WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — The Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson would rank in the Fortune Top 50 if it were a company and has buoyed the region’s economy when the auto industry sank, officials said.
“They are the focus at Wright-Patt,” said Jeff Hoagland, president and chief executive officer at Dayton Development Coalition.
Today, AFMC marks its 20th anniversary as it evolves through a major reorganization much as it did when it brought two major commands together 20 years ago.
But unlike that time, the Air Force’s first female four-star general, Beavercreek High School graduate Janet Wolfenbarger, assumed command of the organization in June and will oversee the transition to five major centers from 12 at nine bases across the nation. AFMC has a $60 billion budget and about 80,000 civilian and military personnel service wide. At Wright-Patterson, the command employs 13,700 people, both civilian and military, or about half the workforce at the base.
The sprawling command’s responsibilities are research and development, testing and evaluation, sustainment and logistics, and oversight of the Air Force’s nuclear weapons.
“Our mission today is as serious as it has ever been,” Wolfenbarger said at her change of command ceremony last month.
Twenty years ago, the consolidation of the Air Force Systems Command with the Air Force Logistics Command was meant to save money, said AFMC historian Jack Weber, who was part of the planning team when the command formed. Then, the command had 18 major centers and a workforce of about 125,000.
This time, the latest consolidation is much broader, Weber said. The changes will eliminate about 1,080 civilian positions service wide and save $109 million a year, according to AFMC.
The transition, pushed by $487 billion in reductions in the defense budget over the next decade, will expand the base’s role as an acquisitions hub.
Economically, AFMC is every bit as important to Dayton as the headquarters of Fortune 50 firms, such as Dow Chemical Co. or Caterpillar Inc., Hoagland said.
As the auto industry faded in Dayton, and with it the loss of thousands of high-paying manufacturing jobs, the region’s aviation roots and connection to Wright-Patterson have grown more economically vital over the years, said Tony Sculimbrene, executive director of the National Aviation Heritage Alliance.
Boulevards dotted with defense contractors are a testimony to AFMC’s and the Wright-Patt’s influence to create jobs outside the base fence, he said. Officials have estimated those jobs number about 30,000 in the area.
“The Air Force Materiel Command has been a gigantic engine driving a lot of the economic growth in the Dayton region,” he said.
AFMC has helped cultivate its workforce and development with connections to institutions such as Wright State University, said retired Maj. Gen. Gary T. McCoy, a former commander of the Air Force Global Logistics Center, part of AFMC, at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.
McCoy, who served at Wright-Patterson three times, is a senior adviser who helped create Wright-State’s Institute of Defense Studies and Education, which teaches students supply management to cybersecurity.
“There has always been a connection between Wright State and Wright-Patt,” he said
What’s ahead and the past
As part of the reorganization, AFMC will open an Air Force Life Cycle Management Center and take over the Aeronautical Systems Command this month at the base.
The Air Force Security Assistance Center will be renamed the Air Force Security and Cooperation Directorate and become part of the Life Cycle Management Center, among other changes.
Despite the emphasis on efficiency and cutting costs, AFMC has been criticized because of the Air Force’s aging fleet of aircraft, now the oldest it its history at an average age of 25 years.
The Air Force fleet has aged, but AFMC has carried out its mission to keep the expeditionary force in the air and ready to deploy when and where needed, McCoy said.
“AFMC’s role in sustaining the force has been a challenge, but I would say for the most part they have been able to step up to that,” he said. “At the end of the day, the mission really is to support the war fighter.”
Loren B. Thompson, a defense analyst with the Lexington Institute, has called the shrinking force and aging aircraft inventory a “crisis.”
The demise of the Soviet Union eliminated a major threat, and adversaries with less capable air forces or air defenses didn’t create a push to buy new systems, he said.
“The reason it takes so long to buy weapons is there’s no great sense of urgency,” he said. “Nobody is worried about the Russians bombing Columbus tomorrow.”
Political gridlock in Congress is also to blame, he said. “It takes so much to keep things on track in this political system, that without a threat, AFMC is going to be hobbled from the beginning.”
AFMC officials have said the command has maintained the best Air Force in the world in an era of smaller budgets.
“We firmly stand by the fact that we do our absolute best to provide the war fighter with the best tools to accomplish the mission to acquire, test and sustain our war-winning capabilities,” spokeswoman Susan Murphy said in an email.
Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2363 or bbarber@DaytonDailyNews.com.
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