Air Force reorg aims for authority, synergy

Managing acquisition and materiel like a military outfit, not a business

When industry officials want to talk to the Air Force's top business information technology program manager, they should book their flights to Massachusetts rather than Montgomery, Ala.

The reason: Frank Weber, director of the new Operations Support Systems Wing, has moved north as part of a management reorganization of the service's acquisition and materiel communities. Officials say the change creates clear lines of authority and synergy for the service's business and warfighting IT programs as the military moves forward with network-centric warfare.

And it's a good idea because Air Force officials now believe the warfighting and business IT systems must be developed together because they converge on the battlefield — a strategy quickly learned in Iraq.

"We've found that when you're deployed, those two buckets of capabilities [business and warfighting IT systems] overlap to a large extent," said James Cunningham, deputy for acquisition in the Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., home of the new Operations Support Systems Wing that oversees an IT budget of $3.1 billion a year.

Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Ed Mahan, Cunningham's predecessor, said in May 2004 that Air Force officials would organize the Electronic Systems Center into wings to manage the operation more like a military organization than a business. A wing is an Air Force term that designates a military unit of the warfighting side of the service.

It was no easy task. The restructuring of the Air Force's acquisition and materiel communities started in the fall of 2003 during a meeting of top service officials. They wanted the systems' program managers located at the product centers where the products are developed, and they wanted Air Force Materiel Command organized in wings, groups and squadrons like the rest of the service, Cunningham said.

Some Air Force programs, for example, were managed at the Electronic Systems Center, two other product centers and the Pentagon. This split chain-of-command structure sometimes caused confusion and delayed getting essential supplies to the front lines.

Meanwhile, Air Force officials wanted leaders and personnel in Air Force headquarters at the Pentagon to deal with systems policy and oversight issues. They wanted their colleagues at the product centers to handle systems acquisition, development and maintenance best managed outside Washington, D.C.

The decision made Lt. Gen. Chuck Johnson, commanding general of the Electronic Systems Center, the Air Force's top business and warfighting IT program officer. Johnson now oversees 150 major programs after previously managing 44 of them and working on all of them.

"The name of the game is integration ...putting in place processes and a culture that drive diverse organizations and people to work together," Weber said in a statement. "With as broad a portfolio as this wing has, it will really be a challenge."

As Operations Support Systems Wing director, Weber oversees business IT programs called combat support in the service. They include logistics and personnel systems.

"When you're attempting to make a change of the magnitude and timing that we did, one of two things can happen," he said. "The organization can resist and lose effectiveness, or it can rally and make it happen."

He said the organization in Alabama will continue to develop, acquire and maintain the Air Force's combat support information systems. The only change is his overseeing it from Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts.

"We have the rare opportunity of creating a wing from the ground up, and that's exciting," Weber said.

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Wingin' it

Air Force officials reorganized the Electronic Systems Center into four wings to achieve authority and synergy for the service's business and warfighting information technology systems.

The new wings are:

Battle Management Systems — Systems and aircraft that aid decision-making, commanded by Col. Ken Merchant.

Command and Control, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Systems — Systems and centers that aid operations, commanded by Col. Gary Connor.

Network Centric Operations/Integration — Systems that access the Global Information Grid, directed by Dave Carstairs.

Operations Support Systems — Systems used for combat support including personnel and logistics, directed by Frank Weber.

Source: Air Force Electronic Systems Center

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