For those familiar with U.S. Air Force aircraft, the Stealth fighter is synonymous with Holloman Air Force Base (AFB), N.M. However, with 2008 marking the departure of the last F-117A Nighthawk from Holloman AFB, the door was closed on this unique mission. At the same time, the arrival was announced of three of the Air Forces’ most advanced aircraft: the F-22A Raptor, MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA).
To make these beddowns an operational reality, Holloman AFB is in the midst of a significant transformation involving the construction or renovation of buildings and infrastructure against stringent deadlines. These efforts will ensure the U.S. has mission-ready F-22A Raptor fighter aircraft and a vital RPA training capability. More than $160 million is planned to be invested in the base, transforming the 49th Wing’s ability to support these new missions. Keeping the planning and construction of these vital weapons system programs on vector has taken a strong collaborative effort between Holloman AFB’s engineers and numerous stakeholders.
To ensure a new weapon system beddown will succeed, the Air Force performs a deliberate planning process assessing all facets of the beddown—from supply chain for aircraft parts to schooling, new buildings, housing, utilities, environmental impact assessments and community support. Through this process, the requirements for capital investment for renovation and construction of new buildings and infrastructure are determined.
What makes the beddowns at Holloman AFB unique is that the operational units were actively flying with personnel and families arriving while the planning process was still underway. This created dynamic challenges for engineers, architects, planners and program managers leading the planning, design and construction of the required buildings and infrastructure. And it yielded four important lessons:
Lesson 1. Building relationships with the stakeholders will allow program managers and planners to overcome both resource and execution challenges.
If a solid acquisition strategy is not in place before executing a large construction program, flexibility is imperative, as is the early and frequent incorporation of all key stakeholders: higher headquarters, executing agents, contracting officers, and users or financiers. It seems obvious that a well-planned acquisition strategy should be developed for execution of such a significant construction program. However, this isn’t always the case when faced with tight timelines, a need to support ongoing operations and recurring facility sustainment.
At Holloman AFB, senior engineers worked feverishly to find avenues through which to award the program comprised of more than 60 projects valued at nearly $130 million. They did this by being flexible and exploring options beyond the normal project execution methods—for example the Air Force’s Simplified Acquisition of Base Engineering Requirements (SABER)—and instead selecting a myriad of design and execution agents through various U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) districts, the Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment (AFCEE) and the Air Force Civil Engineer Support Agency. The need to execute construction funds quickly and get the aircraft units activated and operational brought significant pressure and the beddown programs required a fast track. Through four separate government design and execution entities, Holloman AFB program managers successfully designed and awarded projects meeting the fast-track target dates.
In dealing with several new stakeholders, however, two facts became quickly evident to the Holloman ASB engineers. First, each acquisition avenue has its own personality: the behaviors, character and values of each executing agent accompany the acquisition. Additionally, the behaviors, character and values of each program manager within the executing agent affect the acquisition. With four executing agents came a group of people each with his or her own ideas about how important the Holloman AFB acquisitions ranked in comparison to the other acquisitions on the task bar. Second, the proximity of the executing agent to the program he or she is executing can cause challenges. A virtual presence is an absolute absence in the realm of executing a construction program. To truly understand a project requirement, one must see the site with one’s eyes, meet and talk with the engineers and clients involved, and fully comprehend how the project factors in the clients’ big picture, end-state need.
Busy schedules, multiple projects and distance between the home office and Holloman AFB caused a myriad of design and execution challenges for the execution agent program managers. Without direct face-to-face engagement, overcoming interpersonal dynamics and understanding the importance of acquisitions within a larger context cannot occur. Holloman AFB’s engineers learned quickly to build relationships, knowing that it would spell the difference between success and failure with the projects. Teleconferences and, when possible, visits to the executing agents’ offices or at Holloman AFB, were implemented to keep communications open and expand the relationships of the players.
Lesson 2. When executing a large construction program, spend time on marketing the program to executing agents and business alike.
The returns on investment, both tangible (dollars saved) and intangible (relationships, communications), will be immeasurable. Equally important is creating a marketing plan that ensures executing agents and qualified firms are informed of the program opportunities. To do this, you need a marketing plan, which serves two purposes: to better inform executing agent program mangers about the importance of the program and individual projects contained within and to reduce overall program costs through increased competition among firms.
In one successful example, Holloman AFB program managers illustrated how specific projects played into the beddown of the F-22A and, in concert with the executing agents at the USACE Albuquerque District, achieved bid savings on the renovation of a hangar to be used for low-observable maintenance. The savings allowed the award of options, increasing from two to three the number of bays available for this vital maintenance task that will have a direct, positive impact on the operational mission. The successful marketing of this particular requirement ensured Holloman AFB program managers and the executing agent were in harmony.
