Airman Magazine: Sir, could you describe the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center mission?
Maj. Gen. Molloy: The mission of AFOTEC is both clear and compelling. We test emerging capabilities in operationally relevant environments to inform both the warfighter, as well as national resource decision-making. We’re very passionate about serving that first customer – the warfighter. We ensure that there are no operational surprises when the warfighter takes his weapon system to combat. As independent evaluators and operational testers the AFOTEC team must continually ask the proverbial question of: “will it work…will it work in a contested environment?”
We make sure that that weapon system is operationally characterized; both the strong points and the weak points. Our systems are going to have weak points from time to time, but if the warfighter knows about them they will figure out mitigation procedures, tactics, techniques, and procedures to reduce the risk of those vulnerabilities, and they always play to the strengths; our Airmen are the cleverest and the most brilliant on the face of the planet. So we deliver to them both the inherent strengths of the weapon system and the potential vulnerabilities of the weapon system so that when they go to combat, there are no surprises.
Airman Magazine: You spoke of AFOTEC informing and influencing national resource decisions. Can you explain that part of the mission and how that integrates with operational testing and evaluation?
Maj. Gen. Molloy: AFOTEC also informs national resource decision making, and here’s why. Our decision makers want to know how a weapon system is performing in terms of its effectiveness, its suitability, and its overall mission capability. So we support national resource decision-making across the entire acquisition process — from cradle to grave, if you will — and we do this through a series of assessments and reports. Some of the assessments and reports that we render to decision makers are by statute, and some are by directive.
For example, before a major weapon system goes into full rate production, it is required that an initial operational test and evaluation be conducted on that system. We provide that to the decision maker. We also partner with those decision makers and developers early in the weapon system development process, to give early assessments of how that weapon system is progressing towards suitability and effectiveness and overall mission capability. This helps the decision maker with risk reduction, in technology-readiness decisions, as well as in engineering and manufacturing decisions.
Not only that, but we support the warfighter in decision making with reports that speak to whether the weapon system is ready to enter initial operational capability, as well as full operational capability. Our reports are very helpful for commanders of major commands (MAJCOMs) as they make those tough decisions on whether a weapon system is ready for combat.
Airman Magazine: Testing for safety, reliability, and effectiveness seems self-explanatory. But you also test for compatibility and logistic supportability. Can you explain those aspects of system testing?
Maj. Gen. Molloy: Right. We are different from developmental testing, where a weapon system is characterized in a pretty static environment; things are measured and checked so that a baseline performance for that weapon system can be established. Take, for example, the F-35A Lightning II. Developmental testing established that its mission systems are reliable under static conditions; that its top-end speed is achievable, its stall margin is correct, et cetera.
But what AFOTEC does is we now take that weapon system, and we rub it in its operational environment, and that’s a very dynamic environment where the enemy gets a vote.
We see things in the performance of the weapon system that you just may not see in developmental test. We use an approach called “the design of experiment” where we can take a lot of complexity and bound it into something that we can accurately create and that we can appropriately measure, and do it in a resource-informed environment. So we’re not designing a test and going after test points that are not relevant to the operational environment. Putting weapon systems and information systems in their operational environments leads you to find out things that often surprise you.
Let me give you an example of a very basic system that when we put it into its operational environment, we learned a lot about the system. AFOTEC conducted a test on a tactical air control party radio to be placed into a Humvee. From a developmental point of view and a basic design form, fit, and function point of view, it was a pretty straightforward system upgrade to fit into the Humvee. But when the AFOTEC testers got a hold of the system one of the things we did is we simulated the Humvee had hit an improvised explosive device, and the vehicle turned over on its side, onto the side where the radio system was mounted, and the joint terminal attack controller (JTAC) could not get out the passenger door.
We then told the JTAC that the enemy was about two klicks away and he needed to get out of the vehicle. The only way to egress was out the driver side door, which was vertically up at this point. Of course, the JTAC was in full battle rattle, from his helmet to his flak vest and wearing all his equipment. When he tried to egress, there was no getting past that radio control head installed in the vehicle. He tried taking off his vest and his helmet, and he just couldn’t get the equipment off. The radio was in the way.
We filmed this, and what tugged on your heartstrings was seeing that AFOTEC tester who was playing the role of the JTAC struggling to get past the radio, saying, “Help me. I can’t get out. I’m stuck.” So we at AFOTEC ensure that when our Airmen go to battle, they’re never placed in the situation where they have to say, “Help me. I can’t get out.”
Airman Magazine: AFOTEC headquarters is at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, but you oversee the operation of detachments across the country. Could you tell me where they are, and the types of systems they test?
Maj. Gen. Molloy: We like to say “we go to where the sound of rocket noise and the smell of jet fuel are.” So we’re literally from the East Coast to the West Coast with different detachments.
