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The ‘Innovation Ecosystem’ – OC-ALC commander says Air Force needs partnership for production

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Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex Commander Maj. Gen. Jeff King addresses a group of aerospace and defense business leaders and contractors at the Tinker and the Primes event Aug. 12, 2021, in Midwest City, Oklahoma. King told the group that all aerospace engineering sectors are needed to create an effective “innovation ecosystem” to keep up with production demands. (U.S. Air Force photo/Chris Seaton)

MIDWEST CITY, Okla. --

Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex Commander Maj. Gen. Jeff King spoke candidly with an audience of national aerospace and defense business leaders and contractors at the Tinker and the Primes event Aug. 12 in Midwest City, Oklahoma.

“The Air Force is in an arranged marriage with prime contractors,” said King. “By and large, those relationships are solid, but no union is perfect. In this case, we need a better strategy for sustainment.  When the primes hold on too tightly to technical data, proprietary processes and materiel … the cost of sustainment skyrockets, and we often see procurement programs truncated, simply because we can’t afford to sustain them.”

King went on to say, “We need primes advancing technology in the equipment we buy, and the processes used to manufacture it, then we need them to spin as much sustainment activities as possible off to other elements of the commercial and organic industrial base to increase speed and reduce the cost of sustainment.  This will help maximize the funding available to modernize and recapitalize our fleets. By spreading the sustainment workload around, we can revitalize our defense industrial base, which is essential to supply chain resiliency and Persistent Logistics.”

King relayed the “Gold Standard” for this kind of relationship can be found in their PACER EDGE partnership with General Electric. “GE is advancing the art in additive manufacturing for producing engine parts, and they are working closely with the Complex via this partnership to adapt that technology for sustainment activities.”

As the commander of the largest maintenance, repair and overhaul facility in the U.S., King says he wants to “go faster,” and needs to overcome challenges such as diminishing sources of supply and increasing costs of materiel amid downward budget pressure on sustainment activities.  

He highlighted the need for innovation and engineering solutions to sustain an aging fleet of aircraft that has flown well beyond its originally projected service life. 

King hailed the Complex’s multiple external enterprise partnerships in industry, small businesses, and academia to generate new solutions. He said each sector is necessary to create an effective “innovation ecosystem” that relies on relationships to leverage one another’s capabilities.

In the past year, King says the Complex has made significant inroads in academia because of its 2019 designation as a national laboratory. They signed educational partnership agreements with the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University and Oklahoma Christian University. The agreements allow engineering students and professors to collaborate with their counterparts in the Air Logistics Complex in a mutually beneficial exchange that hastens technology insertion while giving students insight into government service, and allows them to help solve current problems impacting national security.

Finally, King said the Complex is working on several initiatives to help small businesses contribute to solving the Complex’s innovation and supply chain related challenges. He cited fast-tracking emerging technologies in non-destructive inspection, guided laser drilling and integral blade rotor sustainment developed in small technology companies.

“We’re working to reduce the barriers to entry … so we can do more with small businesses and sub-prime contractors. As the Chief of Staff of the Air Force says, we must Accelerate Change … or Lose!,” King said. “I know that’s especially important for the 1,100 Oklahoma businesses who perform various aspects of maintenance, repair and overhaul, and are driving technological breakthroughs in sustainment. We need faster access to those advancements.” 

He closed by saying, “It takes a team of teams between the government, industry, and academia to sustain our fleets and produce readiness for our Air Force, and we appreciate all that you do to support our Nation’s defense.”