COVID-19 NEWS: Air Force Weapon Programs on Track Despite Pandemic

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

Air Force photo by Paul Holcomb

While the world is gripped by the devastating economic and societal impacts of the novel coronavirus pandemic, major Air Force weapon programs are still on track, said the service’s chief of staff April 1.

“As we review every one of the programs, every one of them is [in] a little bit different state in terms of tension going forward,” said Gen. David Goldfein. However, “I have not had anyone yet come to me and say, ‘Hey, this one is on the edge.’”

Officials, such as Will Roper, the Air Force’s assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, and his military deputy Lt. Gen. Duke Z. Richardson, have been working with industry to gauge the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the defense industrial base and supply chains, Goldfein said.

“What they've come to me and reported to me and the secretary [of defense] is, 'Hey, here's where they're struggling and where we can help. Here's where they're doing really well and we can leverage,’” Goldfein said. “We're trying to just balance and manage this together as we go forward.”

Across the country, state and local governments have implemented various orders that have shuttered non-essential businesses and required citizens to socially distance themselves from others to mitigate the growth of the coronavirus pandemic. That has created issues for the defense industrial base, even though it is considered a critical infrastructure sector. 

Goldfein said he has been in touch with a number of defense industry CEOs and there are ongoing conversations with key partners to determine how the Air Force can help keep production lines moving, he said during an online event series hosted by the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute called “Aerospace Nation.”

“In this world now of social distancing and COVID, how do we ensure that we emerge at the back end with a defense industrial base that is healthy and able to keep the parts coming, keep the supplies going and keep the new modernization [programs] on track that we need?” he said. “We're working fairly aggressively with them.”

The Air Force is taking those conversations and relaying industry’s concerns to the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer, Ellen Lord, and others at the office of the secretary of defense, Goldfein said.

Each company is having to make adjustments, just as the Air Force is doing internally, he said.

For firms that are able to implement social distancing on their production lines “those seem to be doing well enough and operating where they can get the workforce in to be able to continue the work,” Goldfein said. However, “others that require more closer proximity are struggling.”

Companies that are based in hotspot areas such as New York — which is now the epicenter of the virus in the United States — are going to be struggling much more than a company in Kansas or in the heartland, he added.

“What we're trying to do is to make sure that we can keep as many of these companies up and operating with income flow that we can,” Goldfein said.

Led by Roper, the Air Force has for some time been embracing pitch days where the service can put small businesses on contract for new and innovative technology. That effort is continuing despite the virus, Goldfein said.

“We've shifted from in place pitch days to online, but it hasn't slowed us down,” he said. It “is pretty amazing how many contracts we're writing on the spot based on what we hear and then keeping these companies going to produce the kinds of parts that we need.”

Topics: Air Force News

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