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Fuel data is crucial to identifying and understanding operational inefficiencies in the Force. By collecting and analyzing fuel data from across all aircraft, the Air Force can measure its effectiveness, enable data-driven decisions, and better target opportunities to improve operations that deliver competitive advantages against adversaries.
Our office created the Operational Energy Data Collection Strategy to lay the foundation for collecting and storing aviation fuel use and associated mission execution data. The purpose of the Strategy is to set the Air Force on a course to collect aviation fuel data that is comprehensive, automated, high-resolution, and accurate. Implementing the Strategy informs operations, supports a resilient and innovative Air Force, and integrates aviation fuel data collection into a wider data and IT strategy across the Air Force and Department of Defense.
In 2022, we launched the pilot Mission Execution Excellence Program (MEEP) to incentivize optimized flying on aircraft that consume the most fuel across the enterprise. MEEP focuses on leveraging Airmen innovation and operational energy flying ‘best practices’ in an effort to maximize combat capability. MEEP will deliver direct and indirect incentives to encourage Airmen participation.
Incentives include direct transfer of Operations and Maintenance funding as rebates proportional to savings and ‘soft’ incentives like awards and recognition to individual Airmen and wings that show increased energy-aware behavior. Incentives may fund wing priority projects, enhanced planning tools, or Airmen-inspired innovations. MEEP enables data-informed decisions and provides resources for wing-level program engagement. MEEP will expand to include several Mobility Air Forces wings in FY23.
Through our wargaming efforts, we help provide the Air Force and joint services with a more realistic view of the risks and challenges related to operational energy and fuel logistics, and drive energy-informed leadership decisions in basing strategy and investment priorities. Our team of subject matter experts participates in on-going discussions and working groups with our wargaming partners to develop solutions to these complex challenges.
Our team focuses on improving Integrated Life Cycle Management processes and fuel supply logistics across the Air Force to enable a more energy resilient force. We coordinate with the fuels, logistics, and wargaming communities to model energy demand and network risk during gameplay, allowing us to better identify shortfalls and the second and third order effects of adversaries' efforts to target fuel supply chains.
Together with defense industry and commercial aviation partners, we are instituting programs to improve engine performance and efficiency on our legacy aircraft by utilizing advanced propulsion sustainment processes and technologies. We focus on three main methods to achieve this: one, applying innovative material coatings on engine compressor blades, two, using infrared and laser scanning methods to inspect and optimize alignment of engine components. and three, updating how we wash our engines for improved performance.
We have initiated two projects to certify blade coatings on KC-135 Stratotanker (F108) and C-17 Globemaster III (F117) engines to confirm the technology's ability to improve blade durability and engine performance. Blade coatings extend the longevity of the fan blades and decrease sustainment requirements (labor and costs). We also support and fund the testing of compressor blade scanning for the F108 engine at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma. Additionally, we sponsored an AFWERX Small Business Innovation Research program to pilot test the use of nucleated foam during engine washing on Air Force Special Operations Command CV-22 Osprey, which has been shown to save an estimated 1800 maintenance hours per year while increasing aircraft availability by 228 hours. We're also working with the Air National Guard at Rickenbacker Air Force Base, Ohio to test similar detergent wash methods on the KC-135 and have seen reductions in engine temperature already.
Engine sustainment processes like scanning, coatings, and washing are expected to result in a 2-4% reduction in fuel use, which translates to significant savings across the enterprise, and more importantly, results in readiness and capability benefits to the warfighter.
Additionally, we initiated a program in partnership with the Advanced Power Technology Office to acquire new fan duct panels on the KC-135, replacing a legacy repair method that reduced airflow and therefore, decreased engine efficiency while adding a significant maintenance burden. The new fan ducts will improve airflow and engine performance, saving more than $1 million per year in fuel costs, which is anticipated to grow to greater than $5.5 million per year once implemented across the fleet. The upgraded fan ducts will help avoid approximately 1,700 maintenance hours per year, saving $1.85 million, which is expected to increase to $9 million annually as more panels require replacement.
