New Concept Ensures Latest Technologies Reach Warfighters Quickly
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif., May 1, 2007 The F-22A Raptor fighter and RQ-4A Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle had barely finished their maiden flights and begun serving in the terror war when engineers, developers and testers here were already at work to improve on the capabilities of those aircraft.
That concept, referred to as “incremental development,” is moving the latest technology to the field in support of warfighters as soon as it’s ready while next-generation evolutions are being developed.
“Our goal is to create the very, very best weapons systems we can and, once we ensure that they are safe and reliable, to get them to operators as quickly as we can,” said Air Force Col. Chris Cook, commander of the 412th Operations Group.
Cook said the incremental development concept reminds him of a famous Gen. George S. Patton quote: “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.”
“It puts capability into the warfighter hands as quickly as possible,” Cook said. “It may not put the final solution in their hands, but it puts capability.”
Two of the Air Force Flight Test Center’s highest-visibility programs exemplify this effort.
When the Raptor, a fifth-generation fighter jet, left Langley Air Force Base, Va., in February for its first real-world deployment, to Japan, Air Force Lt. Col. Dan Daetz, operations officer for the 411th Flight Test Squadron, was wowed by its power, maneuverability and stealth.
“This is a revolutionary airplane. It’s a big leap from anything that we’ve ever had before,” Daetz said. “But we’re not finished with this airplane yet.”
A chart in Daetz’ office spells out four major incremental changes planned for the Raptor through 2014 that will make it more lethal and more precise in its targeting. Other advances on the avionics front will give crews unprecedented situational awareness.
“This plane is really in its infancy,” Daetz said. “It will be around for decades and, to be honest, we probably haven’t even thought yet about some of the capabilities it will eventually have.”
Likewise for the Global Hawk, an unmanned aerial system that’s providing wartime commanders unprecedented high-resolution, near-real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance imagery. “It’s like an electronic vacuum cleaner,” Cook said.
The next-generation Global Hawk, already being tested here, will feature a bigger payload, larger wingspan and new generator able to provide more electrical output, explained Air Force Lt. Col. Andy Thurling, commander of the 452nd Flight Test Squadron. Among other improvements planned past 2010 for the Global Hawk are an enhanced sensor package and signal intelligence capability and improved communications and data links, he said.
While development testing continues, both the Raptor and Global Hawk are earning their stripes in the combat theater. Global Hawk has flown more than 2,200 combat hours and more than 100 missions in support of the war on terror.
By developing the new aircraft incrementally, developers say they’re able to get the best new technologies to the field quickly to support the war on terror as they continue to improve them. Equally important, Cook said, is that it doesn’t lock developers into systems that will be obsolete before they ever reach the field. “It lets us take advantage of maturing technologies and emerging technologies as we develop the system,” he said.
“If we have critical design review today and said, ‘OK, that’s it. The design is locked, and we are going to build it,’” it’s going to be outdated when it’s fielded, he said. “If, for example, it takes 15 years to build (the system), the computers and displays in that system are going to be what’s on your desk right now,” he said. “And what you have on your desk right now is not going to be acceptable to you 15 years from now.”
Developing systems incrementally also ensures they can be adapted as they are built to fit current and sometimes-changing warfighter requirements, he said.
“And so incremental development allows us to take advantage of those emerging technologies and the developing and evolving technologies as the timeline moves to the right,” he said. “That way, we’re able to fold and melt those capabilities into the system.”