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Air Force CEs: Projecting Air Superiority Platforms

CEs work on HVAC units

CEs set up tents at a deployed location

Group photo of Air Force Civil Engineers
Capt. Lionel P. Lanuza
Air Force Civil Engineer Center Pacific Region

     Air Force civil engineers are still relevant today - in spite of sequestration, drawdown in the Afghanistan campaign, force reductions and field operating agency and major command consolidations. The roles of engineers will continue to shape the way Air Force projects air supremacy, organizes, trains and equips Airmen, defends borders, protects the nation's interest, and identifies and eliminates both current and future threats. Air Force CEs should embrace revolutionary strategic agility while maintaining their identity; and continue to be the "hedgehogs" - popularized from the book Good to Great, at being the best, day-in-day-out of tomorrow's air and space power.

     The landscape of war has changed. Asymmetric threats have shifted our wartime posture from the Cold War era, characterized by a large standing independent service force, to a smaller, more agile joint force codependent on technology and information superiority. Today, and more than ever, services' engineer capabilities are leveraged by combatant commanders, or COCOMS, to reap second- and third-order effects while demanding more efficient operations. Joint doctrine on how we engage the mission is continually refined to match the pace of transformation on both ends of the war spectrum; increasing quantities of potential threats and the refinement of our adversaries' tactics. As a result, once compartmentalized capabilities of enablers and support elements of agile combat support have evolved and expanded. Irrespective of the drawdown of the active force, the role of AF civil engineers has increased, requiring warfighting operators greater access to both theater and battlespace overwatch as well as provide direct access to advanced technologies - such as Unmanned Aerial Surveillance and Remotely Piloted Aircrafts - and emerging core capabilities such as cyber.

      Yesterday's traditional "muddy boots" image of the Cold War engineer has transcended. New requirements have graduated buzz words such as interoperability, synergy and integration from dry doctrinal concepts of military strategy academia to daily implementation tactics. New weapon systems have changed the concept of operations of how COCOMs use advanced aerial assets as force multipliers augmenting integrated combat ground capabilities. This strategy is established by building a power projecting platform transforming Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance, or ISR, to "Intelligence, Superiority, and Reconnaissance" with an enhanced surveillance capability. Engineers must also adapt with modern warfighting technologies to stay relevant in order to enable this platform. Today's Air Force engineers, however, already enable ISR through their core capability of building reliable, resilient and ready air power projection platforms.

      There are two clear principle foundations necessary for Air Force engineers to provide their core capability. The concept of "Airframe to Airbase" iterates the mutual relationship and dependency between weapon system and facility engineering, by way of Air Force engineers who have the capability to construct and maintain that link. The concept of hedgehogs describes three attributes of a truly successful organization: one who is providing service that is greatly valued, one that is great at doing, and one with the ability to accomplish things with great amounts of passion. Hedgehogs truly describe Air Force civil engineers.

      I was able to observe these principles in action during a recent deployment to Africa, where Air Force engineers played a crucial role in enabling ISR through the linkage between machine and installation support. Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa is today's leading edge organization in the fight against violent extremist organizations, or VEOs. Located in Djibouti, Camp Lemmonier is a Navy-led joint installation with an enduring presence. The Air Force plays a key role by identifying targets and threats for the COCOM; enabling Africa's airlift hub, providing personal recovery, and search and rescue operations. The stern thrust behind and enabling the proverbial "tip of the spear" are Air Force civil engineers who built an air power projection platform at an undisclosed location. 

     Center stage, Prime BEEF engineers from the 449th Air Expeditionary Group, programming officers from Air Forces Africa, and the Air Force Civil Engineer Center took the lead by modernizing an existing host nation divert airfield and operationalizing a complex "system of systems" fully mission capable power projection platform that can reap results deep in East Africa. From routine work orders to large military construction, a wide spectrum of expeditionary engineering is on call to respond to both COCOM ISR requirements and provide direct action and support to troops on the ground.

     As AFRICOM looks to build a growing presence on the continent, aligning the right engineer resources to meet the demanding conditions of the battle field is the challenge. Building an expeditionary air base with a fluid mission set requires deliberate master planning, problem solving and identifying obstacles both known and unforeseen. Taking the "Airman to airbase" concept gives AF civil engineers an advantage in identifying opportunities in efficacy for wing commanders to operate an expeditionary air wing. The evolution of 21st century air base power projection platform now involves the synchronization of joint engineer capability and applying basic air base development fundamentals with an interoperability approach for COCOMs. Tomorrow's challenge then becomes identifying planning factors that enable our sister service engineers to thrive in an air base power projection platform.

     Army Engineers from the 1-18th Infantry Regiment supported route clearing and perimeter base defense operations. Navy SEABEES, from the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 74, focused on horizontal construction from grading and drainage to road and defensive perimeter barrier construction. Air Force Prime BEEF engineers prioritized engineering requirements to COCOMs as well as recommended allocation of resources such as personnel, equipment and expertise to support the overarching joint mission. They also focused on joint efforts by developing an ISR power projection platform to include projects such as a life support area, expeditionary foundation engineering, munitions storage, safety turnaround pad, and the continued surveillance and optimization of all infrastructure related components.

     When COCOMs shifted priorities and targets, Air Forces Africa program engineers anticipated requirements driving projects downstream for mission support. Execution being half of the equation balanced against a requirement, the parameters for a solution is further limited by politically constrained parameters. For example, when the COCOM stated "my pilots need to launch more sorties", AF civil engineers understand the mission need and can respond by stating "The runway needs to be repaired and these are our courses of action to make it happen; we'll need your assistance and ask permission from the host nation."

     Across the pond from the action but also providing essential support, the Air Force Civil Engineer Center is an organization with invaluable technical capabilities spanning from facilities engineering, environmental services, technical subject matter expertise and construction oversight. With a mantra of "Battle Ready ... Built Right," AFCEC provided "cradle-to-grave" execution in support of combatant commands. Supporting AFRICOMs presence of expansion towards the west, AFCEC was charged to oversee the timely construction of four Air Force-funded MILCON projects (three out of the four were airfield related) valued at over $88.1 million: the combat aircraft loading area, parallel taxiway extension, aircraft apron taxiway/maintenance shelters and expeditionary lodging. These new facilities and airfield infrastructure are vital pieces of an enduring and strategic Air Force presence to project an air superiority platform in direct support of the joint warfighters.

     Lt. Col. Ron Strobach, a former commander of a newly designated expeditionary squadron in Djibouti, praised the overall joint effort by engineers in theater. However, Air Force civil engineers took the lead, building a system of systems air power projection platform for ISR by taking a truly austere airfield, facilitating expansion to a sustainable and enduring environment. "Hundreds of millions of dollars, expending blood, sweat and tears continue to expand an essential element enabling as a force multiplier for the COCOM's fight against VEOs. Airfield development and continual expansion could not have occurred without our Air Force civil engineers on point."

     As the Department of Defense reduces its footprint in Afghanistan, Air Force civil engineers will continue to play an important role in leveraging and enabling ISR capability in other remote parts of the world. In Africa, or wherever tomorrow's threat may emerge, Air Force civil engineers will always lead the way by enabling ISR through their core capability of building reliable, resilient and ready air power projection platform.