Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Air Force conducts massive protected MILSATCOM test

by Staff Sgt. Julius Delos Reyes
50th Space Wing Public Affairs

2/10/2015 - SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The Air Force concluded a six-month rigorous and complex multiservice operational test and evaluation of its Advanced Extremely High Frequency system in January at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado.

The test and evaluation's goal was to ensure the AEHF system performed its missions the way it was designed -to provide survivable, global, secure, protected and jam-resistant communications for military ground, sea and air assets.

The Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center Detachment 4 at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, partnered with the 4th Space Operations Squadron, which is responsible for the command and control of the system, as well as other Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine units.

"In the event that we go into a nuclear war, we have to make sure a communication link for Department of Defense components and national leadership is available during a contested environment," said Maj. Matthew Collins, AFOTEC Det. 4 AEHF test director. "And (AEHF) is a system that is capable of providing that connectivity."

To ensure AEHF meets its mission, the team laid out test and evaluation objectives -- validate the AEHF's advanced ground mobile unit, validate the system's integration to the legacy Milstar constellation, confirm its communication capability for the end-users and ensure the system can operate in a nuclear environment.

Ground mobile unit 

In order to validate its advanced ground mobile units, 4 SOPS simulated a deployment of its ground mobile assets to make it easier for personnel and to save time and money. The squadron members operated the satellite constellation from the mobile systems instead of from the squadron's normal control center in the Integrated Operations Environment.

"If for some reason, we need to go out and operate the satellites because we can't do it here at Schriever because of a threat, a war or any incident, then we go operate out of our mobile units," said Lt. Col. Zachary Owen, 4 SOPS director of operations. "The piece of this testing was to make sure we can operate out of those mobile units for an extended period of time."

Since 4 SOPS has a unique ability to operate its satellites using two control systems, it allowed the mobile units to operate the satellites using its dedicated system, which is the AEHF Satellite Mission Control Subsystem. For the duration of the test, 4 SOPS maximized its use of the mobile ASMCS capability and minimized its operations from the IOE; though 4 SOPS kept a presence in the IOE for command and control of the day-to-day operational mission.

"In the mobile unit, we had command and telemetry of the system so we could see the health of the satellites at all times," said Capt. Michael Meoli, 4 SOPS Mobile Operations Flight commander. "We had an active command role in the mobile unit, while the IOE had passive telemetry; meaning, they could see the state of health of the system but could not command it."

The test also had to ensure the satellites' unique capability of operating autonomously during its transition period from IOE operations into the mobile units.

"Basically, our satellites can still provide communication to users so there is no interruption of service," Meoli said. "It gives us a certain amount of time to deploy the mobile unit, and have it ready and operational."

AEHF, Milstar integration

AEHF also has to prove its ability to integrate with Milstar, which is the legacy constellation of the protected Military Satellite Communication systems. The first Milstar satellite was launched in 1994 and is still operational. The Air Force launched its first AEHF satellite in 2010; which is the follow-on satellite to Milstar.

"One AEHF satellite has 10 times the capacity of the entire Milstar constellation," Owen said. "We operate them as one constellation instead of two separate systems."

There are now enough AEHF satellites on orbit to allow effective testing of the constellation, and its dedicated ground system, the ASMCS, to see how well those AEHF satellites and their command and control systems integrate with legacy constellations.

"We conducted more than 250 tests in the IOE," said Capt. Aaron Doyle, 4 SOPS mobile engineer. "Some of the tests were conducting table uploads, where you run everything on the satellite. We want to see if we can upload it to the ASMCS, change something around, then upload those changes to the satellite, and have it do a download from the satellite with that same information."

The table uploads deliver software updates to satellite so 4 SOPS operators can make adjustments to the satellite's various systems and provide assistance to distant-end users. "This way you could adjust the settings so you could optimize the satellites for users worldwide," Owen said.

Cybersecurity assessment

The multiservice test also evaluated the AEHF's secure network. AFOTEC enlisted the 177th Information Aggressor Squadron and 92nd Information Operation Squadron to conduct a full up operational cybersecurity assessment.

