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NEWS | March 29, 2024

AMCOM commander talks readiness, experience, data-informed decisions at AUSA

By Michelle L. Gordon

The Aviation and Missile Commander hosted a Warrior’s Corner on the floor of the Association of the United States Army Global Force Symposium and Exposition held March 26-28 in Huntsville, Alabama.

Maj. Gen. Tom O’Connor spoke about improving readiness and reducing the burden on the tactical units across the force. He mentioned deploying repair teams forward to the operational environment, closing the experience gap and leveraging data to make informed decisions.

“We are hyper-focused on improving material readiness to ensure [our Soldiers] are staying ready to deter regional aggression and, if deterrence fails, be able to fight and win our nation’s wars,” he said. “We are thinking through some of the challenges and opportunities out there to help innovate and ensure that we are continuously modernizing, reforming and changing, but we’re also supporting those Soldiers who are in the fight today.” 

O’Connor said repairing and returning weapons systems on-site in the forward operational environment enhances readiness and reduces both costs and downtime. This capability is further enhanced when the repair teams are able to also incorporate new technology, such as blue-light scanning, cold spray and laser alignments.   

“Anytime we can have a depot team deploy forward, it reduces costs and eliminates the delay of shipping those combat weapons systems back to the depot, and it truly enables readiness by returning critical combat power to the warfighter more rapidly,” he said.

Regarding the experience gap, O’Connor said in a post-pandemic society, the fight for talent is real and spreads throughout all industries, including the federal government. Many of the skilled artisans at the depots are retiring after more than 50 years of service. He wants to ensure that the critical knowledge base is not lost but passed on to the next generation. He mentioned aggressive campaigns to recruit and on-board new talent to ensure that expertise is retained.

In addition to hiring efforts, O’Connor said new technology is also being incorporated into maintenance training. Tele-maintenance, digital work structures, automated systems, 3D modeling and high-velocity training are some of the innovative solutions used to train Soldiers and civilians on how to maintain weapons systems. Looking forward, O’Connor said virtual and augmented realities are the future of maintenance.

“Virtual reality glasses are one way we can get our engineers from across the enterprise to communicate, visualize and look through the eyes of the mechanic to work through maintenance-engineering changes and repair forward, without actually having an engineer out in a tactical setting. This is the technology that we know we need; this is the type of innovation that we are pursuing, and these are places where we think we can help reduce and close some of the experience gap that we have across the board.”

Data ultimately drives all aviation and missile decisions, and O’Connor said while they have tons of data, it comes down to analyzing how it can be used effectively and efficiently to allow his workforce to act with precision and recognize trends.

“Weapons systems have been sending digital traffic for 20 to 25 years, from cockpits and vehicles, back to their tactical assembly areas — fuel status, ammo, etc. — it’s coming off of our combat platforms, and it is sitting at the tactical unit,” he said. “We need to take that data and transport it to the enterprise to ensure we can see and understand it and make decisions at echelon.”

O’Connor said that while there certainly are challenges, it ultimately comes down to delivering material at the point of need and sustaining combat readiness. The Army must continue to modernize not just the processes but also the facilities.

The Aviation and Missile Command has subordinate elements at Corpus Christi Army Depot in Texas and Letterkenny Army Depot in Pennsylvania, and both are part of the 15-year, multi-billion Organic Industrial Base modernization plan the Army rolled out in fall 2023.

Both facilities were built in the early 1940s to support a much different fleet of weapons systems. O’Connor said the investment will ensure the infrastructure is updated to support an efficient and agile flow and that the conditions are set to repair the components of today, as well as the components of the future.

“The depots repair and return components to put them back in the field and enable readiness,” he said. “They are saving the Army money; it varies depending on the battle damage, but it saves anywhere from about 20 to 50%, depending on what needs to be done, but if we can repair and return, we are saving the taxpayer money, and we are putting readiness back in the field.”

Before fielding questions from the audience, O’Connor encouraged industry leaders to leverage depot capabilities through public-private partnerships, calling it a win-win for everybody. 

He also challenged them to ensure they build reliability and sustainment into their products because great systems and great capability are not worth anything to Soldiers if they are not reliable and sustainable.

“I ask that while you are innovating to solve some of these problems, to think through how we can sustain [the solution], how can you make it more reliable, how can you reduce the lead time between failure, and how can you reduce the burden on the Soldiers in the field, who are counting on us to deliver capable equipment to them, so they can deter aggression and fight and win if asked to do so.”