Agile, Ready and Flexible
After more than a decade of war, Air Force Civil Engineers are leveraging organizational changes and examining lessons learned to ensure preparedness for the demands of the future.
By Col. Edwin Oshiba, M.SAME, USAF, and Lt. Col. Matthew Brennan, USAF
As the U.S. Air Force responsibly draws down from more than a decade of war in the Middle East, takes steps to protect the nation’s economic vitality, and continues to support the Defense Strategic Guidance in a world of accelerating change, we face an inflection point for how to properly organize, train, equip and employ our Airmen Engineer Force for the future.
Capitalizing on lessons learned, as well as getting back to some of the basics that have long been a staple of what civil engineers do in a contingency environment, will assure that Air Force Civil Engineers remain agile, ready and flexible into the next decade.
The mission of Air Force Civil Engineers is to provide effective and efficient combat platforms to our warfighters by opening, establishing, sustaining, operating, protecting, recovering and ultimately closing sustainable installations—both in garrison and expeditionary environments. By leveraging the skills of our engineers, we provide these effective and efficient combat platforms to ensure continued mission success today and into the future.
To efficiently execute this mission, Air Force Civil Engineers adopted a unique and proven organizational construct, which embeds its active component military engineering manpower within its garrison work force. This construct leverages the technical expertise and experience of long-term civilians to train military engineer forces for their expeditionary role—building and operating expeditionary warfighting platforms. When military expeditionary mission requirements increase, the cadre of remaining engineer civilians are sized to absorb the reduced installation engineering demands at an “emergencies only” level with contract augmentation as necessary.
This successful structure allows the Air Force to avoid resourcing an in-garrison work force and maintaining a completely separate combat service support force structure to support expeditionary missions. By mixing the two force structures, the Air Force gains the benefit of peacetime base support from the combat service support forces. We are able to leverage the expertise of our civilian technicians and engineers to train and mentor our Blue Suit engineers and to constantly improve by applying lessons learned in both garrison and expeditionary environments.
In 2005, the Joint Force demand for engineers skyrocketed as stability operations became the face of coalition efforts within Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the construct that Air Force Civil Engineers deployed from was ill-suited to meet the specific requirements of the warfighter, without requiring large multi-skilled units to be tasked.
To overcome this, the Air Force Civil Engineer community undertook a transformational initiative to create a smaller more capability-based Unit Type Construct (UTC), where Combatant Commanders were able to request specific engineering capabilities. This building block approach, with UTCs ranging from a single craftsman to the largest 26-person multi-skilled team, allowed Airmen Engineers to continue to provide full expeditionary life-cycle installation management to the Air Force—from planning and opening installations to sustaining, recovering and closing them—without having to tailor and pair deployed forces to meet the Combatant Commander’s requirements.
Utilizing this capability-based UTC construct has proven to be a key force multiplier for sourcing engineer capabilities and should be in any future operation.
HUB AND SPOKE OPERATIONS
In 2009, even with an evolved capability-based UTC construct, it became clear that the demand for Airmen Engineers was exceeding our capacity. As a result, the Air Force stood up three Expeditionary Prime BEEF Squadrons (EPBS) and an Expeditionary Prime BEEF Group (EPBG) in Afghanistan. Each EPBS was regionally aligned and operated in a hub-and-spoke configuration. Through this hub-and-spoke configuration, Air Force Civil Engineers were able to achieve theater-wide integration of engineer forces and effectively require fewer resources to accomplish the engineering priorities of the warfighter.
In 2011, Air Force engineers modified the hub-and-spoke model with a focus on providing engineering effects across the entire theater. This resulted in the Expeditionary Civil Engineer Group (ECEG), which brought the capabilities of our RED HORSE (heavy construction engineers) and Prime BEEF (installation engineers) entities under a single commander.
