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MISSION: EFFICIENCY EAFB MEETS CHALLENGES.

Byline: Jim Skeen Staff Writer

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE - Budget pressures, shrinking availability of radio frequencies and competition for workers are among the issues Edwards is grappling with as it tests weapons systems for a new century.

With Edwards' parent command, Air Force Materiel Command, receiving 51 cents of every dollar the Air Force gets, there is tremendous pressure to get the most efficient use of those dollars, said Maj. Gen. Richard ``Dick'' Reynolds, the base's top officer.

``This is a center that does an important job for the Air Force. This is a center performing its mission every day to the satisfaction of its customer. This is a center trying to become better to better serve the customer,'' Reynolds said in an interview in his base office.

In at least two situations - the radio frequency spectrum squeeze and in hiring - Edwards is in the forefront of Defense Department initiatives aimed at easing those problems, the general said.

Edwards is exploring ``re-engineering,'' a buzz word that means looking at the way each function on the base is now done to determine whether there are more efficient ways to do that work. Edwards formed a re-engineering team, with Reynolds as the leader, that examines every function on Edwards to try to find more efficient ways of conducting business.

An example of re-engineering are the changes made at the Test Pilot School that resulted in savings of $2.6 million yearly and, Reynolds said, better-trained graduates. Changes include using lower-cost aircraft, reducing the number of student field trips and reducing the number of instructor pilots.

Spectrum crunch

Edwards is feeling the pinch of what is a global problem - a shrinking availability of radio spectrum frequencies that are needed to send and receive information from test aircraft.

The pinch is coming from two directions. The first is a growing demand by the commercial sector, fueled by the telecommunications revolution, for more space on the spectrum. In the past eight years, the federal government has turned 305 megahertz of radio spectrum frequencies over to the Federal Communications Commission for auction to the private sector.

Another factor is that the amount of information today's weapons systems, such as the F-22 fighter, are generating puts a greater demand on the spectrum than with aircraft in past years.

By summer 2001, Edwards' communication needs for supporting such programs as the F-22 and joint strike fighter will exceed the number of available frequencies.

The reduction in available frequencies will force many programs to be delayed or possibly canceled, increasing costs and reducing the effectiveness of the test and evaluation process, Edwards officials say.

Edwards is at the forefront of one Defense Department effort to try to get more use out of the existing frequencies through the Advanced Range Telemetry Program. The $20 million development program is looking at techniques to vary the size and frequency of radio waves to pack in more information.

``We're trying to put more data through our data pipelines,'' Reynolds said.

Edwards officials are optimistic the program will help the base meet its telemetry demands.

The people

Edwards is also at the forefront of another program aimed at easing what is a militarywide issue: attracting and retaining skilled employees. It is tougher to find people in scientific and engineering fields because of competition from the better-paying private sector, base officials say.

``I'm in a competitive job market. I have to attract, train and retain quality people,'' Reynolds said. ``In today's economy, there's nothing easy about that.''

Edwards is one of two units in the Air Force participating in a demonstration project aimed at providing more flexibility in hiring, promoting and paying staff. About 2,100 positions - roughly two-thirds of the flight test center's work force - are included in the program.

The project, which began in February 1999, groups civilian defense worker pay grades into broad pay bands, increasing the flexibility in assigning work and pay. Raises can be made based on the contribution a worker makes to the base's mission.

There are other incentives for working at Edwards that are intangible, such as having an opportunity to work with cutting-edge aircraft and serving the nation, the general said.

``Are there people who want to get close to the F-22, the (unmanned spy plane) Global Hawk? Yes, there are,'' Reynolds said.

Physical plant

One area where there does not appear to be any short-term relief is in the area of preventive maintenance on base facilities. The Air Force opted to reallocate its dollars for preventive maintenance toward other critical areas, including readiness and improving the quality of life for its service members.

In his budget message to Congress, Secretary of the Air Force F. Whitten Peters said the service now has a $4 billion backlog in maintenance work.

Edwards focuses first on safety, then on what is needed to get its flight test mission done in determining what items it can fix, and then on other items, Reynolds said.

Edwards spends about $3.4 million a year in building repairs, primarily on heating and cooling systems, roofing, exterior paint and handicap access, base officials say.

Another $3 million a year is spent repairing water, sewer, gas and electric lines and generators.

The base also plans to spend $13.8 million through 2006 to make major road repairs.

Base officials say they want eventually to replace a number of buildings where maintenance is a problem, including the base fitness center and homes more than 40 years old in some of Edwards' housing areas. The base would also like to replace five 1950s-era support buildings with a consolidated support facility.

Aging aircraft

Edwards tests cutting-edge aircraft, but some of its support aircraft are among the oldest in the Air Force. Edwards is working on efforts to get more life out of its support fleet.

Among the efforts is a three-year plan to modify 14 older-model F-16s to extend their service life from 5,000 hours to 8,000 hours. That effort will cost $1 million per airplane.

Edwards is also looking at switching the jet engines of seven of the aircraft to a newer, safer and less maintenance-intensive engine. That effort will cost $1.65 million per airplane.

Base officials want to install newer engines on some of the F-15s used for support work, but there is no funding for that effort at this point.

Edwards is also looking at options for its fleet of four F-117 stealth fighters. Three of the four aircraft are YF-117 prototypes built to preproduction specifications.

Maintenance of those aircraft often requires one-of-a-kind treatment because standard parts are not compatible.

Edwards will be making recommendations on future investments for the F-117s to the F-117 program management later this year, base officials say.

CAPTION(S):

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Photo: (color) Richard Reynolds

Commander, EAFB
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 14, 2000
Words:1129
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