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Reserve Hypersonics Bullpen Taking Air Force Higher, Further, Faster

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Shannon Mann

A group of individual mobilization augmentees are moving faster than the speed of sound to help shape the Air Force’s hypersonics program.

In September 2023, operational crews from Air Force Global Strike Command and Air Combat Command gathered at Edwards Air Force Base, California to participate in hypersonic weapon familiarization training. Developing systems that operate at more than five times the speed of sound is a priority research and development area for the Department of Defense, and the Air Force Reserve is coming to the table with its own novel approach to support active-component demand signals and AFRC priorities in developing hypersonic science and technology.

The Air Force Reserve team of IMAs, known today as the Individual Reserve Strategy Office (ISO) Reserve Hypersonics Team Bullpen, formed in 2018 when a small group of Air Force Reservists with civilian expertise in hypersonics started meeting informally under the leadership of Maj. Gen. John Olsen, who then was assigned as the mobilization assistant to the commander of the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center.

Another member of the group, Col. Lance Baxter, worked as a government civilian as the director of the Hypersonics Combined Test Force, and as a branch chief for the Hypersonics Systems Test Branch at Arnold AFB, Tennessee. Joined by nearly a dozen other IMAs with experience in hypersonics, the group knew they could create synergy through their experiences working in the Reserve, industry and academia to propel the force in this critical competency.

Baxter explained that while his IMA and civilian positions were directly focused on hypersonics, it wasn’t until he was assigned to the Air Force Research Laboratory as an IMA that he was brought into another aspect of the Air Force’s efforts in hypersonic science and technology. That’s when he knew that he and his fellow IMAs could facilitate, accelerate and ensure the Defense Department had broader access to hypersonics expertise.

“The communities were disconnected and often difficult to bring together,” Baxter said. “There is a significant number of full-time government, civilian, military and contractors working in hypersonics, but there is no one deliberately connecting the various scattered equities in hypersonics that are separated by organizational, geographic, security, contractual and/or bureaucratic barriers.”

And so, the Reserve Hypersonics Team was born.

Aware of the informal hypersonics group, the IMA Strategic Review Team saw the strategic value of organizing a collective team of experts and sought out an opportunity to formalize and replicate the Reserve Hypersonics Team model.

In November 2022, as part of the IMA Strategic Review Team’s recommendation to Lt. Gen. John Healy, chief of the Air Force Reserve and AFRC commander, the team included a line of effort to prototype bullpen teams.

Based on its interactions with the Reserve Hypersonics Team, the IMA Strategic Review Team had a model that demonstrated some IMAs had education and/or civilian work experience in areas valuable to national security that transcended their specialty codes and units of assignment. The Reserve Hypersonics Team was structured to connect the Defense Department, industry and academia hypersonics communities. The IMA Strategic Review Team designed the bullpen concept to replicate this structure and provide IMAs with high-demand skill sets a dedicated Reserve billet where they can apply their unique talents to critical and emerging DoD mission sets for a period of time before returning to their core career field.

“The Reserve Hypersonics Team offered to partner with us and let us dig into how they were doing business,” said Col. Kay Beigh, program manager for the IMA Strategic Review Team and chief of the Individual Reserve Strategy Office. “We are taking what they have done, formalizing the organizational structure so we can replicate it. The ISO is establishing two other bullpen prototypes to place IMAs in change agent positions, transforming the Air Force and Air Force Reserve for the future.”

To formalize ISO bullpens, the team authored the bullpen concept of operations which creates four or five strategic, mission-area focused bullpen teams that would serve as change agents for roughly three to five years.

The ISO has also partnered with the active-duty Pathfinder initiative by establishing one enduring bullpen, providing an IMA billet to Pathfinder-board selected Reserve Airmen. While the ISO is prototyping the Reserve Hypersonics Team bullpen, emerging ISO bullpens will tap into the exceptional talent of officer and enlisted members, cementing the Reserve’s role as brokers of crucial subject-matter experts in emerging and critical fields.

“ISO bullpens create a network that wouldn’t have a way to come together via the active-component construct,” said Maj. Sharon Messina, Reserve Hypertonics Team chief of staff. “The level of talent the program offers would be cost-prohibitive, difficult to source and even harder to develop on a three-to-four PCS cycle. Our IMAs are actively working in the field, and we can provide support across the DoD enterprise without traditional stovepipes, and can also foster partnerships with our international allies.”

Messina, along with her colleagues on the Reserve Hypersonics Team, are working hard to educate, facilitate and advance hypersonics. In August 2023, the team engaged with the Joint Hypersonics Transition Office at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana.

Team members provided technology updates and threat assessments, s well as identified top issues facing the government and industry. The team is prototyping “Warp Speed Collaboration,” an effort that uses their talents to rapidly answer questions and identify solutions to problems that have long plagued the field.

In addition, the Reserve Hypersonics Team and Joint Hypersonics Transition Office have worked together to identify workforce development opportunities and K-12 outreach efforts that target the next generation of hypersonics professionals.

From collaboration circles to the classroom to the flightline, Reserve Hypersonics Team members are actively engaging in multiple areas of hypersonics. Team member 2nd Lt. Javier Urzay supported the hypersonic weapon familiarization training at Edwards in September 2023.

As a core member of the team and IMA lead for space-based detection of hypersonic weapons at Space Systems Command, he served as an assistant instructor teaching fundamentals and tactics for operational crews of the B-1, B-2, B-52 and F-15E.

“This training increased operational readiness and familiarized multiple Air Force communities with advanced hypersonic weapons,” said Urzay, who holds a PhD in aerospace engineering and has more than 20 years of experience in research on hypersonics, supersonic combustion and rocket propulsion.

“Establishing bullpens and utilizing the unique skillsets of IMAs is in direct alignment with the chief of the Air Force Reserve’s vision for Reservists to be ready now and postured to transform for the future,” Beigh said. “The ISO Reserve Hypersonics Team offers a prime example of how IMAs are responding to strategic priorities and creating synergy to unite and mold the landscape for our nation’s most pressing demand signals.”

(Mann is a member of the IMA Strategic Review Team.)