This harmony must also extend beyond the executing agent to business. Despite the Air Force not being “in business,” it is. The size of an annual construction program at most installations outpaces the spending from all but the most vibrant and economically diverse of surrounding communities. It also surpasses the revenue and net worth of most firms. So extending the marketing of the program to local and national architectural, engineering and construction firms is absolutely essential to ensuring a diverse listing of qualified firms that are aware of upcoming opportunity.
At Holloman AFB, marketing to the public sector didn’t occur until late in the program, despite the cast of more than 32 design and construction firms actively involved on the installation. However, through presentations at Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) events at the local and regional levels as well as presentations in the local community, Holloman AFB’s engineers marketed the change in Air Force mission at the base and accompanying design and construction opportunities. This resulted in numerous requests for information from interested firms, including those that had no idea of the magnitude of the construction program at the base.
Lesson 3. When faced with a challenging program, motivated and wise staff members will always spell the difference between success and failure.
A flexible acquisition strategy and a targeted marketing plan are important elements to successful program execution; however, you have to have the right people working the program to ensure success. The more complex the program, the greater the need for program managers and engineers who can be flexible, make their own decisions and employ the interpersonal skills to create relationships with the stakeholders.
While Holloman AFB enjoyed a knowledgeable and qualified staff of program managers at the beginning of the beddown programs, there were simply not enough skilled experts to cover all requirements. The fix came through contract program managers who brought industry ideas and concepts to the team. Not only were the industry concepts useful, the fact that contract program managers could be quickly brought on board ensured the success of the beddown programs. Hiring qualified people at Holloman AFB’s remote location has always been a challenge and the Air Force’s use of contractors to quickly fill a vital expertise gap at Holloman AFB influenced the program’s success. By leveraging contract support, Holloman AFB was able to bring energetic engineers and architects from outside the normal hiring pool. These individuals brought with them the latest industry insight and emerging technology.
The best example of this came about nearly by accident. The new military construction guidance requiring building information modeling (BIM) for all new construction was completely outside the comfort zone of Holloman AFB engineers, AFCEE representatives and USACE personnel charged with meeting the goal. Overhearing the discussion, one of the contractors, fresh out of a leading university architecture program, said, “You know, I’ve got BIM software and my last school BIM project is on my laptop in the car, should I grab it and give a quick walkthrough?” These additional resources gave Holloman AFB a critical extra set of eyes from a different perspective on projects that often proved to be the validation step needed along the way.
Lesson 4. When executing a large beddown program, strong relationships can overcome any challenge.
Every construction project faces challenges, unforeseen situations or site conditions, or any myriad of unplanned emergencies. The Holloman AFB beddown experience is no different in this regard. Something as seemingly simple as which direction aircraft will face in their shelters can have enormous impact on a project as well as on the long-term viability of the mission itself. In one example, two diverging assumptions by Holloman AFB and USACE engineers continued far along into the design phase of a series of 10 projects worth $35 million. When this confusion came to light, it was solved quickly and effortlessly by both parties only because of the long-standing personal relationships and mutual professional respect built among the stakeholders. When the using agency raised a flag, the designer knew it was valid and required based solely on the relationship.
This is perhaps a universal lesson, applicable to more than engineering programs. When time has been invested in building solid relationships with clients, executing agents, the staff, senior leadership and others, no challenge is unmanageable. The relationship earns respect among the players and, when built appropriately, everyone is pulling for everyone else to succeed. Holloman AFB’s engineers, program managers and senior leadership invested time to cultivate relationships with executing agents and using agencies, conducting quarterly review groups with all key decision makers. Interaction with contractors, maintained daily on the job site, was expanded into social events made possible through SAME events. In the end, success of the beddown programs was built on the foundation of strong relationships.
Challenges deliver opportunities for those willing to work collaboratively with all stakeholders and those willing to seek non-standard solutions. Despite several challenges in Holloman AFB’s F-22A and Remotely Piloted Aircraft beddowns, both programs have been a success, with the two missions reaching initial operating capability in October 2009. The opportunities seized by the engineers at Holloman AFB to make this a reality will be useful in the coming months, as Holloman AFB yet again prepares for the departure of a mission—the F-22A Raptor—and executes a new mission beddown for the F-16 Falcon.
Future opportunities on this new beddown will come through perhaps the most important lesson to draw from the Holloman AFB experience: People and relationships yield success every time. With quality program managers well-supported by senior leadership, the relationships vital to success will continue. These relationships will provide the foundation upon which solutions to problems can be built and Holloman AFB will again witness another successful beddown program completion and the start of a new chapter in its history.