Air Force Operational Energy has breakthrough year

  • Published
  • By Corrie Poland

2021 proved to be a pivotal year for Air Force Operational Energy as programs received unprecedented support – enabling many long-hoped-for initiatives to get the greenlight and progress to the next stage of development.

“A tremendous amount of effort has led up to this year when we were able to secure funding for operational energy efficiency programs vital to the future of the Air Force,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of Air Force Operational Energy, Roberto Guerrero. “These initiatives make a lot of sense. They improve our capability, reduce our costs, mitigate our fuel logistics supply risks, and increase readiness and lethality.   These initiatives also support the administration's focus on climate,” he continued. “We hope this spurs even more interest in optimizing the Air Force through operational energy initiatives.”

Here are some of the ways the Air Force optimized aviation fuel usage and worked to mitigate operational risk in the past year:

Operational Energy Efficiency Programs Funded for FY22

In previous years, the Department of the Air Force relied on congressional add funding to pay for all operational energy programs. However, the National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2022, signed into law by President Biden in December and awaiting appropriation in 2022, allocated $49 million in funding toward Air Force operational energy initiatives.

The new flow of money will begin to finance low-cost and high return-on-investment aerodynamic technologies like Microvanes™ or Finlets™ on the C-17 Globemaster III, KC-135 Stratotanker, and C-130 Hercules, KC-135 vertical windshield wipers, control-surface rigging analysis across the mobility fleet, and propulsion sustainment initiatives.

It will also fund an education and training program launching this month, known as the Mission Execution Excellence Program, which aims to increase Airmen’s awareness of operational energy challenges and incentivize more fuel-efficient behavior.

For the pilot phase, MEEP will focus on the heaviest fuel consumers in the Air Force, C-17s, as well as other airframes, and will educate pilots, operational planners, maintainers, and logisticians on how to improve energy effectiveness during missions and training.

Set the standard for logistical realism in wargaming

The DAF extended logistical realism in planning and execution of the Air Force Chief of Staff’s Title 10 wargame, Global Engagement  2021/2022, setting a new gaming standard for playing in logistically-constrained air power scenarios.

Subject matter expertise combined with modeling and simulation advancements enabled participants from across all services, including Special Operations Forces, to assess the logistical supportability of operations – from force deployment and sustainment to recovery from force attrition and logistics network disruption.

Although COVID-19 postponed GE 21 execution, the wargaming team plans to implement the logistical advancements in GE 22, Futures Game 22, Future Air Mobility Tabletop Exercise 22, and Long Duration Logistics Wargame 23.

The exercises will help inform critical decisions for advanced capabilities, future force postures, and investment strategies at the senior leader level to include a more informed understanding of fuel logistics supply chain issues.  

Expanded fuel use data pipeline to all Air Force aircraft

Prior to Air Force Operational Energy’s data strategy, first introduced in 2018, there was limited insight into how aviation fuel was used across the force.

As of December 2021, the Air Force now collects and analyzes data for 57% of all aircraft fuel use to better detect efficiency gaps and operational risk while enabling automated and near real-time access to mission-related data.

For example, sortie-level data analysis revealed that some heavy aircraft are landing with up to 30,000 more pounds of fuel than required on average – even when accounting for divert fuel.

With the heavier weight, carrying excess fuel increases fuel burn by 3.5% per year and puts added stress on airframes, leading to increased maintenance man hours and lower readiness.  

By identifying the root cause of these practices, the Air Force will be able fund solutions that address the non-optimized mission execution and thereby increase readiness and lethality.

Funded and supported scheduling software to support Airmen and service members  

Puckboard, a mobile and collaborative scheduling software tool, successfully transitioned from a wing-level to a major command-level effort.

Started as a product of Tron Air Force, an Airmen-driven software and enablement organization in Hawaii, Puckboard is now fully owned and operated by Air Mobility Command and is in the process of transitioning into a long-term program of record.

It saw tremendous growth and adoption throughout 2021, expanding from just over 100 users to 15,000 and scheduling over 100,000 events for 383 organizations in just one year, according to Captain Christian Brechbuhl and Major Eric Robinson, government leads for the effort.

The tool, informed from operational user input, allows planners to match aircraft commanders, pilots, and loadmasters with available flights that complete currency requirements such as aerial refueling and tactical training events.

The digital interface enables members to visualize flight schedules while considering required qualifications, aircrew preference, and crew rest, as well as log training data from electronic flight bags, visualize training logging issues quickly, and soon will automatically push that data to the Aviation Resource Management System.  

Over the past year, the team released 35 major features including Puckboard Logging for post mission paperwork and now supports users from Air Mobility Command, Air Combat Command, Pacific Air Forces, U.S. Air Forces in Europe, Air Force Special Operations Command, the United States Space Force, and the Marine Corps.

The KC-135 acquires new fan duct panels

In 2021, Air Force Operational Energy 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 and is anticipated to grow to greater than $5.5 million per year once implemented across the fleet.

The upgraded fan ducts will also help avoid approximately 1,700 maintenance hours per year, saving $1.85 million, which is expected to grow to $9 million annually as more panels require replacement.

Demonstrated how 21st century wash methods improve engine life and power

Air Force Operational Energy identified and sponsored AeroCore Technologies LLC for an AFWERX Small Business Innovation Research award to demonstrate how nucleated foam washing on the Air Force Special Operations Command CV-22 Osprey engines reduces specific fuel consumption and exhaust gas temperature, lowers maintenance costs, decreases carbon emissions, and extends time on wing.

The results showed significant performance improvement of over 5% on average, leading to the expansion of the wash onto the AFSOC C-130 platforms.

Fuel flow data on the AFSOC C-130's involved in the program are showing an improvement in aircraft fuel efficiency, and if applied to all Air Force C-130s, would result in a $7 million annual cost avoidance.

Separately, we tested the effect of adding detergent to standard aircraft water washing on Air National Guard KC-135s at Rickenbacker Air Force Base, Ohio, which resulted in a significant reduction in engine temperature.

Additionally, we pursued a change to the engine wash contract covering the KC-135, C-5 Galaxy, B-52 Stratofortress and E-3 Sentry aircraft, which will occur in 2022. 

This change will help to collect data and complete follow-on tests between nucleated foam and detergent washing, allowing the Air Force to conduct a business-case analysis for the different wash methods on large high-bypass engines.

Air Force Operational Energy seeks to optimize Air Force operations and improve combat capability through operational energy solutions, innovative technologies, and data-informed processes.