The Legacy Fleet Energy Efficiency program is developing a range of fuel-burn reduction technologies for legacy and future transport and tanker aircraft. Technologies include aft body flow control using microvanes (as pictured) and finlets, adaptive winglets, compliant trailing edges and surface enhancements and coatings. The program aims to increase fuel efficiency of legacy fleet mobility aircraft by 1-6 percent, meaning more payload, longer range, or, more generally, increased options for commanders.
We work with the operations planning, logistics, and aerial port communities to optimize how cargo is transported on our mobility aircraft. Our data analysis highlights opportunities to streamline operations and decrease fuel demand by improving how we plan, load, and transport cargo. We worked with AFRL’s Advanced Power and Technology Office to introduce the Vertical Pallet Stacker, which allows cargo pallets to be stacked on top of each other to better utilize cargo capacity. We provided a small amount of funding for prototype development, manufacturing, and field evaluations, and they are now certified for use on C-5 Galaxy, C-17 Globemaster III, and C-130 Hercules aircraft. For the 147th Attack Wing, it increased the C-5 Allowable Cabin Load from 80% to 96%, enabling the unit to fit one additional MQ-9 Reaper and doubled ISR capabilities during a real-world deployment.
With the innovation cell Tron Air Force, an Airmen-driven software and enablement organization in Hawaii, we supported the launch of Puckboard, a real-time collaborative scheduling tool used throughout the Mobility Air Forces community. The platform distributes live schedule updates to aircrew and is available from anywhere on the globe, on or off the DOD network. Additionally, we funded the purchase of security software for Tron to accelerate the software’s mobile app development, data collection, and migration to digital forms. Puckboard gives time back to Airmen and enables them to revolutionize squadron scheduling through an open architecture, permitting seamless interoperability with other information systems and supporting supplemental planning services.
Similarly, we funded and supported the development of Magellan, an Air Mobility Command (AMC) software tool used to allocate mobility aircraft globally. The tool merged multiple manual processes into a collaborative, transparent platform to increase deployment readiness, saving planners an estimated 300 hours per month. Magellan gives operational planners more visibility over long-term scheduling and enables planners to de-conflict airlift and aerial refueling requests during high-demand periods. It also increases planning flexibility, allowing planners to quickly and easily adjust when priorities change. Magellan is now an AMC system of record.
Jigsaw, an innovative software to streamline aerial refueling scheduling in the 609th Combined Operations Center, has cut planning time while optimizing fuel use. Created by Defense Innovation Unit using an agile development methodology, the tool has already increased tanker scheduling efficiency by 3.6%, reduced fuel use by 180k gallons weekly, and decreased global manning requirements by 9 crews since its rollout.
We continue to support and fund the development and fielding of Jigsaw's auto-planning feature to further optimize tanker planning and scheduling, while enabling updates in real-time to account for unexpected events. The added capability reduces planning time to less than 30 minutes and increases scheduling efficiency by another 10% - equivalent to executing an average Air Tasking Order with 5 fewer tankers. These efficiencies enable the Air Force to maintain the same combat sortie rate while decreasing fuel use and reducing risk.
Due to an optimization initiative led by our office, policy has been put into place that directs planners to plan airspeeds for 5th generation fighter Coronet missions at closer to maximum range airspeed. The faster speed decreases overall fuel consumption by about 6% and reduces flight hours by about 10%. After a successful demonstration with F-22s, our office continued working with Air Combat Command and Air Mobility Command to formalize the procedures and expanded them to include the F-35.
Fostering an energy-aware culture within the Air Force is critical to optimizing our fuel consumption. We develop educational and training materials, as well as pursue research opportunities with civilian and DoD universities, to highlight the importance of operational energy for readiness and combat capability. We partner with the National Security Innovation Network to work with undergraduate and graduate students as part of X-Force and Hacking for Defense.
For example, X-Force interns from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Howard University, and Princeton University developed a prototype to analyze risk to the energy supply network, filling a critical gap in Air Force capabilities. Another group of X-Force students from Arizona State University continued working this problem by gamifying the existing risk prototype. Concurrently, Hacking for Defense students at the University of Virginia supported our strategic engagement goals by developing a new strategy to incentivize energy efficient behaviors. We also received civilian student support through a summer internship with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sloan School of Management, resulting in a digitized approach to tracking each office initiative. Do you have a research idea? Let us know.