NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.–The Air Force is embracing 3-D printing and improving its agile software development in order to improve the flexibility of its logistical support process and increase the efficiency of repair coordination efforts between service members and industry partners, according to Commander of  Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski.

Speaking at the Air Force Association’s Air Space Cyber Conference on Monday, Pawlikowski discussed the Air Force’s transition in its logistical services to place a greater emphasis on efficiency to meet software challenges and work around supply chain management constraints on repair networks.

Commander of Air Force Material Command Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski. Photo: Air Force.
Commander of Air Force Material Command Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski. Photo: Air Force.

“If we are going to be an agile responsive Air Force and provide multiple effects from multiple domains at a speed that overwhelms our adversary, we need logistics command and control that can keep up,” said Pawlikowski. “In a decentralized way, we need the agility that will give us the ability to be proactive and enable the logistics support to be out in front of where our operators need these things to be. And that requires a networked concept that includes not just our Air Force but also the industrial base and our alliances and our international partners.”

The Air Force will grow its number of software integration laboratories at its bases to find more ways of having civilians work side by side, creating code for the weapons systems utilized by its airmen.

The software integrations teams are tasked with collecting data and developing efficient code that allows  service members to eliminate redundancies in the production line, according to Pawlikowski.

AFMC is aggressively pursuing agile software development opportunities with industry as part of an effort to move towards more condition-based maintenance of systems, according to Pawlikowski.

Future logistical support will require gathering critical data to eliminate system failures before they become potential issues, and the Air Force could look to develop software squadrons to quickly solve coding troubles that would become a routine part of all maintenance efforts.

To address future challenges with maintaining aircraft, AFMC is exploring further additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing opportunities, to produce parts without the constraints of the current supply chain model.

“A low-bearing handle on the C-5, $1,600 to buy the part, it’s no longer available. Defense Logistics Agency says they don’t know when they’ll be able to get it for us, because they have to go send it out to somebody to reverse engineer. We sent that part to our innovation center, and in less than 3 weeks they took that part, they designed for additive manufacturing and produced it for $300,” she said.

Pawlikowski believes the Air Force has a ways to go before fully adopting 3-D printing, but the first steps have allowed service members to meet their responsibilities in global manufacturing with allies. Nearly every Air Force Base utilizes 3-D printers now as the AFMC has identified additive manufacturing as an option for cheaper and better-designed parts that work around the slower supply chain.

AFMC is looking towards industry innovators , such as SpaceX, Orbital ATK [OA] and General Electric [GE], who have all had success with 3-D printing of engine parts as a potential next step for partnership.

“It’s not just additive manufacturing we’re pursuing, at each of our logistics centers we are creating innovation centers where we’re bringing in and inviting industry to work with us to bring in new techniques,” said Pawlikowski. “We are looking at the application of robotics, significantly, in order to enable us to get into and to perform functions on fifth-generation aircraft that we cannot usually do by manual labor.”