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Commentary Search

June Commander's Corner

  • Published
  • By Col. Michael T. "Tim" Dotson
  • 169th Mission Support Group

Infrastructure - a Weapon System

McEntire Joint National Guard Base (JNGB) is a unique national security asset that provides exceptional military value to the taxpayer at low cost. Providing the biggest bang for the buck for community, state and nation has been something we have prioritized and strived for as an institution. United States Air Force Doctrine states “airpower results from the effective integration of capabilities, people, weapons, bases, logistics, and all supporting infrastructure.”[i] In the mission support arena, we measure readiness by the readiness of our weapon systems. If our mission owners and operators lack people, materiel, training or infrastructure, then it exposes support deficiencies and an urgency to “accelerate change or lose” concerning Airmen, Bureaucracy, Competition and Implementation according to the Air Force Chief of Staff. This necessitates that we all recognize that infrastructure is an under-resourced, rapidly degrading but essential commodity to projecting military power. Infrastructure is a weapon system and must be a concern for everyone.

The featured article in the current edition of Air & Space Power Journal entitled “Infrastructure Truths for Air, Space and Cyberspace” makes a great case for the importance of infrastructure investment and ties it nicely to mission impact and the projection of airpower. People who work in the infrastructure field are likely familiar with “the iron triangle” as it pertains to infrastructure investments: time, quality and cost. A benefit of one comes at the expense of the others. It is rare to achieve all three in construction, so picking your top two is a customary outcome. The article identifies recurring infrastructure themes contained in both the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy. It discusses, in part, the protection, resilience and security of U.S. critical infrastructure, the use of infrastructure for malicious purposes by transnational criminal organizations, quality infrastructure as a mechanism to stimulate U.S. economic power, and the rising China and Russia influence over other governments from infrastructure investments (think China’s global Belt and Road Initiative). Given this context and the current military operating environment, the article posits five infrastructure truths to consider: (1) infrastructure is an integral component of air, space, and cyber operations; (2) quality infrastructure requires investment; (3) critical infrastructure systems must be sustainable and resilient; (4) neglecting infrastructure puts the mission at risk; and (5) infrastructure is for all leaders. The last truth is where we can most personally influence our destiny.

Infrastructure is an area where the Department of Defense has historically accepted risk considering budget realities and need to balance risk, mission impact, and Airmen’s welfare. The Department of the Air Force currently has a $33B infrastructure maintenance backlog across its portfolio, taking significant risk in deferred facility maintenance for the past several decades.[ii] Furthermore, in a recent Congressional hearing, sworn testimony indicated that one third of USAF infrastructure is either poor or failing while the American Society of Civil Engineers grades the nation’s infrastructure a D+. Not good. Delayed costs result in increased costs when one considers the time value of money. In our quest to execute the mission and manage resources effectively and efficiently, we make risk-based decisions every day in a climate of fiscal austerity and competing interests. We do our best with the budget provided based on priorities. With likely flat and/or reduced DOD budgets for the near future, what is the McEntire JNGB infrastructure investment strategy?

Enhance Readiness of our Power Projection Platform – Installation Resilience

Improving installation and community resilience are priorities to counter natural, physical and cyber threats. We need resilient and right-sized installations with modernized infrastructure better aligned with force needs: more flexible, adaptive, responsive and resilient. Providing reliable critical infrastructure requires partnership with other public and private entities. Off-installation purveyors supply many of our installations’ utility services such as elec­tricity, natural gas, telecommunications, and water services, sources that we do not control. As such, the mission infrastructure system is vulnerable to threats largely outside of the direct control of installation personnel.

The installation fence line is the frontline with the community. Our power projection capability is intrinsically connected to the support services the community provides and it is imperative that we maintain their trust and support. We must remain high on their restoration priorities, and have a comprehensive understanding of the critical infrastructure vulnerabilities to provide mitigating solutions. Adversaries test our critical infrastructure each day and natural disasters and climate effects can hinder continuity of operations, as Tyndall AFB and Offutt AFB demonstrated. An upcoming Mission Assurance Assessment will provide a detailed snapshot of our installation resilience as we work to harden our physical and cyber infrastructure, provide better protection and enhance readiness. McEntire JNGB has experienced recent utility outages and hurricanes, which is why exercises are vital to validate our mission assurance posture and ability to project power. Modernized infrastructure is required to attain installation resilience.

