Aerospace Vehicle Survivability Facility set to meet anticipated National Defense Strategy demands

  • Published
  • By Bradley Hicks
  • AEDC Public Affairs

The new National Defense Strategy set to be released later this year will focus on the building of a more lethal military force, the strengthening of U.S. alliances while establishing new partnerships, and reforming the way the Department of Defense does business to accomplish its objectives.

The mission and capabilities of the Aerospace Vehicle Survivability Facility, or AVSF, align with these priorities.

The facility is the U.S. Air Force organization responsible for developing and executing aircraft Title 10 Live Fire Test and Evaluation programs, or LFT&E. The AVSF capabilities include research, development, test and evaluation, or RDT&E, in addition to high-fidelity modeling and simulation of aerospace vehicle combat survivability to evaluate and enhance system performance to current and future weapon systems under operationally-realistic conditions.

The AVSF is operated by the Aerospace Survivability and Safety Office at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. This office is part of the 704th Test Group at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, and the 704 TG is a unit of the Arnold Engineering Development Complex, or AEDC, headquartered at Arnold Air Force Base, Tennessee. 

“The AVSF is the only active Air Force organization that supports research, development, test and evaluation for aircraft vulnerability reduction techniques, suites and technologies,” said Scott Wacker, technical director of the Aerospace Survivability and Safety Office.

As is the case with facilities across the AEDC, the primary mission of the AVSF is provide risk reduction information to keep warfighters as safe as possible. The Aerospace Survivability and Safety Office capabilities were originally created to help build a more lethal force, and squadron-level power continues to be employed toward this same goal, according to Wacker.

“The AVSF emerged out of the lessons learned from the Vietnam War to help reduce aircraft attrition losses due to enemy threat weapon systems,” he said. “It continues the same legacy today, pursuing mission excellence in supporting multiple airborne systems to identify, characterize, develop and test technologies to reduce their vulnerabilities to enemy threats.”

The AVSF complex is comprised of three primary test sites that support aerospace survivability and vulnerability evaluations, as well as LFT&E risk reduction, research, development, test and evaluation, and modeling and simulation.

Test Site A

Test Site A is an indoor test site used for highly-controlled impact physics testing and projectile-launch research and development. This site provides the unique ability to economically evaluate the damage resistance of an aircraft wing skin-spar joint structure under asymmetric high-strain rate conditions by simulating projectile-generated hydrodynamic ram. The Hydrodynamic Ram Simulator, also known as the RAMGUN, is the only test device of its kind within the Department of Defense and is used to generate high-pressure waves in a fluid medium to simulate damage caused by ballistic threat impacts on surrounding aircraft structure. Joints and small components can be subjected to a high-controlled pressure pulse to determine failure criteria for use in high-fidelity models and design studies.

Test Site 1

Test Site 1 features a 75-foot indoor gun range and is often used for the development of threat simulation devices and specialized instrumentation systems, material and component ballistic tolerance evaluations, armor tests, high-velocity fragment tests, and highly-controlled and instrumented threat calibration and characterization. This test site is noted for the efficiency of its operation, as the load room is directly adjacent to the test range. This allows for a rapid turnaround of aggressive multi-shot test series. This site is highly unique within the Air Force as it can be used to modify, store, load and fire munitions all within the same facility.

Test Site 3

Test Site 3 is considered the most capable and highest-fidelity test site within the AVSF. This site consists of three test areas – TS3 Upper, TS3 Lower and TS3 North – which are commonly used for highly-controlled and instrumented replica and production-aircraft hardware research, development and evaluation involving high-speed airflow, flight load simulation, fuel fire and explosion, and ballistic vulnerabilities of operating combat weapon systems.

