Attendees of the Sept. 5 “State of the Aerospace Industry” luncheon got a comprehensive look at the structure, purpose, opportunities and challenges of the Air Force Sustainment Center.
AFSC Commander Lt. Gen. Gene Kirkland spoke about the State of the AFSC at the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber event to approximately 300 aerospace professionals and community members at the Reed Conference Center in Midwest City.
“We are big business,” Kirkland said. “We have over an $11 billion economic impact to our communities. These are big numbers, but it’s really about the readiness it generates.
“Our Center’s capabilities and cost-conscious approach are central to our Air Force’s readiness.”
This fiscal year, the Center has repaired and returned 438 aircraft to the Warfighter, he said.
Discussion on depot activity included workload realignment regarding the C-130, the Global Hawk and growth of the F-35 program.
“From a Sustainment Center standpoint, all of this is interconnected,” Kirkland said. “The landing gear at Hill [AFB, Utah] complements the engines we do [at Tinker AFB] and the avionics at Robins [AFB, Georgia]. Our supply chain and our operations are mutually dependent; we operate as an enterprise.”
Kirkland also talked about how support from each of the communities near AFSC bases help drive the Air Force mission and support future opportunities for growth. The Enhanced Use Lease and recent opening of a $35 million software support facility at Hill AFB, the partnership of Robins AFB with the Central Georgia Technical College and the acquisition of land now being used at Tinker AFB for the development of the KC-46 Sustainment Campus could not have happened without community and legislative support.
“Commitments like that are investments which help ensure each base has long-term viability,” Kirkland said.
One area where community support will remain an integral partner in progress is meeting the demanding workforce needs of the Center, he said.
“Within Oklahoma, Utah and Georgia, we rely on community colleges, vocational schools and universities to sustain our growing workforce,” Kirkland said.
As organic software development and technologies such as robotics, additive manufacturing and 3D printing become more prevalent in sustainment operations, the need for scientists, engineers and highly skilled mechanics continues to increase.
Kirkland said making Direct Hire Authority permanent and eliminating the 180-day waiting period to hire military retirees would help fill those needs. Direct Hire Authority speeds up hiring by eliminating some steps of the standard hiring process when a critical need exists in specific occupations.
Future workload such as the B-21, which will be sustained at Tinker, and the T-7A Red Hawk trainer aircraft, will also require new personnel with advanced skills.
“Looking back at 2012 when the Sustainment Center was born, there was cautious optimism among the three depot communities,” Kirkland said. “I’m convinced, seven years on, that this journey has produced a win-win-win outcome. Our workloads, our workforces, our interdependence have created a shared journey that is only getting tighter and more beneficial. As the commander who gets to lead AFSC, I could not be more proud.”