Detachment 1 is located at Edwards AFB, California, and it has one singular mission, and that is to perform and conduct the initial operational test and evaluation of the F-35 system. We do that in a joint and combined construct, meaning it is a multi-service test; Air Force, Navy, and Marine tests combined, as well as with some of our partners and allies. Within that test team are the United Kingdom, the Dutch, as well as the Australians who are assisting with providing a very rich and vibrant test design and will soon partner with us in its execution..
Eglin AFB, Florida, is home for Detachment 2, which has a very diverse portfolio of systems and capabilities under test. They primarily test our munitions, both our air-to-air missiles and bombs. The small-diameter bomb is currently under test there, as well as the AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile and the AIM-9X. They also test information systems, accounting and finance systems, medical information systems, the new modular handgun, our chemical and biological defense systems, and the hardware and software that will go into our air operation centers, as well as our ground radar systems. So they are very busy at Eglin AFB.
Detachment 3 is currently in an “inactive” status. Detachment 3 was located at Kirtland and evaluated command, control, communication, computers, and intelligence, also known as C3I, as well as surveillance and reconnaissance weapons systems in the battlespace environment. In 2010 we decided to deactivate the detachment and distribute these mission sets to our other detachments thus ensuring the capabilities they represent stayed well linked to the weapons systems they support.
Detachment 4 is at Peterson AFB, Colorado, and is responsible for testing our space systems, as well as our cyber systems and missile systems, specifically intercontinental ballistic missile systems. Under their test portfolio, you’ll find the Space Based Infrared System, the new GPS system, GPS3, that will launch here within the year. They’re also very busy preparing for something called GBSD or the Ground Based Strategic Defense system. This will be the Minuteman III replacement system.
Detachment 5 is located at Edwards AFB, California. They test a wide variety of systems to including bomber and mobility aircraft, command and control, intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR, systems, training platforms and special operations systems. They test our C-130 Hercules and our combat search and rescue platforms and the KC-46A Pegasus, a modified Boeing 767 air refueler and eventual KC-135 Stratotanker replacement. They are also testing our advanced primary trainer for Air Education and Training Command and the newest bomber on the block, the B-21 Raider, while also testing capability increases to the B-2 Spirit and B-1 Lancer. They also work with our unmanned systems, testing the RQ-4 Global Hawk, as well as the MQ-9 Reaper.
Detachment 6 is located at Nellis AFB, Nevada, and they test our fighter systems. Currently under test are hardware and software capability upgrades to the F-22 Raptor, as well as to the F-15’s Eagle Passive/Active Warning Survivability System Program, or EPAWSS, which provides an advanced electronic warfare upgrade to our F-15 fleet.
Airman Magazine: So it’s not just testing brand new airframes and brand new capabilities. It’s also retrofits and upgrades on existing platforms?
Maj. Gen. Molloy: That’s correct. In fact, I’d say a large portion of the testing we do at AFOTEC is capability upgrades to baseline weapon systems that we have. The MQ-9, the unmanned aerial system, comes to mind. The RQ-4 is another system to which we are incrementally adding capabilities and AFOTEC will test that. The F-22 is undergoing both a hardware and a software capability increase. And the systems go on and on.
Airman Magazine: Sir, could you tell us a bit about your Air Force career and how that has prepared you for command at AFOTEC?
Maj. Gen. Molloy: The “O” in AFOTEC is operational…and that is a good characterization of my career, which has been almost exclusively operational. I grew up in the air superiority business; flying F-15Cs for better than half of my career. Then I transitioned to F-22s early in the program, before we even had an initial operational capability. So, I think in terms of fifth generation airpower; I am a 5th generation Airman. And I’m growing into a “next-generation Airmen”— AFOTEC is the forcing function of that transformation. Another formative experience that has prepared me for operational test was attending U.S. Air Force Weapons School and being steeped in the art of instruction and operational tactics. I also had the honor of attending the School for Advanced Air and Space Studies, or SAASS, which taught me to think critically and employ multiple lenses to operational and strategic problem solving. Combat time during Operation Iraqi Freedom was a formative experience, especially as a squadron commander. And the final two that rounds the list are commanding the Joint Warfare Analysis Center, or JWAC, in Dahlgren, Virginia, as well as multiple wing commands, including wings with diverse weapons and mission sets. If you put all this together, I believe I offer a certain depth of operational perspective to the test community. As I stepped into the job I was also very cognizant of those experiential areas where I was lacking: acquisition and test. Fortunately, I have a great team that was able to shore me up and back me up.
Airman Magazine: You also attended Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training, ENJJPT, and served as Wing Safety Officer for the 44th Fighter Squadron. How did those experiences influence your career?
