Rapid Test: Responding to the Warfighter

  • Published
  • By Katherine C. Gandara
  • Headquarters Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center Chief of Public Affairs
When is faster better? In the warfighter environment, faster is better when it saves lives.

Today's enemies are smart and adaptive and this means the battlefield capabilities of our forces must respond rapidly to changing tactics and techniques. Rapid test is designed to answer the urgent needs of the Combatant Commanders to ensure mission success.

There are aggressive acquisition efforts underway to reduce the time it takes to identify effective and suitable, mission capable solutions and quickly field them. Although normal pace acquisitions continue today, to prepare for the future, there are agile tools available to address near-term requirements. They include Joint Concept Technical Demonstrations and formal Urgent Operational Need acquisitions. From the perspective of the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center, they mean the same thing...short notice and rapid response.

Typical AFOTEC early influence processes, operational test planning and execution time lines pace traditional acquisitions and often run for several years. Short notice, urgent needs demand AFOTEC possess the capability to react to accelerated warfighter time lines.

"The AFOTEC approach to rapid test emphasizes speed and flexibility to respond to short-notice requests," said Col. Kevin McElroy, AFOTEC Director of Operations. The AFOTEC rapid test process formally recognizes the need to right-size the planning process without sacrificing test design rigor.

"While rapid test presents challenges, it does not limit AFOTEC's ability to plan and execute credible test," said Mr. Grant Schaber, AFOTEC Deputy Director for Operations. "We identify the need to get involved, bring the right team together, and tailor our efforts to stay in step with the community while lead turning what is required from AFOTEC. A good example is the Laser Joint Direct Attack Munition program, which is a formal Urgent Operational Need program. This program will take approximately six months from involvement determination to test execution."

Rapid test success comes from recognizing the rapid need and quickly tailoring processes to expedite involvement determinations and test planning. While AFOTEC stays true to the fundamental operations-based test design approach, other process steps are tailored to expedite planning. This approach can be applied regardless of program maturity, across various operations, and on systems ranging from aircraft to information systems.

Rapid test processes apply to less traditional effort as well. AFOTEC's capability to respond quickly to diverse needs was illustrated on the Air and Missile Defense Improvement Strategy demonstration. Although not a formal program, this demonstration was aimed at minimizing the potential for fratricide resulting from inadvertent friendly missile launches. Air Combat Command requested AFOTEC involvement and within only a couple of weeks AFOTEC had made an involvement determination and provided a test design which addressed Air Force concerns. AFOTEC then supported the demonstration with subject matter experts, and the test design provided by AFOTEC generated useful, operationally relevant information.

Another good example is the March 2007 AFOTEC-led assessment on an initial phase of the U.S. Strategic Command Data Exposure pilot program. This pilot program aims at improving the visibility, accessibility, and usability of data and services from multiple warfighter information systems that support USSTRATCOM's command and control, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, and integrated missile defense missions. The Combatant Commander asked AFOTEC to conduct a data exposure assessment to assess USSTRATCOM's progress towards net-centricity. As a pathfinder effort for DoD data sharing, this program is the first of its kind to be assessed with a rapid test approach.

"In addition to the challenges associated with a rapid test, the Data Exposure Assessment was also outside the traditional scope of operational testing for AFOTEC" said Lt. Col. Matt Frandsen, Chief of AFOTEC's Early Test Operations Division. "Therefore, the test team needed to think creatively and determine what to test and how to meet USSTRATCOM's vigorous timeline." The test team compressed the typical 18-month process into five weeks.

AFOTEC's process is agile and responsive, as it enables the Center to plan, execute, and report results to acquisition decision makers and warfighting customers on time lines that inform their decisions. When our Airmen and Joint partners need it now, rapid test efforts support quick fielding of operationally relevant capabilities.