Air Force propulsion leader highlights priorities and successes

  • Published
  • By Brian Brackens
  • Air Force Life Cycle Management Center Public Affairs

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. – Since taking over as director of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Propulsion Directorate, in July of 2020, John Sneden and his team have been at the forefront of efforts to modernize the propulsion systems that power U.S. Air Force aircraft.

In fact, America’s oldest, most lethal bomber, the B-52 Stratofortress, as well as the Air Force’s newest fighter jet, the F-15EX, will both receive new engines in large part due to the Propulsion Directorate.

“If you want an Air Force that can well execute an ever growing mission set, propulsion is an essential element,” said Sneden. “Engines are by far one of the most technologically complex systems flying on any aircraft today and it takes a keen focus on driving readiness, affordability, safety and effectiveness to meet our warfighter’s propulsion requirements.  Overall, our focus is keeping the Air Force flying, and flying well, and we take great pride in that.”

Sneden, an Oklahoma native and University of Oklahoma graduate, started his Air Force career in 2000, as an intern at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, working on the intercontinental ballistic missile program. Over the next 20 years he served in a wide range of positions managing acquisition and sustainment efforts for various mobility, fighter and trainer aircraft. In 2020, he was appointed to the Senior Executive Service, shortly before taking over as the USAF Director of Propulsion.

As Director, Sneden’s priorities include investing more in propulsion technology, and finding a way to get it on aircraft faster.

“My number one concern is staying ahead of China, and maintaining the U.S. edge in propulsion,” said Sneden. “We’ve always dominated in propulsion and I think the assumption is that we always will.  We’re at an inflection point now though, where we need deepening investment and to transition our latest propulsion technology to the field to maintain our lead. We also need to modernize our legacy engine fleet. We can’t expect to dominate the 21st century battle space with propulsion technology from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. That’s why our ongoing modernization programs and efforts like the B-52 re-engining program are so essential.”

Developing adaptive engine technology, expanding digital infrastructure, and exploring new manufacturing techniques are all focus areas for Sneden’s team. Specifically, the Propulsion directorate has successfully tested the world’s first adaptive fighter engine promising significantly more thrust, range, and power capability than the current F-35 engine. His team is leading the way for a digital engine development to speed system delivery to the field. Finally, Sneden’s focus has pushed the boundary condition on additive component development resulting in numerous, rapidly manufactured components safely flying across the USAF’s various engine fleets today. 

Sneden is quick to credit the team for the successfully efforts.

“I have an absolutely exceptional team of propulsion professionals and they make this mission happen every day,” he said. “They generate that sound of freedom 24/7, 365 days a year, and I couldn't work with a better team.”

While the job can take up a lot of time, Sneden finds balance through traveling, dating, and trying new things.

“I love to travel and I’ve been to some great places, with Singapore and Israel probably at the top of my list,” he said. “I can’t wait to find my next travel destination. I always have my eye on a new hobby too.  Like right now, a motorcycle purchase is likely in the near future for me as are gourmet cooking classes. Overall, I try to work hard and play hard.”