|Air Armament Center|
|Active||16 October 1943 – 18 July 2012|
|Branch||United States Air Force|
|Part of||Air Force Materiel Command|
|Base||Eglin Air Force Base|
|Major General Kenneth D. Merchant|
|Air Armament Center emblem|
The Air Armament Center (AAC) was an Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) center at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, responsible for development, acquisition, testing, and deployment of all air-delivered weapons for the U.S. Air Force. Weapon systems maintained by the center included the Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile, High-speed anti-radiation missile, HARM Targeting System, Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, Joint Direct Attack Munition, Miniature Air-Launched Decoy, Sensor Fuzed Weapon, and the Small Diameter Bomb. The Air Armament Center was inactivated as an AFMC center on July 18, 2012, and its functions merged into the former 96th Air Base Wing at Eglin AFB. The new organization was renamed as the 96th Test Wing (96 TW) the same day as a subordinate command of the Air Force Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California.
In 1989, Mueller said the AAF Tactical Center was designated earlier on 16 October and that it and the subsequent AAF Center were different commands. For example, he cites AAF School of Applied Tactics, c. Mar 1942 (redesignated AAF Tactical Center, 16 Oct 1942) then AAF Center, 1 June 1945.
On 27 October 1942 the United States Army Air Forces established the Army Air Forces School of Applied Tactics at Orlando Army Air Base, Florida. The next year, it was redesignated as the Army Air Forces Tactical Center, on 16 October 1943. In the last days of the war, it was redesignated the Army Air Forces Center, and documentation of the period appears to indicate that the AAF Proving Ground Command at Eglin Field, Florida and the Army Air Forces Center at Orlando AAB were merged as Army Air Forces Center on 1 June 1945.
The Air Force Center was the planned USAF unit for the development of tactical policy and procedures. The Air Force Center was to be the succeeding unit to the USAAF Army Air Forces Tactical Center, established on October 28, 1943,: 335 and which had become the Army Air Forces Center on 1 June 1945. Instead, the AAF Center merged into Proving Ground Command (PGC) to form a new Army Air Forces Proving Ground Command on 8 March 1946. The AAF PGC was redesignated the Air Proving Ground Command on 10 July 1946, and raised to major command status. The APGC was moved to the now renamed Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, on 1 July 1948.
APGC conducted realistic testing of new weapons as an independent organization, reporting directly to the Chief of Staff of the Air Force and advocating a "fly-before-buy" approach to acquiring new systems. Such a shift, however, remained a challenge, for the Air Force continued the "buy-fly-fix" process that had grown from the demands of the Second World War and undervalued the importance of timely independent operational test and evaluation.
APGC attempted to simulate combat conditions during its tests. It also grew in size as it acquired the systems it tested. By 1956, Air Force regulations outlined an eight-phase test and evaluation process that did not include the APGC until phase seven. By that point in the acquisition cycle, the Air Force had often already fielded units with new systems that APGC had not yet tested. Not surprisingly, operators often experienced serious problems with these new, untested systems. This led to a misperception about the value of operational test and evaluation (OT&E) and APGC. Had OT&E taken place before production decisions and fielding new systems, there likely would not have been any question about the added value of independent OT&E.
As a result of the doubts about the value of APGC and cuts to the defense budget, in 1957 the Air Force stripped APGC of its major command status, reduced its budget and authorized personnel, and redesignated the Command the Air Proving Ground Center, and assigned it to the Air Research and Development Command. This action meant the Air Force no longer had an independent organization that specialized in impartial operational test and evaluation.
Decentralized operational testing at the major commands occurred from 1958 to 1973. Major command emphasis was often on quick deployment rather than thorough testing and impartial evaluations. Although the Air Force streamlined OT&E from eight to three phases during this period, OT&E still came at the end of the acquisition process. In addition, as systems became more complex, and the Air Force moved to acquire systems quickly, the "fly-before-buy" approach fell by the wayside. The consequences became clear when a Department of Defense study found that 21 of 22 major weapons systems used in the Vietnam War from 1965 to 1970 suffered severe operational deficiencies. These results strongly stated the case for independent OT&E in the Air Force.
The AAC was a focal point for the acquisition of advanced weapons systems. The center carried out scientific research, system management, production, operational performance, business management, requirements definition, customer and engineering support, technology planning, materiel identification, and field support activities.
While "fly-before-buy" has repeatedly proven its worth in thorough testing of systems and avoidance of later problems, the Air Force even in the twenty-first century remains severely hampered by a "buy-fly-fix" approach. Literally billions of dollars have been spent in making weapons systems operational after they have entered squadron service. For example, the Rockwell B-1B Lancer suffered repeated such problems. When declared operational, apart from nuclear weapons, the only conventional weapon the B-1 could use were free-fall bombs.
To accomplish its mission the Air Armament Center commanded three wings through 2010.
Oct. 28. AAF Tactical Center established at Orlando, Fla.
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