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Setting the foundation for an energy-optimized and lethal Air Force

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alexander Cook

Capt. Andrew "Dojo" Olson, F-35 Demonstration Team pilot and commander performs aerial maneuvers during the Wings Over Houston Airshow Oct. 18, 2019, in Houston, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alexander Cook)


As 2020 approaches and the Air Force prepares to take on the challenges of the next decade, we must also review our successes and lessons learned. For Air Force Operational Energy, 2019 was a year for laying the foundation to build a more optimized and lethal force in the years to come. 

By collaborating with several partners, we made some important strides in developing and executing our strategy and were able to set the groundwork for many of our operational energy initiatives.

Established the first Joint Forces Energy Wargame

2019 was the first year that the Joint Forces have ever conducted a wargame focused solely on energy and fuel logistics. Air Force Operational Energy was a key partner in establishing the Joint Forces Energy Wargame (JFEW), sponsored by the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (ODASD) for Energy and hosted by the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM), to identify critical energy challenges along the fuel distribution network.

Throughout the year and leading up to JFEW in August, our team of subject matter experts participated in on-going discussions and working groups to integrate operational energy and fuel logistics scenarios into the wargame. The team helped develop solutions to complex operational energy challenges from refinery and bulk transport to storage, transit, and delivery of fuel.

JFEW set the precedent for identifying energy solutions in wargaming, and the team continues to play an active role in its progress.

Global tanker allocation tool Magellan takes off

In collaboration with Air Mobility Command and Kessel Run, the team utilized an agile methodology to develop Magellan, a software tool to allocate mobility aircraft globally over extended periods. Magellan gives operational planners more visibility for long-term scheduling and enables planners to de-conflict recurring missions and high-demand periods. It also increases planning flexibility, allowing planners to more easily and quickly adjust when priorities change.

The project kicked off in April of this year, with a Minimally Viable Product available in June, demonstrating the rapid and accurate process the agile methodology allows. As of November, Magellan is delivering operational benefits to the warfighter while the team continues to add features and capability.

F-35 Coronets are now flying at faster, more optimized aerial refueling airspeed

As part of a 2017 demonstration initiated by Air Force Operational Energy and executed by Air Mobility Command, a group of F-22 fighter aircraft were flown at max range airspeed during overwater aerial refueling sorties to determine any possible efficiency gains. The faster airspeed resulted in a decrease in overall fuel consumption, a decrease in flying-hour costs, and quicker arrival times for Airmen during the routine ferry operation, in comparison to the standard profile typically flown.

Upon further research, we determined that F-35 aircraft would also benefit from this practice. In 2019, Air Mobility Command and Air Combat Command began implementing this process for F-35 aircraft, and it is now a standard practice for all 5th generation fighter aircraft during overwater ferry operations, saving valuable flight hours while extending aircraft service life.

Introduced energy courses at AFIT

As of 2019, the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) now offers two graduate courses in defense energy systems: Future Department of Defense Energy Systems Engineering, and Aviation Systems Engineering. As part of our education and training initiatives to build an energy-aware culture, Air Force Operational Energy worked with AFIT professors and Air Force Research Laboratory to build out the course syllabus and research focus for each class. In support of our initiatives, student-selected research included: Coronet Mission Analysis (Cost Optimization of Fuel), Department of Defense Alternative Jet Fuel, and UAV Fuel Cell/Battery Optimization.

Over the year, approximately 20 students completed the class, with more expected next year. In spring 2020, AFIT will launch a third energy course, with support from our office: Contingency Base Systems Engineering.  

Drag reduction initiative awarded AFWERX SBIR Funding

The AFWERX Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program awarded Phase I funding to Vortex Control Technologies to test aft body drag reduction devices, commercially known as Finlets, on the C-130. Finlets are estimated to reduce drag, and therefore fuel burn, by approximately 4-5 percent, which could have a significant impact on range and endurance, as well potential cost savings, if implemented across the fleet.

Phase I will explore the Air Force’s operational requirements and goals for the project, as well as provide an initial set of Finlets for installation on a test aircraft. If funded, Phase II would be geared toward a flight test effort to validate fuel efficiency gains and verify various safety parameters.  

Air Force Operational Energy seeks to enhance combat capability and mitigate operational risk to the warfighter by developing and championing smart energy solutions through modern technologies, data analysis, streamlined logistics and operations, and innovative process improvements.

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