The EPBG and ECEG constructs demonstrated that every operational unit did not necessarily need its own organic engineering unit. Installation engineer capability could be provided by a theater-focused engineer organization with a theater-wide perspective to align efforts to the theater Joint Force Commander’s operational priorities. Based on the success of massing engineer effects while using a reduced footprint, Air Force Civil Engineers have begun to codify the organizational concepts into our doctrine.
BUILDING PARTNERSHIPS/SECURITY COOPERATION
The United States has a long history of helping other nations develop and improve their military and security status. But traditionally, this has been a mission area of limited engagement for Air Force Civil Engineers. Expanding these opportunities to regionally aligned Airmen Engineer Forces could positively impact Combatant Command military objectives.
Infrastructure or industrial capacity development could prove to be an attractive opportunity for theater engagement, rather than the traditional flying-centric security cooperation that the Air Force routinely executes. In addition to providing a visible partnership between two nations in peace, the development of airfields could expand the Air Force’s suitable pool of deployment locations, and serve as launching points for future airpower operations.
Initiatives along these lines could shape and expand the global aviation infrastructure, while fostering the continued development of our Airmen engineering skills honed during the past decade at war.
PROJECTING POWER IN A2/AD ENVIRONMENTS
While building partnership capacity and security cooperation could make strides toward ensuring an agile, ready and capable expeditionary engineer force, a future emphasis also must be placed on ensuring that Airmen Engineers can enable the Air Force to project power despite anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) challenges identified within the Defense Strategic Guidance.
Operating in an A2/AD environment will require Air Force Civil Engineers to refine, and in some cases, re-learn air base survive and operate skills that made the Air Force so formidable during the Cold War. Engineers will need the capability to rapidly recover airfields while contending with the effects that a near-peer adversary could bring.
To that extent, Airmen Engineers should seize the opportunity to participate in Air Force, Joint and multi-national wartime exercises where our skills can be honed alongside the warfighters we will support. Future conflicts with a near-peer adversary likely will require the combined efforts of all service engineers. As such, Airmen Engineers also should take the opportunity to train with, partner with and develop Joint and coalition engineer capabilities that we can apply to the future fight—particularly ones that may occur over the vast expanse of the Asia-Pacific theater.
TRANSFORMING THE GARRISON
An essential enabling element to our future success in an expeditionary environment is how the garrison operates. Air Force Civil Engineers launched “CE Transformation-Accelerated,” an initiative that focused on optimizing our garrison organizational structure to maximize our use of declining future budgets. One key part of this transformation was the consolidation of three legacy agencies into the Air Force Civil Engineer Center. The consolidation provided a more streamlined organization while remaining committed to supporting our Airmen at the “tip of the spear.” This effort has left us in a strong position to navigate the current fiscal environment, and sustained transformation provides us an opportunity to tighten our belts, sharpen our processes, and intensify our focus on our enterprise-wide asset management approach.
As part of our accelerated transformation we changed many of the processes we use to manage our garrison installations. This included the way we fund our requirements.
To be more effective stewards of our austere funds we moved to a centralized requirements-based funding model based on the asset management approach. Asset management provides an element of stability, and changes our approach from competition-based requirements to articulating and advocating true mission needs. This makes us more proactive in developing and forecasting our requirement “sight picture” to pinpoint the most effective use of funding at the most effective time while reducing the “risk to mission” and “risk to Airmen.”
In addition, we are moving to a condition-based preventive maintenance program and requirements-based prioritized work order program based on facility condition and key performance indicators.
ENABLING AN AIR FORCE
Our nation and the Air Force face tough challenges that require disciplined use of dwindling resources. Yet we still must remain resilient, agile, flexible and ready to deter and defeat adversaries who wish to challenge our values and inhibit the freedoms we enjoy as Americans. We must internalize the lessons we have learned during the past 10 years at war alongside the demands we face in the future, and seek out a balance between available resources and the security needs of our nation.
Air Force Civil Engineers have made significant progress towards this balance and will continue to do so as we ensure our force is properly organized, trained, equipped and employed to meet the demands of the warfighter—both in garrison and in expeditionary sustainable locations.