"They came up with a very comprehensive evaluation of 4 SOPS's network security," Collins said.

The cybersecurity assessment is a very high DOD interest item, he said.

As part of the evaluation, a team came out and probed the network to check on the security of the system, Owen said.

"They tried to break in, for lack of a better term; they came and acted as bad guys," he said.  The teams were very impressed with the network's security architecture, and the procedures in place to ensure it is protected from insider and outsider threats.

End users 

Since the AEHF serves not only the Air Force, but other services as well, the test also looked at how the customers - Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines and international partners - use the system.

"We have to make sure that AEHF can provide combat effects to the warfighters so they can accomplish their mission," Collins said.

AFOTEC deployed personnel to two Navy destroyers and two submarines, three Army locations, two Marine sites and multiple U.S. Strategic Command locations. The test also included international partners, such as the United Kingdom, Canada and the Netherlands.

"It was a huge test," Collins said. "Overall, it has taken about six months. We tested a total of 38 GSUs (geographically separated units). It was an expansive and rigorous test."

During the evaluation, AFOTEC ensured the test was as realistic as possible in an operational environment, he said.

Nuclear environment

Another important test for the AEHF system is to ensure it can provide protected communication, even during a nuclear environment.

"For the first time ever, we tested the nuller and scintillation capability of the satellites in an operationally realistic environment," Collins said. "It is the unique capability of the satellites to be able to operate in a contested environment."

The team partnered with outside agencies to provide a realistic scenario mirroring a contested environment, he said.


Though the test has concluded, AFOTEC will still analyze the data gathered to determine if the AEHF system is performing its mission vital to national security.

"Once AFOTEC is done with the report, the Air Force Space Command leadership will decide whether the AEHF system has reached initial operation capability," Owen said. "This is a big deal."

Reaching that capability will allow for more operational users, he said.

With a rigorous, end-to-end test like this, Collins reiterated the importance of teamwork not only at 4 SOPS but with other organizations as well.

"One of the most successful things in this whole test process has been the coordination and teamwork between all entities involved," he said. "We coordinated with the program office, headquarters Air Force Space Command, contractors, private organizations, combatant commands, international partners, Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines, and the only way it worked was through the active collaboration of all those entities to focus on mission success to deliver the most capable next generation of protected satellite communications to the 50th Space Wing and our warfighters world- wide. According to senior leadership at the Space and Missile Systems Center, the success of the AEHF program is what they want to see in all other space programs. This is the benchmark for all future space acquisition programs."

U.S.-Estonia Agreement Strengthens Partnership, Defenses

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Feb. 10, 2015 – The Defense Department signed a memorandum of understanding today with Estonia, marking the beginning of a partnership to strengthen both countries’ reserve forces through annual exchanges of personnel, a senior defense official said.

Richard O. Wightman Jr., principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs, discussed the Military Reserve Exchange Program and the significance of the agreement.

“This memorandum of agreement between the U.S. and Estonia provides ongoing proof of our continued dedication to our NATO partners,” he said.

“The Military Reserve Exchange Program further strengthens the partnership between our two nations,” Wightman said, “and plays a key role in the development of the Reserves and their contribution to national defense.”

The agreement, he noted, complements U.S. European Command’s theater security strategy and the National Guard’s State Partnership Program.

“By entering into these partnerships, our two nations hope to enhance reserve component capabilities and training opportunities,” Wightman said.

“This MOU opens the way to closer cooperation between the Estonian Defense League,” he said, “and U.S. reserve component forces that should improve the interoperability and capabilities of the Estonian military.”

Benefits of the MREP

According to Wightman, the primary benefit of the MREP is the opportunity to directly engage reserve forces in the development of national defense capabilities. “U.S. reserve components each have their unique capabilities, which the Estonian Defense League can now access through this program,” he said.

This is a unique, cost-effective program, he said, focused on bilateral interoperability without the deployment of units or large forces.