Maj. Gen. Molloy: It was an opportunity early in my career to train with our NATO partners. I learned two valuable lessons. First of all, our NATO partners are second to none in warfighting skills and military professionalism. The second thing I learned about our NATO partners is that we can’t do it without them; our alliances and partnerships with other countries are absolutely vital to warfighting. They provide us synergy, operational and strategic depth, reach, access, and legitimacy to warfighting. It’s invaluable. We see these propositions prove themselves every day with our multi-national F-35 test team out at Edwards AFB. They are currently in the final preparation phase for the imminent initial operational test and evaluation that will start in a few months.
I think being a chief of wing safety served me well in preparing me for being the commander of AFOTEC. It was an invaluable experience because you learn how to think like a senior leader and how to think in terms of operational risk management. Risk management is a program for everyone, but I think it really is animated in the safety channels. Being a chief of wing safety, I learned how to take appropriate risks and how to do that in a quantitative and a qualitative manner that has served me well in making decisions here and in rendering good testing in a resource-constrained environment. I also learned that bad news doesn’t get any better with time. When bad news happens, bring it to your boss early. He might not like what he hears, but he’ll appreciate the fact that you told him quickly.
Airman Magazine: You report directly to the Chief of Staff of the Air Force. How important is that for your command and the utilization of your reports?
Maj. Gen. Molloy: AFOTEC reporting directly to the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force is a vital requirement. It’s a requirement that we learned through the crucible of the Vietnam experience where 21 of 22 major weapon systems fielded in that environment were found to be, in some way, shape, or form, operationally deficient. We learned that lesson through the blood of Airmen.
I’ll give you an example. The F-105 Thunderchief, which was designed as a supersonic nuclear fighter-bomber, was put into an environment in Vietnam where it was not appropriate for some of the missions it was asked to do. We lost a significant amount of F-105s. In fact, it was nicknamed the “Thud” because it was said that was the sound the aircraft made when it hit the ground. The F-111 Aardvark, when it made its initial combat deployment in Vietnam, we lost three of the initial six.
So in the early 1970s, through the Deputy Secretary of Defense with Congressional action, both legislation and directives were put into place to stand up operational test agencies that would represent both the user and the developer, but provide independent assessments of a weapon system, in terms of its effectiveness and suitability, directly to their service chief. So AFOTEC got its start in the early 1970s. We report directly to the service chief, with evaluations based on operationally realistic environments and production representative systems.
Airman Magazine: As you provide data affecting the procurement process, I would imagine that you work closely with Gen. Bunch. Could you talk about how you work with other commands?
Maj. Gen. Molloy: AFOTEC informs a wide variety of customers across the entire acquisition system. We like to think that we support weapon systems and emerging capabilities cradle to grave. So AFOTEC provides value to the acquisition community, especially when you involve the AFOTEC Airmen in the process as early as possible.
So if you take the acquisition arc and you move far to the left, AFOTEC serves both the decision maker and the developer early in the acquisition process.
We don’t define the requirements, but we can certainly help the user refine what those requirements should be from an operationally informed perspective. So as early as Air Force Material Command, or AFMC, the developer, the program executive officer, and the end user, the warfighter, can involve AFOTEC into the process, the better we can serve them by bringing an operational mindedness to the development of the weapon system.
Some program executive officers involve us in the Request for Proposal. And that’s a great place where we can insert the operational considerations into those requirements.
Along every step of the acquisition journey, AFOTEC partners with both the warfighter and the decision maker to assist them in understanding how the weapon system is maturing toward effectiveness, toward suitability and mission capability. We render observations and analysis that will support engineering decisions, technology development and risk reduction decisions and fielding decisions. We certainly support the MAJCOM commander with decisions such as establishing initial operational capability and full operational capability decision on a fielded system.
Airman Magazine: Your command employs some very smart folks. How do you attract STEM talent to come and test some of these systems?
Maj. Gen. Molloy: It is a perennial challenge to get Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) talent into the military. We desperately need it to keep up with the pace of need and the pace at which technology brings capability to warfighting. We also need to exceed the speed at which the enemy is advancing in STEM.
So we've got to recruit. We've got to recruit hard to get that talent. And I think at AFOTEC we've done yeoman's work to bring STEM talent to the command.
Let me give you a couple of examples of where we’ve had some wins getting STEM wisdom and talent supporting our mission. The first is we’ve been partnering with our local universities to reach out to those students and to offer them scholarships and internships. There are two programs that AFOTEC has leveraged with great success, of late. One is called the Pathways program. And the other one is called the SMART (Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation) program. And here we partner with a student and we pay them a salary. We help them with their education. And then we give them a great experience in supporting the warfighter with operational tests. It’s allowed us to invest in the next generation of young testers.
