ASC NEWS: Air Force Announces New 'E-Series' Designation for Platforms

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

Boeing photo

The Air Force is trying to boost its pursuit of digitally engineered platforms by giving them a new classification known as the "e-Series," the head of the service announced Sept. 14.

“Digital engineering enables companies to design, build and test aircraft, satellites or weapon systems completely online,” said Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett. “To inspire companies to embrace the possibilities presented by digital engineering, today the Department of the Air Force is announcing a new weapon system designator — the e-Series.”

Digital engineering allows for researchers and developers to iterate thousands of potential designs for a weapon system, she said during remarks at the Air Force Association’s Virtual Air, Space & Cyber Conference. The procedure can develop composite materials without mixing chemicals, test countless sets of conditions in air or space and deliver products for manufacturing in a digital file no larger than an email attachment.

Additionally, by lowering development costs, digital engineering reduces barriers to market entry, Barrett said.

“By establishing digital prototyping, problems are identified and solved quickly, and timetables are collapsed,” she said. “By reducing R&D infrastructure, nimble startups spanning all industries can contribute to national defense.”

Advancements are currently underway in digital engineering for hypersonics, AI-enabled command-and-control, a supersonic Air Force One, flying cars, cube satellites and more, she said.

The first “e” designator is being given to the T-7A Red Hawk advanced pilot training system, which is being built by a Boeing-Saab team.

“The eT-7 is just the first in our vision of a long line of e-planes and e-sats,” she said.

Barrett compared the Air Force’s e-series initiative with its storied experimental X-planes.

“For 73 years, the entire history of the Air Force X-planes have represented technological innovation,” she said. “The e-plane and e-sat will join them in making history and ensuring airmen and space professionals have modern tools to protect our nation.”

Meanwhile, Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown — who recently took the helm as the service's top officer — said the military is at an inflection point. The central theme of his strategic approach to the future of the Air Force is to accelerate change, he said.

“The world is changing. We're in a very dynamic environment. We're taking various actions in response,” he said. There is “a window of opportunity to change, to control and exploit the air domain to the standard our nation expects and requires.”

If the service fails to adapt, it risks losses in a number of areas, Brown said.

“[We] risk losing in a great power competition, risk losing in a high-end fight, risk losing quality airmen, losing budget dollars, our credibility and aspects of our national security,” he said.

There are a number of factors that are pushing the need to adapt, he said. These include the National Defense Strategy, the standing up of the new Space Force, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, racial disparities and budgetary pressures.

“We have two options — we can admire the problem and talk about how tough this is going to be, … or we can take action,” Brown said. “I vote for the latter. We must take action. We must accelerate change, or lose.”

Brown is embarking on what he calls an “ABCD” approach and focusing on airmen, bureaucracy, competition and design implementation.

Personnel are the Air Force’s most valuable resource, he asserted.

“Our mission is to empower and develop leaders,” he said. “Officer, enlisted and civilian — we need to recruit, assess, retain, and develop each one of them." The Air Force is continuing to adjust and evaluate its talent management processes, he added.

To empower airmen, the service must address issues with its bureaucracy, Brown noted.

“We need to take a different approach," he said. "We need to make decisions at the speed of relevance. Those decisions need to be informed by analysis and be made in a timely manner to outpace our competitors' decision cycle."

The air staff could also use a shakeup, he said.

“We need to amend our decision processes. We need to make decisions with an enterprise-wide approach versus in silos,” Brown said. “I want to make decisions for the good of the entire Air Force, not for just parts of the Air Force.”

How the service can do that is through increased collaboration and communication across its staff, he said.

The Air Force must also focus on implementing the National Defense Strategy, which listed both Russia and China as great power competitors.

“Every one of our airmen need to understand our connection to the mission and how we contribute to competition," Brown said. "It doesn't matter if you're air crew, medical technician, ... an intel analyst or a maintainer."

If the service doesn’t understand its adversary, it will show up with the wrong capability at the wrong place at the wrong time, he said.

Design implementation must also be a key focus area, Brown said. The Air Force needs to continue the design work for future capabilities that is being spearheaded by the service’s Warfighting Integration Capability organization.

“We must accelerate the operational concepts and the force structure that they're laying out,” he said. “I fully realize that future budgets will drive us to make some difficult force structure decisions. Whatever decisions we make, they need to be affordable, defensible, based on analysis and congressionally supported. We must transition from the force we have today for the force that's required, and it's focused on China and Russia.”

Topics: Air Force News, Air Power

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