“Each nation faces unique challenges specific to the reserves,” Wightman said, “and this program is designed for each nation to grow by sharing best practices concerning their reserve forces.”

The bottom line, he said, is the MREP program provides bilateral and multilateral engagements with tailorable capabilities to quickly respond to any international environment and helps maintain total force operational capability and maximize cost efficiency.

Reserve Force Dependence Increasing

Wightman explained the MREP partnership with Estonia has been in “progressive” development since 2012, and is one of many programs nations can opt to engage in.

“Just in the last 15 years,” he said, “there has been a dramatic increase in requirements and dependence on reserve forces to support various contingency operations around the world.”

These reserve forces, Wightman said, have developed into both strategic and operational forces and “Estonia is no different.”

“Estonia has been actively involved in the State Partnership Program since 1993,” he said, “and continues to seek prospects and opportunities.”

Reassuring European Partners

The MREP, Wightman said, is a “great” example of a low-intensity program providing a visible assurance that the U.S. remains engaged at all levels with NATO partners.

“This program fits within the Defense Department’s priority of reassurance by stressing shared stability and long-term commitment through direct reserve engagement,” he said.

“The program also ensures armed forces gain a working knowledge of operating effectively together for the future,” Wightman added.

NATO Cyber Center of Excellence

One benefit of working with Estonia, Wightman noted, will be the “unique” international experiences in cyber defense challenges both reserve forces will be able to offer leaders. Both nations face many challenges in the area of cyber defense, he noted.

“Close bilateral cooperation with a capable partner nation such as Estonia,” he said, “plays a key role in enhancing cyber defense capabilities and addressing a myriad of present and future threats and risks in this interconnected world.”

“Immersion and integration with cross-cultural opportunities significantly increase global understanding of international threats and challenges,” Wightman said.

MREP Partnership Qualities

Paul Patrick, deputy assistant secretary of defense for readiness, training and mobilization for reserve affairs, talked about what the U.S. seeks in partnerships such as the agreement with Estonia.

“We look for the ability of a nation to sustain a long-term partnership and exchange program between that country and the United States,” he said.

“As far as Estonia is concerned,” Patrick said, “ … given the fact that this country is the NATO Cyber Center of Excellence, we see great opportunity in the cyber arena, especially as U.S. Cyber Command is beginning to set up its cyber mission force, which of course will include a Reserve component element.”

Officials see “great” opportunities for cross-fertilization and an exchange of experiences and learning in the cyber arena, he said.

Program Differences

Patrick explained the differences between the MREP program and the State Partnership Program.

“The State Partnership Program is a National Guard-centric program,” he said, “that focuses on a wide range of building partnership capacity events as part of a combatant commander’s -- in this case, U.S. European Command -- theater security cooperation program.”

What MREP provides, Patrick said, is a wider aperture of opportunity for the entire reserve force, rather than just the National Guard.

The MREP program allows the Naval and Marine Corps Reserves to participate along with the Army and Air Force Reserves, he said.

Patrick also pointed out a difference between U.S. and Estonian reserve forces.

“Estonia has the Estonian Defense League,” he said, “which is comprised of citizens, who, in a volunteer and non-paying status, support the national defense and security of the country.”

It is very unlike the United States’ robust reserve forces, Patrick said, which are fully integrated into the total force and used as part of the operational force.

“But, nonetheless,” he said, “for a country the size of Estonia [it’s] a very important element of their total national defense force.”

MREP Invaluable

Patrick praised the MREP program, noting it’s been “extremely invaluable,” in terms of establishing relationships with participating countries and by virtue of the reciprocal, bilateral exchanges that occur between the U.S. and participating countries.

The MREP program is an important part of the Defense Department’s overall effort to build partnership capacity, he said.

Mobility Airmen exercise readiness with 82nd Airborne Division

by Marvin Krause
43rd Airlift Group public affairs

2/6/2015 - POPE ARMY AIRFIELD, N.C. -- Air Mobility Command Airmen and aircraft joined forces with U.S. Army paratroopers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, for an Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercise here Jan. 27.