The other area where we’ve found success in getting STEM talent infused into our operational test is partnering with the total force. That’s both the Air National Guard, as well as the Reserves. They bring a wealth of industry talent from their day jobs into operational tests. And so we’ve partnered with the New Mexico Guard as well as the Colorado Guard, the Kansas Guard, and we’re finding rich fruit in both space and cyber-security testing.
We’ve got the Kansas Guard at McConnell AFB, Kansas, assisting us with our cyber tests, where they will help us craft what’s called a cooperative vulnerability and penetration analysis. They’ll also play the Red Team, or the adversary, and they’ll attempt to attack our system under test. This follows the vulnerability and penetration analysis which maps out and identifies the cyber landscape, and then once we identify those vulnerabilities, we’ll shore them up. We’ll work with the program office to shore up the vulnerabilities, and then we verify it with the Red Team. We’re using the Total Force to do that. They bring some of the latest and greatest knowledge and experience from private industry practices to the military. That’s been rich and rewarding for our testing and we’re better for it.
Airman Magazine: The Air Force is quickly becoming one big integrated beast with units, systems and partners interacting in a constant and very fluid way. Is that interaction part of the testing?
Maj. Gen. Molloy: AFOTEC testing has and is rapidly maturing. And one of the prospects of modern combat is it is just not a singular system that goes to battle anymore. It is, frankly, a system of systems. And I would even argue that the F-35 air vehicle, is in and of itself, is a complex system-of-systems, including an autonomic logistics information system that supports the maintenance, health and diagnostics and the complexity of the sensors and the integration therein.
But even beyond that, the F-35 participates as one instrument in a large orchestra called a family of systems when we go to combat. And that’s what makes the American warfighting very unique, the integration of a family of systems. The F-35 teams with the F-22 and the Airborne Warning and Control System along with space and cyber support; all integrated with our Air Operations Center as a command and control node. When you put all that together, there is a synergy that our adversaries simply marvel at.
Airman Magazine: How important is it for AFOTEC to know what systems may come for testing in the future?
Maj. Gen. Molloy: One of the key priorities at AFOTEC is investing in next generation testers. We have to see around the corner for what emerging capabilities are out there. What’s in the Air Force Research Labs that may soon become operational.
We are pretty diligent about posturing the command for the next generation of capabilities and technologies. We always keep our fingers on the pulse on what’s happening in the world of hypersonics, directed energy, nanotechnology, big data, and automation, but we also seek to partner in those fields, invest in those fields, and bring into the command folks that have operational knowledge of how these emerging systems work. That way we’re ready when these capabilities come into the test portfolio and we well understand the operational environment in which those systems will perform.
AFOTEC prides itself with building partnerships, trusted partnerships, and teaming with industry. We team with our universities and we team with our research labs to figure out what out’s there. What’s around the corner? What are those third offset strategy emerging technologies that are finding promise in the labs and what technology is mature or is well forming. And we have to be ready with competent testers to ingest those capabilities and test them appropriately so the warfighter gets a product that is well quantified.
Airman Magazine: I once had a test pilot say to me, “We’re not here to say everything’s great and pat people on the head. We’re here to try our damnedest to break the aircraft. The last thing I want is a combat pilot coming back to me and saying, ‘How’d you miss this?'” Do you share that view?
Maj. Gen. Molloy: That’s absolutely right. When you put a weapon system under a rigorous operational test, you find out things that you just didn’t expect until you put it in those conditions. We make corrections, we make tweaks along the way and we establish risk mitigation procedures. Again, the whole goal is to make sure that the warfighter is not surprised when he fields the system. So I’m in the same church, the same pew, and I’m reading out of the same hymnal as that operational pilot when he says that a weapon system has to go under a rigorous operational test. And my promise to him is if it goes under an AFOTEC test, and we put our seal of approval on the report, that report is trustworthy, and he can trust the system to deliver as we define it in the report. That’s the AFOTEC brand.
Airman Magazine: Any final messages for our Airmen?
Maj. Gen. Molloy: I would want America’s Airmen to know that AFOTEC wakes up every morning thinking about how we can support the warfighter so that when they go to the field they have full confidence in knowing the performance of their weapons systems. We stand by their side. We are their biggest cheerleader. We want this to be a one sided fight for them. It should not be a 51 to 49 eke-it-out victory for our Airmen. It should be 104 to 0. It should be a lopsided, asymmetric fight. That’s the American way of winning wars.
Airman Magazine: Okay. I’m just going to point out that those are not just random numbers you fired off. 104-0. Those sound like F-15 numbers quoted by an air combat operator.
Maj. Gen. Molloy: Hey, I’m an F-15 guy.