Modernize our Infrastructure

Our mission footprint extends beyond the physical environment and into space, airspace and cyberspace. We need Information Age infrastructure in the Information Age. We train and operate from degraded Industrial Age infrastructure in the Information Age and continue to lose ground each year with current funding levels. Non-kinetic cyber effects is a significant threat at home station and therefore, cyber hardening of our systems is required. Unfortunately, this can also be in conflict with speed and need of network access. Smart, targeted, balanced and sustainable investment is required. Back in 2015, McEntire JNGB published its Installation Development Plan, a 20-year look into building out the installation. The vision developed for this effort stated, “McEntire JNGB will be the premier National Guard Joint Total Forces base, providing cost effective military power focused on core missions, increasing its military value through the management of resources, leveraging of community basing, and sustainable development of the built and natural environment.”  Sustainable development means realizing today’s needs without compromising or risking future mission needs.

McEntire JNGB has been hugely successful in executing proactive infrastructure investments through aggressive, integrated installation planning. In keeping with the above base development vision, investments have focused on enabling our wing’s mission essential tasks, increasing our overall military value to the Joint Force and community, assuring cost effective investments as good stewards of taxpayer’s dollars, and sustainable and forward compatible investments that support current and future missions. By aggressively programming project requirements and staying ahead of the pack, McEntire JNGB has had numerous projects accelerated because we were ready while other bases had higher priority projects deferred because they were not executable in the targeted year. Lesson: be ready when the door opens.  McEntire JNGB delivers.

Our airfield, operations and maintenance facilities investments have F-35 forward compatibility in mind. Administrative and support facilities must be flexible and easily adaptable. Installation modernization efforts, at large, have dual-use state and federal mission needs and capabilities incorporated, ready to project airpower globally, ready to project power for our state/communities, and ready to support all-domain Joint Force training with other military service component and interagency partners. We remain a premier Suppression/Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD/DEAD) unit, support national and state action plans for domestic response, sponsor the STARBASE Swamp Fox youth program and host a wide variety of joint training events while assisting our base tenants realize their full operational and business potential. Our ability to host Joint Force training is undeniable. For example, USINDOPACOM selected McEntire JNGB recently from over 200 military installations considered worldwide to host a Joint Capabilities Technology Demonstration on emerging Expeditionary Airfield Damage Repair tactics, techniques and procedures. We are at the tip of the spear in developing how the Joint Force will recover airfields in a great power competition, high-end conflict in the future.

Facility modernizations and recapitalized utility systems and pavements, multi-domain integrated base defense, and cyber hardening of technology are priority investments that are key to readiness. It will assure our continued relevancy and serve to increase our installation’s military value. The South Carolina Air National Guard is currently working to award a major runway repair project this fiscal year that will extend the life expectancy of the runway but also require displaced local flying from an alternate airport for approximately six months in fiscal Year 2022. Additionally, there are plans to widen the taxiways and construct a hazardous cargo ramp that has dual-use as a transient/strategic airlift parking spot instead of parking large-frame aircraft on active taxiways with airfield work-arounds. A new F-16 Mission Training Center simulator facility is on the books that will significantly improve pilot training and readiness and eliminate the scheduling choke point of using another base’s simulator. Emergency response operations and incident command and control will improve with renovations to both the fire station and security forces facilities. Major renovation of maintenance hangars will restore and optimize their utility and reestablish our ability to prep and paint in a conforming paint booth. Furthermore, we are the Air National Guard’s regional hydrazine servicing and storage facility while being well postured to become an aircraft paint hangar location. These are smart investments necessary to sustain our mission and keep us relevant regardless of our assigned weapons platform. Leveraging technology effectively will also be vital to mission assurance and mission sustainment.