Five U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft and Airmen from the 437th Airlift Wing, Joint Base Charleston, and en-route support Airmen from the 43rd Airlift Group, participated in the exercise to support the airlift and airdrop of 500 Army paratroopers on to Wright Army Airfield, Fort Stewart, Georgia, in less than 20 hours from notification.

"We train to this periodically, specifically, in large aircraft formations that a five-ship brings to the fight," said Maj. Steve Lee, the Air Force mission commander for this exercise from the 14th Airlift Squadron, Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina. "I coordinate between our airlift package that we have airborne and the Army's airborne ground forces mission commander to make sure we get the troops to where they need to be in order to affect their scheme of maneuvers on the ground to facilitate the airfield seizure," Lee said.

The exercise provided mobility Airmen with the opportunity to train with the 82nd Abn. Div. whose battalion-sized units are evaluated periodically on how well they conduct more complex missions, such as airfield seizures, noncombatant evacuation operations, night attacks and air assault operations.

"The objective of this exercise is to increase our readiness in the joint forcible entry capabilities for the 82nd Airborne Division," said Maj. Gen. Richard Clarke, 82nd Abn. Div. commander. "The measure of success for our paratroopers will be getting safely out of the aircraft, being able to assemble and then being able to secure this airfield so they can allow for follow-on forces to land."

As the nucleus of the nation's Global Response Force, the 82nd Abn. Div. provides a strategic hedge for combatant commanders with a responsive, agile and operationally significant response force that is flexible in size and composition to accomplish missions anywhere in the world.

"We do EDREs on this scale about two to three times a year," Clarke said.

Clarke also commented about the relationship and training conducted with the Air Force during this exercise.

"It is the most important relationship we have. We have to work our relationship, we have to practice and that's why we are here tonight with our Air Force brethren. We have to work with them to make this capability a reality for our nation," Clarke said.

By interacting and working closely with their joint partners, Mobility Airmen are able to develop refinements to processes and procedures that can potentially enhance the effectiveness of real-world operations.

"It takes a team to execute this mission--operators, maintainers, mission support, Airmen, Soldiers and civilians--it doesn't matter what uniform they wear, they come together to get the mission accomplished," said Col. Kenneth Moss, 43rd Airlift Group commander.

Air Mobility Command's participation in this EDRE allows the assessment and certification of the combat readiness of Air Force strategic airlift, contingency, and support forces in one of the most demanding mission sets they execute: large formation airdrop. In many ways it is a "symphony" of Mobility Air Forces carefully orchestrated with our Army partners.

Vandenberg US&R members hone skills

by Senior Airman Shane M. Phipps
30th Space Wing Public Affairs

2/5/2015 - VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif.  -- Members of the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron fire department, from Vandenberg Air Force base, recently participated in a comprehensive Urban Search and Rescue exercise at Allan Hancock College's public safety training complex, Feb. 2.

As part of a regional US&R team, Vandenberg firefighters trained alongside counterparts from local departments -- focusing on locating, extracting and stabilizing victims trapped in confined spaces.

"Building or structure collapse events, due to earthquakes, gas explosions or even terrorism, provide California firefighters with a clear and present threat," said Mark Farias, 30th CES fire chief. "No single agency can mobilize and deploy the resources necessary to contend with such a disaster scenario. This is why mutual aid agreements exist and this is why the Santa Barbara Regional Urban Search and Rescue Task Force, along with Ventura County, conducted this challenging exercise."

With multiple stations set-up, firefighters were able to gain important hands-on practice dealing with a variety of different structural failures.

"In this particular scenario we had three different evolutions simulating different collapsed structures," said Essex Martinez, 30th CES US&R fire captain, search team manager and evaluator. "The emphasis on all three of these scenarios is shoring through timber, a little bit of rope rescue and lifting and moving debris using a crane, pry-bars, or air bags."

For exercise participants, the event provided a valuable opportunity to build interagency cohesion and familiarization.

