Air Force Base. Azzano and other AFTC leadership recently visited Arnold to take part in the AFTC Strategic Offsite. The Offsite was Azzano’s first since assuming the post of AFTC commander.

The first Air Force Test Center strategic offsite meeting since Brig. Gen. Christopher Azzano became AFTC commander in August was held recently at Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn.

The event provided AFTC leadership the opportunity to meet and discuss ways to develop and grow next-generation technologies and systems for the U.S. Air Force and joint partners.

Prior to discussion, Azzano took a few moments to participate in a short interview to discuss the strategic offsite and the importance of the AFTC mission.

Q:  Why did you choose Arnold Air Force Base for your first Offsite?
A:   I’ve spent much of my career in the Air Force Test Center, but most recently I was assigned to the AFMC Directorate for Air, Space and Cyberspace operations. In that position, with consideration for our new National Defense Strategy and a rapidly evolving global environment, I gained a new appreciation for Arnold’s role in our nation’s security. As we move to restore readiness and improve lethality of our service, AEDC has been front and center. The United States is lagging behind our potential adversaries in some critical technologies, and Arnold is indispensable in the discussion of how to catch up – how to develop game-changing technologies and incorporate them into next generation systems. For those reasons, AEDC seemed like the perfect place to host this year’s AFTC Strategic Offsite.

Q: What would you like for Team AEDC to know about the AFTC’s vision and goals for the future?
A: I want them to know how incredibly important AEDC is to the Air Force Test Center and to the defense of our nation.

It is evident the AEDC workforce takes pride in what they do and is motivated by the importance of their work. But when you take a step back and look at the strategic environment confronting our nation today, it is obvious we have a truly indispensable pillar of science and technology – of future capability – right here at Arnold. I hope our team here will look at the strategic direction coming out of this AFTC Offsite and see that AEDC will influence our nation’s ability to maintain its preeminence around the globe, that AEDC has a key role in doing so.

Q: As our nation continues to make great strides in aerospace research, test and development, what role do you see AEDC playing in AFTC’s ever-growing mission?
A: AEDC has been a foundation for capability development throughout its history. When senior government officials realized our nation had fallen behind in some critical technologies, to include hypersonic research and hypersonic applications for future systems, our policy makers turned to the Air Force and the Air Force immediately turned toward AEDC. 

Arnold has been crucial in helping us understand where this technology can go, and as a result we have had considerable national investment into AEDC infrastructure over the last few years. So looking at the hundreds of millions of dollars directed to AEDC to develop and sustain next-generation infrastructure for hypersonics research, I see a unique opportunity for the Air Force Test Center. Unique because of our talent and our diversity to leverage the science we develop at Arnold and rapidly integrate it into next-generation weapons and systems, especially as the Air Force strives for greater multi-domain operations. I think we’re going to see immediate payoff from a research perspective.

Q: How do you see AFTC and, specifically, a wing-level organization like AEDC adding value to the Air Force?
A: The point of execution for each of our mission areas resides at the unit level, and the Air Force has devoted much thought and initiative the last few years to reinvigorate and re-empower squadron-level leadership. The end goal is for leaders to be able to execute their missions with fewer hierarchical constraints, allowing them to apply their intrinsic leadership and insight to move forward faster and add value in new ways. 

When you look at a wing-level organization like Arnold, you see a consolidation of like-mission areas under one organization, and that is where I as a Center commander and where my superiors at the MAJCOM and Air Force level have the opportunity to influence an entire collection of missions. The Test Center has oversight of the research and development missions at Arnold. We have the armament and C4ISR development missions at Eglin. And we have the airframe test center of excellence at Edwards. The wing-level organization enables us to integrate those efforts in a meaningful way for a specific test site but also allows us to collaborate across sites to achieve better synergy and rapid capability development.

Q: How often do you plan on visiting Arnold?
A: As the Test Center commander, I’m going to get here as often as I can. The Test Center is made up of three bases, each with its own unique mission areas. Each base is valuable to our national security in its own way, but Arnold is truly at the forefront of how we are transforming the United States military into next-generation concepts of operation.

Considering Arnold’s one-of-a-kind infrastructure and a workforce specialized in terms of talent, capability, and the products they deliver, the importance of AEDC is obvious. So I intend to visit here enough to understand and to be able to communicate that information to key policymakers, and also to get to know the workforce and enjoy the hospitality of middle Tennessee. The Esprit de Corps at AEDC is second to none, and you get a sense of that every time you visit. I look forward to many more during my tenure.

Q: What is an Offsite and what was the purpose of it?
A: We have an Offsite to conduct Strategic Planning on an annual basis. Strategic Planning is important for any large, complex organization, but especially for the Air Force Test Center, which is right in the middle of the effort to restore readiness and improve lethality of our Armed Forces.

We have 18,000 talented people and billions of dollars in infrastructure and capability, all of which are heavily utilized. The Test Center possesses many unique, one-of-a-kind capabilities. And we have a responsibility to determine how best to distribute our talent and resources to meet the United States’ national security objectives. So we bring AFTC leadership to one location and we talk about the most critical elements of national defense. We align our Strategic Planning with the National Defense Strategy. We base it on the focus areas of our Service Secretary and the Chief of Staff, and we decide what type of adjustments we need to our overall effort and where we need to develop, grow and prepare for the future because, as you know, the Test Center is always out in front, exploring the unknown. We have to be ready to develop next-generation technologies, to test next-generation systems before they appear – really, before their time. We have to be at least a few years out in front of the development and fielding of next-generation technologies.

Q: What were the main takeaways from the Offsite?
A: Each of the Test Center’s major organizations were represented by their commanders, command chiefs, and our senior leaders in science and technology. I think it was obvious to all in attendance the incredible talent and vision we have across our entire workforce. And I hope we learned from each other there is still room for improvement in achieving synergy across the Center. Prior to AFMC’s re-organization in 2012, our enterprise leads operated independently through the Arnold Engineering Development Center, Air Force Flight Test Center, and the Air Armament Center, as they were known at the time. Now, we are operating much more synergistically. If one of our test sites needs help with a particular developmental priority or sees a mission area where it can add value, we’ve got the team now and the channels of communication to facilitate better collaboration than in the past.

So I think our leaders took away a better understanding of each other’s missions and equities, but also where there is synergy and where we can add value as an enterprise in new ways.