By Master Sgt. Mark Olsen, 514th Air Mobility Wing/Public Affairs
/ Published March 26, 2018
KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
There’s a place where the total force initiative is hard at work.
Some even say it is the model that the Air Force and all the other services should emulate.
That place is the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center (AFOTEC) headquartered here. It is not affiliated with any major command. Instead it reports directly to Gen. David L. Goldfein, chief of staff of the Air Force.
AFOTEC has five detachments at 16 operating locations across the United States and at those sites, active duty Air Force, Air National Guard, and Reserve Citizen Airmen are working toward one goal – ensuring that when the warfighter uses a weapon in the combat or the cyber environments, it will not fail them.
“It’s about operational truth to the warfighter,” said William C. Redmond, executive director, AFOTEC. “It prepares and helps our warfighters and it honors the sacrifice mothers and fathers make when they give us their sons and daughters.”
AFOTEC’s mission is to design tests that simulate, as closely as possible, what the system will encounter in its operating environment. If it is a weapons system, then the tests will replicate the combat environment. With cyber systems, that means trying by whatever means possible to penetrate it, employ it against the operator by changing the information the user sees, or stealing that information.
The Center’s goal is to ensure that throughout a system’s life‐cycle, it will be safe, reliable, maintainable, logistically supportable, and compatible with existing systems.
“With upwards of 100 major acquisition programs moving in and out of formal testing, AFOTEC's manpower needs are never a constant,” said Maj. Gen. Matthew H. Molloy, commander, AFOTEC.
What Reserve Citizen Airmen contribute to this enterprise are their military and civilian skills. For example, AFOTEC will bring in an Airman who works in cyber systems – personnel that the active duty Air Force never seem to have enough of, but Air Force Reserve Command can provide more readily.
“Space operations and future planning is another mission area where AFOTEC benefits from reservists,” said Molloy. “They ensure the operational test mission continues without risk and interruption.”
“From enlisted to officer, reservists do everything for us from cyber security testing, space expertise, intelligence, contracting, strategic planning, flying and maintaining jets, operating and maintaining satellites, building tests and testing,” said Redmond.
This is critical, because it matches the Air Force procurement process.
“The pace in acquisition has increased,” said Molloy. “Testing has to match that.”
A good example of that is at Detachment 6 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, where all the current fighter aircraft in the Air Force inventory are being upgraded in one way or another. That means those new systems need to be tested and evaluated, which requires reaching out to subject matter experts in reserve units nationwide who work with these aircraft, because they will provide the operational knowledge that is critical in evaluation and testing.
“Reservists offer deep experience and the voice of the mature ‘been‐there‐done‐that’ operators which is applied to our test design, its execution, and subsequent analysis,” said Molloy. “They also bring mission continuity that bridges the gaps associated with the active force.”
So, whether the system is currently in the inventory, or is in the prototype or pre‐production phase, there is a need for Reserve Citizen Airmen and their skills.
And they work hard because they have the work‐ethic, professionalism, and leadership skills that AFOTEC is looking for.
Molloy and Redmond have called the Center’s push to integrate Reserve Citizen Airmen a win for both the AFOTEC workforce and for Air Force Reserve Command.
“There are men and women out there in the reserves that are fantastic,” said Redmond. “If you have a vision, they will help you create it; they will lead the way.”
One of the areas Reserve Citizen Airmen have excelled in is the cyber environment.
An example of the reserve success story is Maj. Kristen L. Hobbs. As a reservist who is assigned to the Air and Space Operations Center Program Office at Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts, she brings skills in tactical ground communications, time as an executive officer, and experience as a program manager to AFOTEC. Hobbs began working at the Center in June 2017.
“I serve as the AFOTEC Cyber Blue Team liaison between headquarters AFOTEC, AFRL (Air Force Research Laboratory), and the Cyber Blue Team,” said Hobbs. “I do the Team’s scheduling and coordinating.”
Because scheduling can be done in advance, Team members can organize their AFOTEC days into their work schedule and not have to worry about it impacting their jobs.
“The Team is a hand‐picked pool of 40 to 50 people – Maj. Hobbs helps us find them,” said Jeffrey J. Olinger, technical director, AFOTEC. “It’s about having the right subject matter experts to do the assessments.”
“They all have advanced technical degrees in engineering, computer science, mathematics, physics, systems engineering, and then a lot of them have weapon systems experience as well,” said Hobbs. “That’s what make our Teams unique and sought after. To have that big of a Team with that caliber of people, it’s not that easy to find.”
The Cyber Blue Team is comprised mostly of traditional Reserve Citizen Airmen. The reservists either work in or own engineering or cyber companies.
“They bring a wealth of wisdom and knowledge from both their military experience, as well as from their employment in the commercial sector,” said Molloy. “We reap the benefits of applying leading‐edge industry practices and state‐of‐the‐art technological solutions to our cyber military systems, ensuring they are adequately protected.”
What is unique about the Team is it is led by Air Force Reserve Col. Martha Monroe, who is stationed at Hanscom Air Force Base. In addition, all the part‐time detachment Team leads, documentation, and technical writers are also reservists.
“Col. Monroe gives us a capability we didn’t have three years ago,” said Redmond. “With our penetration teams and our adversary assessments, we are leading edge cyber testers.”
And that is important, because cyber testing has become a critical factor in test and evaluation.
“This means looking at a system as a whole, whether an airframe or a technology system, or sometimes just looking at a very small piece of that system,” said Hobbs.
Most people don’t think about it, but the F‐35 Lightening II aircraft is a cyber-enabled system. In fact, every aircraft in the Air Force, the Department of Defense, and even the civilian sector, is a cyber-system. It takes programs to run aircraft, guide the aircraft, communicate with other aircraft, etc. And that list barely scratches the surface of an aircraft’s cyber systems connectivity. Once the plane lands, there are programs that diagnose the aircraft – the list goes on.