"You practice like you play and the more realistic the training, the better prepared you are in a real-life situation," said Joel Rodriguez, 30th CES firefighter. "We go wherever they send us and it's extremely important to build the relationships with local departments because they may need our help off base, or vice versa, we could need their help on base."

30th CES leadership also understands the importance of being able to smoothly operate alongside firefighters from all over California.

"The 30th Civil Engineer Fire Protection Flight is completely integrated with our local partners," said Farias. "We participate and evaluate local training events and this most recent exercise is an example of what resources VAFB could expect if we needed this type of aid during a catastrophic event."

The training also allows firefighters an opportunity to practice working seamlessly together so, in the event of a catastrophe, critical time is saved which could mean the difference between life or death.

"It really translates to the difference between an hour or two because if you meet up with a task force you are unfamiliar with, there's always some tentativeness," said Martinez. "Where our task force is so familiar with each other, we already know if one of us gives a command, we don't even ask questions because that trust is already there. We're able to go to work right when those wheels stop. When it comes to structural collapse, victims might only have one day max. When you're dealing with victims who have crush syndrome and all kinds of other injuries, we can't afford to waste any time."

The Public Safety Training Complex, in Lompoc, sits on 80 acres and serves as the leading training location for Fire, Law Enforcement, EMS, and Environmental Technology.

PACAF to participate in Aero India 2015

Release Number: 150210

2/10/2015 - JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii  -- The U.S. military will participate in this year's Aero India 2015 at Air Force Station Yelahanka, Bengaluru, India, Feb. 18 through 22.

Aero India is a biannual event and is India's premier aerospace exhibition and airshow. This year's exhibition will be the 10th iteration since its inception in 1996.

A cross-section of U.S. military aircraft and equipment are scheduled to be present through static displays and aerial demonstrations, including one C-17 Globemaster III from the 15th Wing at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii; two F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 35th Fighter Wing at Misawa Air Base, Japan; one KC-135 Stratotanker and two F-15 Eagles from the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base, Japan; and a P-8A Poseidon and 15 personnel from Kadena Air Base, Japan.

Through participation in air shows and other regional events, the U.S. is able to demonstrate its commitment to the security of the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, promote the standardization and interoperability of equipment and display capabilities critical to the success of current and future military operations.

First Air Force theater security package deploys to Europe


2/10/2015 - RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- The U.S. Air Force deployed 12 A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft and approximately 300 Airmen as part of a theater security package to the 52nd Fighter Wing, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve this week.

The aircraft and Airmen, from the 355th Fighter Wing, Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., and are set to be in place and fulfilling the TSP mission by the end of the month.

The TSPs will augment U.S. Air Forces in Europe's existing efforts as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve by conducting flying training deployments and off-station training with NATO allies to further enhance interoperability.

Operation Atlantic Resolve is a demonstration of U.S. European Command and United States Air Forces in Europe's continued commitment to the collective security of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and dedication to the enduring peace and stability in the region.

"The Air Force has been rotating forces as a part of OAR for the past year," said Lt. Gen. Tom Jones, vice commander, United States Air Forces in Europe - Air Forces Africa.  "The TSP is another way the Air Force is increasing rotational presence in Europe to reassure our allies and partner nations that our commitment to European security is a priority."

While in Germany, the unit will conduct training alongside NATO allies with the goal of strengthening interoperability and enhancing regional security. The unit will later forward deploy to locations in Eastern European NATO nations.

"The U.S. Air Force's forward presence in Europe area provides the support infrastructure needed to increase our current force and build new and deeper partnerships across the continent," said Jones.

The A-10s are the first of several TSP deployments to Europe. Rotations will generally last six months, depending on mission and U.S. European Command requirements. Although a first in Europe, the Air Force has been conducting similar TSP rotations in the Pacific region since 2004.

Above and beyond for education

by Airman 1st Class Sean D. Smith
Minot Air Force Base Public Affairs

2/10/2015 - MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- The Air Force provides an assortment of tools, incentives, and forms of assistance for Airmen who want to pursue their education - most notably Tuition Assistance, which helps pay for classes while on active duty; and the GI Bill, which can be used after a military member's career or even transferred to a dependent.