Technology Innovation in Installation Management

Effective use of technology is vital. We do not need lots of raw information or metadata. We need reliable information transformed into actionable intelligence for decision-making. Timely and accurate information is how we attain information dominance and deliver desired effects. The same applies for smart technology implementation in infrastructure, especially in a resource-constrained environment. We use technology as a risk-based alternative to augment work force deficits, to achieve efficiencies, and to enhance integrated defense and antiterrorism capabilities. Former USAF Chief of Staff, General David Goldfein stated, “It’s not the device that will win the next war, it’s the app.” How we use information is what matters. At McEntire JNGB, we strive to manage resources and leverage technology to ensure speed of relevance capabilities and decision advantage. For the Swamp Fox to continue to improve and become more effective, the timeliness and accuracy of information must be a priority because bad information produces bad decisions.

McEntire JNGB employs some value-added infrastructure technologies for effective asset management. Facilities management technologies such as the BUILDER sustainment management system used by our engineers contains data informing preventative maintenance requirements, investment needs and predictive failure of systems and/or components. Metrics like Facility Condition Index and Mission Dependency Index inform investment priorities and data-driven decision-making by connecting facility investments to mission needs. Additionally, the energy management and control system allows remote monitoring and troubleshooting, remote “smart” meter reading, and saves workload, time and sustainment costs. Likewise, Intrusion Detection Systems and video surveillance used by our Security Forces Defenders to protect assets is a force multiplier and puts eyes out there where we lack work force. We were the first ANG installation to get a counter-small unmanned aerial system (C-sUAS) capability and now fielding laptops in security patrol vehicles for quicker information access and dissemination. 

Cyber infrastructure technology enhancements also advance our mission effectiveness. Expanded wireless capabilities provide utility and efficiency to mission readiness with capabilities like eTools and electronic flight bags. We have added more capacity to the base’s data center entrance to improve our backbone to cyber systems. Fiber optic and copper cables were replaced to improve transmission reliability. There are plans for long-haul transmission circuit upgrades to increase speed, resiliency and redundancy that will benefit all NIPR and SIPR (unclassified and classified) users. The pandemic forced on us the need for IT collaboration tools like TEAMS, WebEx and Zoom and we used this time to advance our on-base VTC capabilities. We continue to roll out SIPR Thin Client, upgrade the Installation Notification and Warning System, install cell phone repeaters in multiple buildings, and planning the Verizon small cell node installation that will greatly improve access and reception around the installation. All of these technology tools aid in mission readiness and effective management of the built and natural environments. Technology can be a double-edged sword as cyber systems and industrial control systems are hackable by nefarious actors wishing to create havoc on society. This is what makes it a risk-based judgment call: balancing efficiencies with threats based on the likelihood of occurrence and severity of the consequences.

We will succeed through teamwork. Progress requires change and change requires personal commitment and investment. The mission dependency and current state of infra­structure requires that all leaders be aware of the risk to mission associated with infrastructure failure. Since mission risk is always involved in resource decisions, “Infrastructure is for all Leaders” and leaders must remain cognizant of mission impacts due to potential infrastructure failures. To be sure, installations and its infrastructure are weapons systems as are people. McEntire JNGB will remain ready and relevant by ensuring installation resiliency, modernizing our mission-critical infrastructure, and leveraging technology. As a positive side effect, this was will also enhance our strategic basing posture to take on new missions and strengthen installation planning and partnerships for the mutual benefit of the military and our Great American Defense Community. It is indeed an infrastructure truth that “infrastructure is for all leaders,” and a vital weapon system that affects mission readiness. Let us take care of what we have, look to the future and remain unmatched in our military value to community, state and nation.

[i] Curtis E. LeMay Center for Doctrine Development and Education, Air Force Basic Doc­trine Vol 1, 35.

[ii] Heather Wilson and David L. Goldfein, “U.S. Air Force Infrastructure Investment Strategy (I2S),” 29 January 2019,