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ASC inactivates aeronautical systems wings

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Aeronautical Systems Center formally inactivated the 77th, 303rd, 312th and 516th Aeronautical Systems Wings in a ceremony June 30 in AFIT's Kenney Hall.

Recalling that President Reagan once cited the willingness to change as a source of American strength, Lt. Gen. Tom Owen, ASC commander, explained the significance of the occasion to the ASC workforce assembled in the hall.

"My first responsibility is to the American taxpayer and I believe this change will help us do our jobs more efficiently," he said. "I'm extremely pleased with this change. I believe the Air Force will be better served by it."

The four directorates that continue the missions of the four inactivated wings officially stood up July 1.

The driving force for the reorganization comes directly from the Air Force Acquisition Improvement Plan announced in May 2009. That plan cited the need to "establish clear lines of authority and accountability within acquisition organizations." Four months later the Air Force announced the initiative to migrate to the Directorate/Division/Branch construct.

General Owen drew on his previous experience as a System Program Manager for the C-5, C-17 and later the F-22, to illustrate how the Air Force evolved over time to this new format.

Prior to 2005, he said, there were a number of Program Executive Officers in Washington. Program managers in field units like ASC reported to their assigned PEO for program execution issues. As a result of a study begun in the 2003 timeframe, the Air Force decided to consolidate PEOs around a larger mission group portfolio and locate them at the centers. Here, this resulted in the ASC commander becoming the PEO for Aircraft.

After analyzing the results of that reorganization over the past five years, the Air Force decided smaller PEO portfolios placed even closer to the person managing the program on a day-to-day basis would enhance the successes realized from moving the PEOs to the centers.

This, the general said, simplifies the lines of authority between the SPM, PEO and the Service Acquisition Executive in Washington. Also, breaking the single overarching "aircraft" portfolio into six creates a more manageable span of control.

"This is a classic case of the Air Force being willing to evaluate and adapt," General Owen said. "The Air Force got it mostly right when they moved the PEOs to the field and this change now is a natural evolution of the system."

Certainly the new directorate names, such as the Fighters and Bombers Directorate, will be a welcome change for customers both in government and in industry to understand. Other important changes shift some supervisory and command responsibilities to Center Senior Functionals or the new ASC Section Commander, allowing the PEOs to keep their focus on executing their portfolio.

Divesting responsibility and direct reporting to the Pentagon shouldn't be perceived to weaken the overall structure of the unit.

"The mission of Aeronautical Systems Center continues," he said. "We will still be one aeronautical enterprise."

As center's senior leaders were called to the stage and introduced as "wing commanders" for the final time, the bittersweet portion of the ceremony began. One-by-one the wing commanders returned their wing flag to General Owen for it to be furled, symbolizing the wing's inactivation. Each commander took the opportunity one last time to recount their unit's accomplishments over the past five years.

Similar ceremonies took place all across Wright-Patterson to inactivate the subordinate groups and squadrons that fell under the four ASC wings. Other tenant organizations, like the Air Force Security Assistance Center's 555th International Group and the Electronic Systems Center's 554th Electronic Systems Group were also affected by the mandate to transform to divisions and branches.

All of the unit honors, lineage and history for each of the wings will be preserved until the Air Force decides to reactivate the unit. Then, the stories of those units recounted by their commanders will continue on in another time and another place.