53rd Wing brings future faster with largest LFTE

Air Force photograph by Airman 1st Class Bryan T. Guthrie

During the month of September, the 53rd Test and Evaluation Group at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., executed one of the most complex and diverse operational test events in base history. 

Although it wasn’t the first event of its kind, it was one of the largest and most organized in the group’s history and consisted of aircraft and aircrew from 12 operational test and evaluation squadrons from around the Air Force.  The Large Force Test Event utilized OT&E weapons systems on the Nevada Test and Training Range.

“This is the second LFTE we have conducted and we are very happy with the results,” said Capt. Scott Portue, 53rd TEG chief weapons and tactics officer. “With each iteration of the LFTE, we are integrating more players, learning new lessons in terms of planning and execution, and establishing new partnerships to further the LFTE mission.”

LFTEs are similar other large force exercises, like Red Flag, which take a cross-section of units and assets to solve a problem, but the LFTE is unique in its use of new and un-fielded equipment, weapons, and tactics.

“This requires an additional level of preparation and highly experienced aircrew and support teams. The 53rd Test and Evaluation Group is unique in its ability to conduct such an event because our aircrew and test teams are some of the most experienced in the Air Force. And, while we want to solve the scenario presented during each test event, we are more concerned with why we did or did not solve the problem we faced using the new equipment or tactics that we are trying to develop,” said Lt. Col. Mark Donohue, 53rd TEG deputy commander.

Utilizing the LFTE construct, the 53rd TEG has been able to prove two new cutting edge tactics while disproving a third. “The LFTE is a cornerstone in advancing squadron readiness,” said Col. Brian Schafer, 53rd TEG commander. “One of our finished products is vetted and proven tactics for the Combat Air Forces (CAF). Our subject matter experts then publish tactics bulletins and provide roadshows for our CAF squadrons. This ensures our USAF is combat ready.”

Another focus of the LFTE is the integrated testing of weapons systems the Air Force is planning to acquire. Rather than utilize battle-proven weapons systems to complete a mission, the event is designed to integrate new weapons systems, capabilities, and tactics while allowing crew members to quickly identify shortfalls and necessary tactic improvements.

“Integration is absolutely mandatory in order to counter the current and future threats that our near-peer adversaries are fielding,” said Donohue. “When OT&E is conducted, there is always an attempt made to test an aircraft, munition, or piece of equipment in a variety of conditions. However, due to resource and budget constraints, what is usually lacking is the integration piece. The LFTE allows us to bring all of our 16 plus Major Weapons Systems together to create an operationally representative environment with some of the latest and greatest technology on the cutting edge of the Air Force acquisitions process.”

Donohue said that although it’s nearly impossible to test every tactic and system in every scenario, the LFTE allows the group to test new systems in a high-level combat environment with a wide variety of assets that otherwise would not be available.

“The result we see is that potential issues are identified earlier in the process and fixed before being released to combat units,” said Donohue. “This is a key aspect of OT&E, and we are able to identify and resolve more issues than with traditional stove-piped operational test methods.”

The wide arsenal of OT&E assets at Nellis and the close proximity of the NTTR were vital to the success of the LFTE.

“The 53rd Wing is very much the tip of the spear when it comes to bringing the future faster,” said Schafer. “Our personnel are not only executing tests; they are constantly innovating ways to improve the test process itself in order to bring the future faster.”

Although the outcome of the event isn’t known instantaneously, the team is satisfied with how the event turned out.

“Over the next few weeks, analysts will pour over all the data collected from the air and ground systems and spend countless hours ensuring whether systems worked as they should have or where they failed and how we can improve upon them,” said Donohue. “It’s a huge team effort between our operators, maintainers, engineers, analysts and countless others.”

The results will play an important role in how key influencers are educated about the impact OT&E has on today’s war fighter.

“Ultimately, we are trying to get the word out across not only our wing, but multiple other joint and civilian test entities that are involved,” said Donohue. “It is gaining momentum rapidly and we are very excited to publish the findings from this LFTE, even as we prepare for the next LFTE in the spring.