Between them it's thousands of dollars' worth of free college - but getting a degree while on active duty isn't always simple.

Airmen have demanding schedules, and finding time to fit in classes can be difficult. Deployments, unusual hours, temporary duty assignments, exercises - even just long workdays can keep an Airman out of the classroom.

Finding the time and energy aren't the only challenges; Airmen face the same struggles as civilian students who return to the classroom after taking a break from pursuing education.

"There isn't always time for college classes," said Master Sgt. Melanie Sampson, 5th Maintenance Group Maintenance Training Section superintendent. "You always find an excuse or a reason you can't attend."

Though the educational benefits are plentiful, the number of Airmen who take advantage of them is relatively low. Sampson went on the offensive, bringing college to her unit.

"I worked with one of the colleges here along with the education center, and I set up classes in our building," Sampson said. "So people who work together can take the classes together."

The classes that Sampson organized are geared more toward Community College of the Air Force degrees, but it's still college credit that can be applied to a four-year degree later. So far the turnout has been encouraging, and so has the response.

"It's outstanding," said Tech. Sgt. Paul Gross, 5th Maintenance Squadron aerospace ground equipment craftsman. "They work around our duty hours to make it easy. I love it, and if they offer more classes this way, I'll definitely take more."

"People flock to these classes," Sampson said. "They get to study with their peers in a familiar environment; there are so many people who take advantage of it who probably wouldn't without this setting."

Not all Airmen realize they can get college credit without leaving base, and even without going online. The education center hosts a variety of classes on base that offer transferable credits.

Some colleges will even work around Minot Air Force Base's busy exercise schedule, and a class can take as little as eight weeks. Classes are easy to get into on base, and Sampson's approach of bringing school to work once a week is something that most units could consider.

"They really thrive in the classroom because they know each other," Sampson said. "It's one night out of your week. You can't beat that."

Renovation for 91SFG campers

by Senior Airman Malia Jenkins
5th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

2/9/2015 - MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D.  -- The 91st Security Forces Group recently began refurbishing their campers, used by security forces members to provide security to maintenance teams.

"It adds to morale because you know going out into the field it's going to be clean for you to sleep in, and it puts you in a better mood," said Senior Airman Sean Schoonover, 791st Missile Security Forces security escort team guard.

"We go out and provide security when maintenance members are working or if an alarm won't or can't reset," Schoonover said. "We provide security to that site until the alarms can be fixed, and we are out there for up to 72 hours at a time sitting in the camper."

The group began the cleaning process because of the feedback they received from the personnel who used the equipment on a daily basis who requested improvements they felt the equipment needed, said Staff Sgt. Conrad Schenck, 91st SFG NCO in charge of the vehicle control center. 

"That's definitely the goal, to have clean, serviceable gear," Schenck added. "Leadership has definitely used what the 20th Air Force has given them in the best way possible. I know with the troops, whenever everything works properly, they tend to have a better result."

With the teams being out in the field for up to 72 hours at a time, they are awake for 12 hours to ensure the site is secure.

It's important to ensure one gets a good night's rest in the back of that camper and that it's clean, quiet and peaceful, Schoonover said.

"Having that operational where you can cook your food, have a meal and your own personal time to get ready for that 12-hour shift is important so you can stay focused on the mission," Schoonover added. "I've heard people talking about it, and now people are like 'I'm actually going to go out and volunteer for campers now.'"

"The improvements are definitely things people are excited about, and I know the model defender gear is another thing they are really looking forward to," Schenck said. "It'll give them more peace of mind when they're out there, and they'll be able to blend in a little better while out there. Plus seven layers will make it a little warmer."

Providing command and control for three squadrons, the 91st SFG ensures security forces members are trained, organized and equipped to secure approximately 150 Minuteman III missiles and launch facilities, and 15 missile alert facilities geographically separated throughout 8,500 square miles of the missile complex.

