Aerospace Vehicle Survivability Facility Helps Reduce Aircraft Losses

This historic photo shows the result of a ballistic impact on an aircraft fuel tank at the Aerospace Vehicle Survivability Facility (AVSF). (Courtesy photo)

The new National Defense Strategy will focus on the building of a more lethal military force, the strengthening of U.S. alliances while establishing new partnerships, and reforming the way the Department of Defense does business to accomplish its objectives. The mission and capabilities of the Aerospace Vehicle Survivability Facility (AVSF) align with these priorities.

The facility is the U.S. Air Force organization responsible for developing and executing aircraft Title 10 Live Fire Test and Evaluation programs (LFT&E). The AVSF capabilities include research, development, test and evaluation, or RDT&E, in addition to high-fidelity modeling and simulation of aerospace vehicle combat survivability to evaluate and enhance system performance to current and future weapon systems under operationally realistic conditions.

According to Scott Wacker, technical director of the Aerospace Survivability and Safety Office, the primary mission of the AVSF is to provide risk reduction information to keep warfighters as safe as possible. The Aerospace Survivability and Safety Office capabilities were originally created to help build a more lethal force, and squadron-level power continues to be employed toward this same goal.

“The AVSF emerged out of the lessons learned from the Vietnam War to help reduce aircraft attrition losses due to enemy threat weapon systems,” he said. “It continues the same legacy today, pursuing mission excellence in supporting multiple airborne systems to identify, characterize, develop and test technologies to reduce their vulnerabilities to enemy threats.”

The AVSF complex is comprised of three primary test sites that support aerospace survivability and vulnerability evaluations, as well as LFT&E risk reduction, research, development, test and evaluation, and modeling and simulation.

Test Site A is an indoor test site used for highly controlled impact physics testing and projectile-launch research and development. This site provides the ability to economically evaluate the damage resistance of an aircraft wing skin-spar joint structure under asymmetric high-strain rate conditions by simulating projectile-generated hydrodynamic ram. The Hydrodynamic Ram Simulator, also known as the RAMGUN, is the only test device of its kind within the Department of Defense and is used to generate high-pressure waves in a fluid medium to simulate damage caused by ballistic threat impacts on surrounding aircraft structure.

Test Site 1 features a 75-foot indoor gun range and is often used for the development of threat simulation devices and specialized instrumentation systems, material and component ballistic tolerance evaluations, armor tests, high-velocity fragment tests, and highly controlled and instrumented threat calibration and characterization. This test site is noted for the efficiency of its operation, as the load room is directly adjacent to the test range, allowing for a rapid turnaround of aggressive multi-shot test series.

Test Site 3 is considered the most capable and highest-fidelity test site within the AVSF. This site consists of three test areas – TS3 Upper, TS3 Lower and TS3 North – which are commonly used for highly controlled and instrumented replica and production-aircraft hardware research, development and evaluation involving high-speed airflow, flight load simulation, fuel fire and explosion, and ballistic vulnerabilities of operating combat weapon systems.

TS3 Upper is an outdoor test site featuring a 60-by-80-foot elevated test platform equipped with high-speed airflow provided by five TF-33 engines, fuel handling and conditioning systems, fire suppression systems, loading fixtures, high-speed data acquisition, and environmental protection systems to allow for testing involving fuel and hydraulic systems.

TS3 Lower is a 20-by-60-foot partially enclosed outdoor test site equipped with high-speed airflow provided by two TF-33 engines, fuel handling and conditioning systems, fire suppression systems, loading fixtures, high-speed data acquisition, and environmental protection systems. TS3 Lower is the only facility within the DOD that has been approved for high-energy laser testing with fuel, airflow, and explosives.

TS3 North is a 20-by-20-foot partially enclosed test area used for highly instrumented and controlled development, test and evaluation of fuel cell inerting schemes, hydrodynamic ram evaluations, ballistic flammability studies, material and component ballistic tolerance investigations, armor development, and threat characterizations.

According to Wacker, the AVSF has been involved in the test of nearly every Air Force weapons system since the 1960s, including the A-10 Thunderbolt II, F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, F/A-18 Hornet, C-130 Hercules, C-17 Globemaster III, C-5 Galaxy, B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit. More recent efforts at AVSF have included the LFT&E programs for the F-35 Lightning II, MH-139A Grey Wolf helicopter, HH-60W Jolly Green II Combat Rescue Helicopter, KC-46 Pegasus and other Major Defense Acquisition Programs. This is in addition to multiple RDT&E programs, including evaluations of unmanned aerial system vulnerabilities to high-energy lasers.