  • TS3 Upper is an outdoor test site featuring a 60-by-80-foot elevated test platform and equipped with high-speed airflow provided by five TF-33 engines, fuel handling and conditioning systems, fire suppression systems, loading fixtures, high-speed data acquisition, and environmental protection systems to allow for testing involving fuel and hydraulic systems.
  • TS3 Lower is a 20-by-60-foot partially-enclosed outdoor test site equipped with high-speed airflow provided by two TF-33 engines, fuel handling and conditioning systems, fire suppression systems, loading fixtures, high-speed data acquisition, and environmental protection systems. TS3 Lower is the only facility within the DOD that has been approved for high-energy laser testing with fuel, airflow and explosives.
  • TS3 North is a 20-by-20-foot partially enclosed test area used for highly-instrumented and controlled development, test and evaluation of fuel cell inerting schemes, hydrodynamic ram evaluations, ballistic flammability studies, material and component ballistic tolerance investigations, armor development, and threat characterizations.

“As part of continuing to help build a more lethal force, the Aerospace Survivability and Safety Office capabilities support effective and safe launch and recovery operations of airborne platforms, and they improve mission capability and survivability rates to support aircraft sortie generation and sustainment,” Wacker said.

According to Wacker, the AVSF has been involved in the test of nearly every Air Force weapons system since the 1960s, including the A-10 Thunderbolt II, F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, F/A-18 Hornet, C-130 Hercules, C-17 Globemaster III, C-5 Galaxy, B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit.

More recent efforts at AVSF have included the LFT&E programs for the F-35 Lightning II, MH-139A Grey Wolf helicopter, HH-60W Jolly Green II Combat Rescue Helicopter, KC-46 Pegasus and other Major Defense Acquisition Programs. This is in addition to multiple RDT&E programs, including evaluations of unmanned aerial system vulnerabilities to high-energy lasers.

The AVSF has been at the forefront of ongoing Air Force efforts to develop a model to predict aircraft dry bay fires due to ballistic events by studying the effects of hydrodynamic ram-induced fuel spurt and fragment flash interaction.

“Sustained fire is the largest determining factor when calculating survivability of an aircraft,” Wacker said. “By understanding the physics that drive the creation of spurt, which is the ejection of fuel from the penetration of a fragment through the tank wall, and fragment flash along their overlap in space and time, the probability of fire ignition can be accurately predicted for a given shot. The 200 tests conducted this year will culminate in a validation test series of the prediction methodology next year.”

The results of this Joint Aircraft Survivability Program Office effort, sponsored by the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, will be incorporated into a future fire-prediction model.

The Air Force warfighter and acquisition programs are the primary business customers of the AVSF, Wacker said, adding AVSF personnel assist these program offices in the development and execution of LFT&E test strategy. The RDT&E funding and the advancement of aircraft vulnerability reduction comes from the Joint Aircraft Survivability Program; Joint Live Fire program; Small Business Innovation Research projects; U.S., DOD and Air Force international research and cooperative programs; and the Aircraft Acquisition Community.

As for the alliances and relationships the National Defense Strategy will call for, the AVSF has active and what Wacker described as “strong” partnerships with the Army; Navy; Office of the Secretary of Defense Director, Operational Test and Evaluation; Joint Aircraft Survivability Program and Joint Live Fire Test Program offices; Air Force Life Cycle Management Center; Air Force Sustainment Center; Air Force Research Laboratory; Defense Technical Information Center; NASA; and other agencies. The AVSF also has several RDT&E partnerships in place with Germany, Italy, France, the United Kingdom and the Republic of Korea to explore improvements in structural vulnerability technologies, aircraft battle damage repair techniques and hydrodynamic ram testing.

Wacker said the evolution and advancements in aircraft platforms and missions coupled with the return of great power competition and the need to ensure the U.S. Air Force maintains airpower advantages will call for an adaptive, innovative, forward-thinking and comprehensive understanding of aircraft survivability.

He said the AVSF is poised to do its part.

“In helping reform and change the way we do business to improve and sustain the AEDC complex and ensure its capabilities are ‘Second to None,’ the AVSF continues to innovate and develop new test capabilities required to meet current and future warfighter needs,” Wacker said. “Improved survivability assessments, new vulnerability reduction techniques and advanced live fire test capabilities will further help ensure platform survivability and increase mission capability.

“The AVSF’s early involvement in the design and prototype development phases will continue to improve systems designs prior to production and fielding, yielding more robust and survivable systems for the warfighter.”