Using the acquisition and fielding of the Air Force’s newest bomber as a backdrop, Gen. Duke Z. Richardson, Air Force Materiel Command commander, emphasized the critical role the organization maintains in outpacing and deterring the People’s Republic of China in a high-profile address, Sept. 11, 2023, during the Air Force Association’s 2023 Air, Space and Cyber Conference.
“In the machine of our nation’s defense, we are the powerhouse,” said Richardson. “Outpacing and deterring the People’s Republic of China starts with AFMC. ‘Accelerate Change or Lose’ isn’t just a bumper sticker. It’s our call to action.”
During his address, Richardson highlighted AFMC’s vital role in the fielding and life cycle of every Air Force platform and capability, to include installations as power projection platforms for the service. Using the B-21 Raider as an example, he stressed the command’s reliance on integrated work across its six purpose-built centers and program executive offices, alongside the need for the materiel enterprise to accelerate pace to remain ahead of the PRC and other modern adversaries.
“The Air Force relies on creative AFMC Airmen to deliver capabilities faster by leveraging every available tool,” said Richardson. “We’re focused on enterprise solutions, digital materiel management, and collaboration with our war fighters across every MAJCOM for every weapon system. The B-21 program exemplifies our commitment to delivering integrated capabilities, covering all aspects of the life cycle, from research and development, through acquisition and testing, to long-term sustainment and support.”
The Department of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office is leading the development of the B-21 Raider, under the direction of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment and the Secretary of the Air Force. AFMC is partnering closely with the DAF RCO in the development of the platform and comprises nearly 70 percent of the Program Executive Office team.
Richardson’s keynote address detailed the specific types of support each of the six AFMC centers provide to the B-21 program office, and short videos by subject matter experts from each AFMC organization offered first-hand accounts of the ongoing work.
He spoke about the Air Force Research Laboratory’s role in creating novel technologies for improved aircraft performance, operational efficiency, and enhanced mission execution, highlighting the center’s role in B-21 material certification and evaluative testing, environmental assessments, technology maturation, and more.
“AFRL’s innovations translate to improved aircraft performance, operational efficiency, and enhanced mission success rates,” he said.
Richardson then spoke of the acquisition and fielding role led by the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center.
More than 237 AFLCMC personnel currently support the B-21 program in areas ranging from financial management and contracting to digital acquisition, systems engineering, airworthiness certification, and production planning. The overall goal is to ensure that the platform is safe, secure, effective, available, and sustainable over the long term.
“Our team at LCMC provides warfighting capabilities at the speed of relevance, and the B-21 is no exception,” he said.
Richardson then highlighted the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center’s role in the B-21’s nuclear certification, safe escape distance analysis, hardness assessment, and Nuclear Command, Control and Communications planning. With the platform designed to be a dual-capable penetrating strike stealth bomber capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear munitions, AFNWC expertise is critical to ensuring safety and viability over the long term.
First-hand accounts of an Air Force test pilot and maintainer showcased the Air Force Test Center’s responsibility for B-21 flight test planning and operations and related support in areas such as systems engineering, maintenance, business operations and information technology. Richardson discussed the center’s role in putting the B-21 through a combination of realistic simulations, intensive exercises, and carefully designed evaluations.
“This process goes beyond routine testing and dives deep into understanding the capabilities. The Test Center stresses our systems to determine failure modes and maintenance challenges in a controlled environment, vice during war,” he said.
As the B-21 moves towards operational capability, Richardson talked about how the Air Force Sustainment Center is working to ensure readiness for depot maintenance and sustainment activity. AFSC teams currently aligned to the B-21 program provide organic software development and testing, composite and propulsion support, depot activation, facility planning and more, ensuring the organic capability to maintain the platform’s lethality into the future.
“Transitioning from developing, acquiring, and testing to heavy maintenance, our sustainers showcase real-world, wrench turning stories,” he said.
With the B-21 slated to operate out of Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, with Whiteman AFB, Mo., and Dyess AFB, Texas, also identified as preferred operating locations the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center is planning for mission beddown through installation assessments and planning, including any required infrastructure construction or upgrades.
“IMSC’s approach to installation management optimizes the Air Force’s ability to rapidly deploy and sustain operations,” he said.
Richardson concluded his keynote address by reemphasizing the critical role of AFMC in ensuring the Air Force is postured to maintain a strategic advantage over the PRC and all other adversaries through the delivery of integrated capabilities across the mission set. The ability of the Air Force to fly, fight and win in all domains depends on AFMC.
“As with the B-21, if our Airmen fly it, shoot it, fuel it, move it, drive it, wear it, communicate with it, or work in it … AFMC powers every weapon system, every installation, for every command, and every Airman,” he said. “Together, our power is unmatched. Our work in the B-21 program embodies Air Force Materiel Command’s core principle: Every individual capability, every piece of technology we develop, must maximize readiness and lethality, not just on its own, but as part of an integrated whole.”