NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — Standing prominently along the “Main Street,” Washington Blvd., here is a building which holds a far greater importance to the Air Force than the sum of its bricks and mortar.
In the shadow of the base flag and behind an impeccable green lawn sits the United States Air Force Warfare Center, where the decisions made every day reach far beyond Nellis AFB’s gate; overseas and directly into conflicts around the world.
Founded in 1966 as the USAF Tactical Fighter Weapons Center, it was renamed in 2005 and refocused on total force integration to respond to conflicts on the ground, in the air, in space and in cyberspace.
Since then, integration has become a prominent theme across the Air Force and the Department of Defense as a whole as warfighters become more and more dependent on technology to give them the edge.
For the acting Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning, integration will remain a priority.
“All of the domains [ground, air, space and cyberspace] are linked to each other, so it’s critical that each domain leverages what the others bring in order to deal with the increasing technological advances of the adversary,” Fanning said.
The USAFWC acts as a “think tank,” taking the lessons learned from an ever-evolving conflict and developing new solutions to keep the U.S. Air Force the world’s best. To accomplish the mission, the men and women of the USAF Warfare Center break objectives into three categories — testing, tactics and training; words with which Nellis AFB has become synonymous.
“We do massive amounts of operational testing,” said Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Lofgren, USAFWC commander and an F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot with more than 3,000 flight hours under his belt. “We ensure that the capability that we thought we were getting [out of new Air Force technology] is actually there while we find any errors or bugs that need to be fixed.”
When a new technology has been developed, the USAFWC acts as a “filter” to ensure they’re ready to be used in combat and eliminating projects that don’t live up to expectations. Because of the proliferation of space and cyberspace weapons, called non-kinetic threats, the USAFWC has adapted to become the testing grounds for a multitude of different new capabilities, from targeting pods to software. Technologies deemed ready for the fight are one step closer to their Air Force debut.
“We then transition into developing the tactics — in other words, how we can best utilize the capabilities in the force,” Lofgren said. “We publish our findings through tactics manuals, which are then distributed not only to our Air Force but among our joint partners.”
These documents are later used by units to train warfighters in the use of various weapon systems.
Perhaps what has made the USAF Warfare Center most famous, however, is its range of world-class combat exercises including Red Flag, Green Flag and Cyber Flag carried out by its 57th Wing. These war games present the culmination of testing and tactics and transition on into the last pillar of the USAFWC mission; advanced training.
According to an Air Force factsheet, Red and Green Flags often see international participation by allied air forces. With allied participation, pilots from the U.S. and allied partners are able to hone individual skills and further integration between each nation.
Also falling under the command of the 57th WG is the United States Air Force Weapons School, which according to a Nellis AFB fact sheet, trains tactical experts and leaders of Airmen skilled in the art of integrated battle-space dominance across the land, air, space and cyber domains. The 57th WG is also home to six squadrons of “Aggressor” Airmen studying and replicating the threats posed by potential adversaries in all aspects of war.
The Air Combat Command stand down that took effect June 1 has resulted in the cancellation of most of the 57th Wing’s major air-combat exercises, forcing the USAFWC to place added emphasis on the use of simulators in continued efforts to provide quality training.
“We’re working hard to increase our simulator capabilities here,” Lofgren said.
Currently, Nellis has simulators for F-16 Fighting Falcons and Joint Terminal Attack Controllers. Lofgren added that Nellis is slated to install an F-35 Lightning II simulator in the coming year, and is also considering a simulator for the F-22 Raptor.
“We’re working on a lot of these things to bring simulation capabilities that we can use throughout our mission of testing, tactics and training.”
With 31 operating locations in 21 states around the country, decisions made in the USAFWC have a broad and direct impact on how the Air Force fights every day. When the 2011 Libyan civil war escalated to a point that required a coalition military interdiction, the Combined Forces Air Component Commander enlisted the help of USAFWS graduate pilots.
“Quickly we were able to [assemble a] group of weapons officers who went on to become the architects of the entire U.S. involvement in Libya,” Lofgren said. “A lot of work was done by those experts we generated here, so you can see how the work we do here is directly impacting what’s happening downrange.”
Looking ahead, the USAF Warfare Center will focus the majority of its efforts on four major areas; the continued emphasis on cyber and space integration, the F-35 program, increased simulation capabilities, and warfare in contested-degraded environments.
“The F-35 is a huge program for the Air Force, and we’ve got a lot of effort and focus [into] making sure that goes smoothly,” Lofgren said.
In the aftermath of budget cuts the USAFWC is being tested to find new ways to use existing technology in a, “think instead of buy” approach.
“That’s always been our strength,” said Lofgren, gesturing towards photos in his office showing some notable USAFWC accomplishments.
“There are so many capabilities in the F-35 and other space and cyber systems that we have not even scratched the surface of; we’re going to do things that people didn’t think were possible.”