"The operations tempo here is definitely high. It's a mission that has to get done and there's not always enough people to do it, but the people who are getting it done are getting it done in a very efficient and effective way," Schenck said.

DoD Recognizes Top Performers in Getting Gear to Warfighters

By David Vergun
Army News Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 10, 2015 – Getting top-notch gear to warfighters in the most cost-effective and efficient manner is what the American public expects of defense contractors.

Some do that very well, and others not as well as they should, say top Defense Department officials who oversee delivery of such gear.

One way the military services are giving industry incentive to improve is recognizing top performers through the Superior Supplier Incentive Program, or SSIP.

"We're doing this so people get some feedback from us about how their performance is, relative to their peers," said Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. "Then, they can take whatever action they think they need to do to improve their ratings."

Program Rates Companies’ Business Segments

SSIP uses performance data gathered through the Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System, or CPARS, to rate the 25 largest companies, based on contract obligations, doing business with each of the three services. It categorizes their business segments into one of three performance tiers, with "Tier I" being the best.

Within a large defense contractor, for instance, one business segment might develop electronic systems products, while another develops missiles and fire-control products. Both of those business segments would be given a separate rating by each military department that works with them.

Business segments benefit because they receive recognition, “and it's also useful for companies that are not at the top end to understand where they are and to benchmark themselves against others," Kendall said.

Incentives for Top Performers

While the SSIP will not be used to give anyone a direct competitive advantage or monetary incentives, the program provides other potential incentives, he said. Tier I business units, for example, may be invited to meet with military department acquisition leaders to discuss ways which both parties can streamline administrative burdens. This may result in increased efficiency, Kendall explained.

Military department acquisition chiefs said they expect SSIP to result in improved performance of their suppliers.

"It's recognition for business units that have been doing a superb job," said Heidi Shyu, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology.

Being in Tier I is "a big deal,” she added. “There's a huge amount of pride when you worked your butt off," Shyu said, speaking from decades of private-sector experience.

William A. LaPlante, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, highlighted another reason for publishing the list. "We do this in all parts of our society,” he said. “We rank-order people [and] businesses, and frankly, we owe it to the taxpayer and the companies to show where people are."

Shyu said recognition has reverberations throughout highly rated companies. "Industry presidents and business segment managers are very competitive,” she said. “They know it reflects on their leadership, and it shows the company and the shareholders that you're a great leader. You've executed well what you've promised your customer. Your customer is happy with your work. To the employees, it's a huge morale booster.

"People tend to underestimate that recognition," she continued. "It means you contributed to the fight" in a meaningful way.

LaPlante agreed. "It's a point of pride for companies to be called out for being at the top of their game," he said.

Officials Explain Methodology

David Weber, chief of the Air Force Industrial Liaison Office, said the 25 largest companies were selected for comparison using data from USASpending.gov, which was used to identify the businesses with the highest contract obligations during the previous three fiscal years.

Within each company, business sectors were determined based on the best available information. For example, publicly traded companies were broken out in the same way they are reported to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, he said.

Planning for the Army and Air Force SSIP started last year, Weber said, after the Navy SSIP pilot was announced in June.

Now, the Army, Navy and Air Force each do their own ratings based on the CPARS for each service's awarded contracts, Weber said. For example, F-35 contracts are managed by the Navy, so CPAR scores associated with F-35 are included in the Navy's SSIP ratings.

Future SSIP scores are expected to be released annually in late spring or early summer, Weber said.

Potential for Program Expansion

Curtis M. Smith, a senior Army procurement analyst, there may be potential to expand the SSIP program to include categories such as small business, services, information technology and others.

Smith said business units that earn a Tier III rating also will benefit from the candid assessment of their performance by their customers. "I think that will allow them to focus and engage more with the customer regarding their performance,” he said. “It should serve as an incentive to improve."

Weber said he thinks it's possible large investors will look at SSIP ratings over time, and as trends become evident, use them to gauge future competitiveness of companies, creating additional incentives for companies to improve.