And as anyone who works with a computer or has a smart phone knows, cyber systems are vulnerable in ways we can barely comprehend. So when it comes to cyber enabled weapon systems, if there is a vulnerability, it can have a direct impact on mission success.
“The Cyber Blue Team is responsible for looking at programs that are about to be evaluated and they determine the potential cyber vulnerabilities that should be prioritized for testing,” said Hobbs.
The Team is the Center’s front line in cyber testing and evaluation. When they meet to perform a system assessment, they start by gathering the system’s documentation to determine where potential cyber vulnerabilities could exist. The Team then does what is called a deep dive where they meet with the system’s subject matter experts to see if those vulnerabilities could exist. Then they determine what kind of mission impact those vulnerabilities could have.
“All that information is put in to the Cyber Blue Book,” said Hobbs. “The Teams prioritize mitigation requirements for program offices, and inform on cyber test plans and the development of future systems.”
The Book is a guide for both the program office, which is responsible for developing the systems, and the vulnerability assessment Cyber Blue Teams that go in and test the systems.
“AFOTEC has been able to do this, but only because of that reserve team we have,” said Olinger. “We couldn’t do any of that, we wouldn’t be building Blue Books, if it wasn’t for the reserves.”
Since the Team’s inception in 2015, they have done cyber vulnerability assessments on systems ranging from the F‐35 Lightening II, the C‐130J Hercules, the E‐3 Sentry flight deck modernization program, the Defense Enterprise Accounting and Management System, to various space programs.
“The feedback we get is just amazing: ‘The process you use, the product you create, and the team you have to do that – we haven’t seen anything like that,’” said Olinger. “The value added is phenomenal.”
“Reservists want to work for AFOTEC because of the Blue Team’s prestige,” said Hobbs. “As we move forward, I see more and more reservists being involved.”
The Team’s abilities and products have been recognized by Dr. J. Michael Gilmore, director, Operational Test and Evaluation, Office of the Secretary of Defense; and by various Air Force program offices and commands. In 2017, they were selected as Air Force Reserve Command’s nominee for the Air Force Information Dominance Gen Rawlings (Small) Team Award, which included their work on the F‐35 and the C‐130J. Their success has bred success.
“It’s really ramped up; our Cyber Blue Books have made it out to the Air Force and the demand for the Team’s services has definitely increased because of the value they provide,” said Hobbs.
“As cyber security becomes preeminent in testing, the skillsets of the total force just lend themselves to a test type operation,” said Redmond.
“It is all about connecting good talent to good mission,” said Lt. Col. Michele A. Boyko, Air Force emergency preparedness liaison officer to New Mexico and the senior individual mobilization augmentee for AFOTEC. “Watching the officers and enlisted that I helped hire have fun getting the mission done is extremely rewarding.”
Working directly for Redmond, Boyko is also AFOTEC’s reserve advisor. As a reservist, Boyko is assigned to the First Air Force’s National Security Emergency Preparedness Directorate.
“The fact that she understands human capital, makes it easier for me in my role as the executive director,” said Redmond.
“Reservists brought in on MPA (Military Personnel Appropriation) man‐days or as IMAs (Individual Mobilization Augmentees) are allocated to you to address a specific, stated mission requirement and they should be deliberately employed that way,” said Molloy.
“AFOTEC Leadership has encouraged a culture of calculated risk taking, which includes the manpower planning they have had me do,” said Boyko.
“It is critical that the host unit be purposeful about placing and employing their reserve partners,” said Molloy. “This includes carving out quality office space, information technology support, and most importantly, providing thoughtful guidance. With these basics in place, step back, watch 'em run, and stand amazed.”
This is what makes the reserve AFOTEC experience unique. An Airman can be brought on duty for a day, a week, a month, or even telecommute – it is entirely based on the individual’s schedule coupled with the Center’s needs.
“They are so efficient at telecommuting, some of them give me two‐for‐one: They’ll do twice as much work for us when they are telecommuting,” said Redmond.
Depending on the testing cycle, there are ebbs and flows to when people are needed. Because of this, it is actually easier to get reservists to come in than it is to get an active duty person.
“I set my own schedule,” said Hobbs. “AFOTEC does an awesome job of getting days for me. This year, I got 90 days and I break them up into three‐day chunks.”
This work latitude enables Hobbs to perform her duties at Hanscom, AFOTEC, and be a mom, allowing her to balance all these areas.
“When they need me, I can be there,” said Hobbs. “And when I can work, they always have things for me to do.”
This is the key to AFOTEC total force success – flexibility, availability and a willingness to shoulder the administrative load to bringing a reservist on duty.
"AFOTEC does a really good job of understanding how to use reservists and where to use them,” said Hobbs. “They are very proactive and supportive of us.”
That is demonstrated by the Center’s leadership in their support of reservists.
“You need to care about their careers just like you care about everybody else’s,” said Redmond. “Being able to help promote and professionalize them is important.”
While there is no question that AFOTEC benefits from Reserve Citizen Airmen, Air Force Reserve Command also benefits from the Airmen who serve at AFOTEC.
“As a direct reporting unit, AFOTEC touches everything,” said Hobbs. “Being part of AFOTEC allows you to see the broader picture and how everything fits together.”
“AFOTEC is a melting pot of skillsets and leadership, and those experiences will enrich them,” said Redmond. “I want to give Lt. Gen. (Maryanne) Miller a person that has been enhanced by the AFOTEC experience.”
And because of all this, Reserve Citizen Airmen gain in being part of that unique total force experience at AFOTEC.