For more than seven months, the public has been aware that the Air Force plans to reorganize the Air Force Materiel Command. Under this AFMC reorganization, the Air Force intends to eliminate seven of the 12 "centers" currently performing functions related to sustainment, acquisition, research and development, and test and evaluation.
One of the centers that will be affected is the Air Armament Center at Eglin Air Force Base.
The Air Armament Center is truly a unique entity. It incorporates weapons and armaments test and evaluation and acquisitions into a single synergistic organization, led by a two-star general who currently reports to the AFMC headquarters at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
The 2005 BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) commission recognized the incredible value that was achievable by merging research and development, acquisition, and test and evaluation functions into a single center with a unified chain of command. That's why the 2005 BRAC law required that such a center be established at Eglin.
The Eglin community is fortunate to have Maj. Gen. Kenneth Merchant at the helm of the Air Armament Center. His official title, "Commander, Air Armament Center and Air Force Program Executive Officer for Weapons," reflects his responsibilities for both weapons test and evaluation and weapons acquisition and program management.
On June 6, the Air Force announced that Eglin would retain a two-star general to serve as program executive officer for weapons. I am pleased that Maj. Gen. Merchant has been chosen to serve in this capacity.
However, it is important to note that Gen. Merchant's newly announced title consists of only half of his current title. This is a reflection of his reduced authority resulting from the AFMC reorganization.
The Air Force announcement also gave no assurances that this "program executive officer" position would remain in the hands of a two-star general once Gen. Merchant completes his tenure. I remain troubled by the Air Force's apparent intent to continue its disestablishment of the Air Armament Center.
What will this mean for the Eglin community and for the future of munitions research, development and acquisition, test and evaluation?
The AFMC reorganization will eliminate the Air Armament Center. Never mind that the 2005 BRAC law requires the Air Force to maintain this center. We may retain our two-star general, but his authority will be limited to weapons program management. He will report to a three-star general in charge of a new Life Cycle Management Center at Wright Patterson AFB and he will not have authority over the remaining test wing at Eglin. This means he will also be unable to advocate for or to protect the test wing or its missions.
The test wing -- soon to be designated the 96th Test Wing -- will be merged with the existing air base wing and will report not to Maj. Gen. Merchant but to a two-star general at Edwards Air Force Base in the California desert. Instead of its singular focus on test and evaluation, the wing now will have the added responsibility of providing logistics, communications, medical, security, civil engineering and other support to the dozens of tenants spread across Eglin's more than 724 square miles.
You may recall that it was only a few years ago that the Air Force attempted to relocate the 46th Test Wing to Edwards AFB. Air Force officials maintain that the current reorganization is not intended to move the test wing or its functions away from Eglin; however, my memory of the Air Force's past efforts remains vivid, and I will not concede to any initiative that would leave Eglin's missions vulnerable.
This skepticism is what drove me to push for legislative language, found in Section 2712 of HR 4310, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, which will explicitly require the Air Force to keep the Air Armament Center at Eglin. This language passed the House of Representatives in May.
I believe it is reckless for Air Force officials to continue dismantling the Air Armament Center while facing down the possibility that my legislative language will become law. Reversing their actions will cost far more than simply halting them in place and committing to compliance with existing law.