What are Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century (AFSO 21)?

  • Published
  • By CMSgt. Donald K. Smith
  • 127th Air Refueling Group
First of all, let me congratulate everyone in the Wing for their efforts and performance during the January, 127th Wing Unit Effectiveness Inspection. During the Unit Effectiveness Inspection that was performed by the ACC IG and AMC IG, we heard a lot about the AFSO 21 program. I thought I would take the time to describe and familiarize you with some of the program.

What is AFSO 21?
Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century (AFSO21) was introduced as an initiative, in part, as a response to the Air Force's need to modernize and recapitalize our aging aircraft and equipment fleet. Antiquated and stove piped processes contributed to wide spread inefficiency throughout all areas of the Air Force, ranging from administration to production processes. It includes the commercial practices of four proven process improvement methodologies, all of which share the traits of continuous process improvement (CPI). These methodologies are Lean, Six Sigma, Theory of Constraints, and Business Process Reengineering. Key principles contained in these methodologies include improving flow within a process, focusing on factors that degrade quality in products, identifying and overcoming constraints within a process, and complete redesign of a process.

What is the goal of AFSO 21?
The Air Force vision statement lays this out clearly.

The vision for AFSO21 is to establish a continuous process improvement (CPI) environment whereby all Airmen are actively eliminating waste and continuously improving processes. These improvements must be centered around the core missions we, as Airmen, are responsible for conducting--specifically to maintain the asymmetric advantages and capabilities the Air Force delivers in air, space, and cyberspace. We need to ensure we are also driving efficiencies and improvements across the board.

Therefore, we must use the right tools and techniques to see and attack problems and leverage opportunities for improvement; and employ our greatest resource--innovative, dedicated Airmen. 

What are the five desired effects?
1. Increase productivity of the Air Force's most valuable asset--Airmen.
2. Significantly increase critical asset availability.
3. Improve response time and decision making agility.
4. Sustain safe and reliable operations.
5. Improve energy efficiency.

The 8-Step Problem Solving Model to achieve continuous process improvement.
The OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) was originated in the 1950's by Col. John Boyd. It is an objective description of the decision making process. Due to an emphasis on the infinitely repeating nature of decision making, the OODA Loop is an excellent match for the AFSO21 principal of continuous improvement. The eight steps of the Problem Solving Model fit within the frame of the OODA Loop.

The 8 steps are:
1. Clarify and Validate the Problem.
2. Break Down the Problem and Identify Performance Gaps (Observe).
3. Set Improvement Target.
4. Determine Root Cause (Orient).
5. Develop Countermeasures (Decide).
6. See Countermeasures Through.
7. Confirm Results and Process.
8. Standardize Successful Processes (Act).

Following the eight steps will ensure that actions lead to the desired results with an absolute minimum of wasted effort.

These are just some of the terms that you will be hearing and learning soon.

In conclusion, the Air Force is setting the example of how to use peoples' initiative and ideas to make itself better. Using basic AFSO21 principles while doing our jobs is going to be the key to making needed improvements for all processes in the near future. If you get an opportunity, educate yourself and expect training in the near future. As Airmen with dwindling resources and aging equipment we would benefit ourselves with a plan of continuous improvement and that's what Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century are.

For additional information see:
SAF/SO, Air Force Smart Operations for the 21 Century (AFSO21) Playbook, Concept of Operations, Washington, DC: AFSO21 Office, October 2007.

SAF/SO, Air Force Smart Operations for the 21 Century (AFSO21) Playbook, Tools and Methodology Version 2.0, Washington, DC: AFSO21 Office, October 2007, A-2.

Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century (AFSO21) Playbook, Tools and Methodology Version 2.0, H-3.

Comprised of approximately 1,700 personnel and flying both the A-10 Thunderbolt II and the KC-135 Stratotanker, the 127th Wing supports Air Mobility Command, Air Combat Command and Air Force Special Operation Command by providing highly-skilled Airmen to missions domestically and overseas. The 127th Wing is the host unit at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, which marks its 97th year of continuous military air operations in 2014.