Air Mobility Battlelab deactivates after 10 years

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol
  • U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center Public Affairs
At 2 p.m. on Sept. 24, the Air Mobility Battlelab was no longer a unit in the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center, or the Air Force.

In front of the center's commander, Maj. Gen. Kip Self, and the battlelab's last commander, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Lathrop, the unit's flag was rolled up and ceremoniously put away forever during a deactivation ceremony here in Grace Peterson Hall.

The Air Mobility Battlelab, or AMB, stood up provisionally in the then-Air Mobility Warfare Center on May 4, 1998. Its mission was to "make innovation in air mobility practical by exploring high payoff operational, logistical, and informational concepts, technologies, and tactics to advance the Air Force core competency of rapid global mobility."

It wasn't until Jan. 4, 2001, that the battlelab was officially sanctioned by the Air Force. All that said, in more than 10 years, the battlelab has left a mark of excellence for the Air Force to remember, Colonel Lathrop said.

"During its existence, the AMB completed 78 concept demonstrations," Colonel Lathrop said. "Of those, 28 concepts were fielded or incorporated into on-going acquisition or research and development efforts, and 18 others are still at Air Mobility Command headquarters awaiting funding or a fielding decision."  Colonel Lathrop added that much of AMB's work has contributed to safer and better items for aeromedical evacuation, such as a man-portable litter rack that enables crews to quickly configure virtually any Air Force aircraft for AE missions, and a portable fuel cell capable of travelling with the patient to provide uninterrupted electrical power from field hospital to stateside medical center.

Other notable initiatives include an automated in-flight balancing system for C-130 aircraft propellers that reduces aircraft noise and vibration while eliminating the need for mechanics to manually balance the propellers on the ground; and a battery-powered LED-based floodlight that's one-fiftieth the size of the Air Force's current light carts and provides infra-red light for covert operations as well as visible light.

Or, how about the KC-10 bunk quick release and cargo net initiatives that promise to save time and man-hours for tanker aircrews? And recently, there is the KC-135 cooling sock initiative that offers a safer way to cool the flight decks of the planes.

"I think completing 78 initiatives is very impressive considering the battlelab was only at full strength for around five years," Colonel Lathrop said. "And the fact such a high percentage of the concepts we demonstrated lived on after we transitioned them indicates we did a good job selecting ideas that met critical needs."

Battlelab members are looking to move forward from this point, but they say the innovative work has made a difference.

"We were able to demonstrate technologies at low cost, giving AMC options to streamline operations and bring efficiency to the warfighter in a timely manner," said Senior Master Sgt. Dominic Perino, AMB superintendent who now moves on to Dover after three years with the AMB. "Individual units will now have to tackle innovation with their own manpower and money. With tight budgets, it is understandable why the battlelabs were closed, but in the future, similar organizations will be developed to tackle 'innovation to warfighting.'"

Master Sgt. Michael Harris, the AMB's loadmaster concepts manager for the past three and a half years, added that he believes the people who worked in the Battlelab represented all of the Airmen "who are working hard to fulfill the AMC and Air Force mission."

"We attempted to expedite the fielding of mature and emerging technologies to those Airmen so they could accomplish the missions faster, safer, cheaper, and, in some cases, more accurately," Sergeant Harris said. "I feel that I succeeded in my mission to aid the warfighter. From this experience, I will take away satisfaction knowing that my efforts will be felt not only in AMC, but Department of Defense-wide."

During the deactivation ceremony, Colonel Lathrop said "AMC is losing a capability to capitalize on innovative concepts and ideas when it needs it most." But, he also noted the success of the Air Force has always been the Airman's way to be "smart and innovative."

"We are losing a capability; that has been understood here for more than a year now," Colonel Lathrop said. "But I leave you with the knowledge that we aren't closing because we weren't successful.  We were.  I can only tell you that Airmen will be Airmen and they will always find ways to make our Air Force better. For 10 years, the Air Mobility Battlelab did just that -- make our Air Force better."