TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Members of the Five Eyes Air Force Interoperability Council, a joint-nation alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, convened for an annual exchange of their respective nations’ best practices August 7 – 13, 2019, at Travis AFB.
The purpose of the group, according to Royal Australian Air Force Wing Commander Brady Cummins, Australian representative on the AFIC Management Committee, is to identify and resolve current and future interoperability challenges by leveraging collective expertise.
“What that basically means is that an Australian aircraft could touch down here at Travis and immediately be serviced by the base’s maintainers because of how seamless (AFIC members) work to make that so,” Cummins said. “It’s all about melding our processes so that when it comes to our interoperability, there’s no time spent trying to decipher another country’s way of doing things—we’ll already know.”
As the U.S.’s largest military aerial port, Travis AFB regularly conducts operations that could be jeopardized in the event of confusion or error caused by the inconsistency of joint-nation protocol.
Whether it be delivering aid to those affected by natural disasters or strengthening strategic positions in the Pacific, lives can depend on the success of those operations, Cummins said.
“It’s the strength of not just Air Mobility Command, but mobility platforms all over the world to get payloads to their intended targets and get them there fast,” he continued. “Every second spent doing anything not conducive to accomplishing that goal are seconds that can make all the difference to those needing our aid.”
The way AFIC helps to do that can range from standardizing palletizing procedures to overhauling safety protocol to establishing reliable flight routes.
The metric by which the success of these procedures can be measured cannot exist within ideal environments, though, said Gregory Cummings, U.S. Air Force head of delegation for AFIC.
“The best place to measure the success of our interoperability is in the worst place,” Cummings said. “We can, and often do, simulate our processes under perfect conditions, but the most valuable data-gathering comes from simulating our processes during times when everything is going wrong.”
For Cummings, that means using exercises as a way to put as much stress as possible on AFIC ideas as a way to test not only their feasibility, but their longevity.
“Plans have a tendency to fall apart upon engagement with the enemy, so it’s up to us to build plans that can weather those moments of panic and uncertainty,” he said.
As the possibility of engaging with near-peer adversaries becomes increasingly relevant, so too does the work of AFIC and the importance of airtight interoperable strategies.
“The relationships we’re building among our sister services and nation partners are crucial factors in our national defense strategy,” Cummings said. “When we talk about winning in those near-peer engagements, we’re talking about the superiority and the success of our joint operations.
Asked whether interoperability accounts for the most important aspect of national defense, Cummings had a single caveat.
“We can come up with new processes and new strategies until our brains fry, but without the hard work and dedication of service members, here and abroad, to execute them, we have nothing,” he said. “Without Airmen, we don’t have squat.”