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No Mission Can Launch Without Us
by U.S. Air Force 78th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
May 12, 2023

The Automatic Test Systems Division of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, plays a major role in whether any aircraft takes off from any Air Force installation around the world.

“We service nearly every aircraft in the Air Force inventory, and we want to make sure weapon systems can execute their mission on any particular day.” said Lt. Col. Marc Lewis, AFLCMC ATS Program Division deputy chief. “Before an airplane can launch or take off on a mission, our equipment is hooked up to them to make sure everything works.”

Chad Lowe, left, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Automatic Test Systems Division engineer, and Nathan Hinks, AFLCMC ATS Division engineer, check cable connections during an armament diagnostic test on a F-16 at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina on March 1, 2023. The armament diagnostic test was performed to ensure weapons onboard the aircraft will successfully deploy if needed. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kisha Johnson, 78th Air Base Wing Public Affairs)
Chad Lowe, left, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Automatic Test Systems Division engineer, and Nathan Hinks, AFLCMC ATS Division engineer, check cable connections during an armament diagnostic test on a F-16 at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina on March 1, 2023. The armament diagnostic test was performed to ensure weapons onboard the aircraft will successfully deploy if needed. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kisha Johnson, 78th Air Base Wing Public Affairs)

“Our equipment checks thousands of functions, such as wiring and loading Operational Flight Programs,” Lewis continued. “If an aircraft is carrying missiles or armament, we make sure the jet can talk to the launcher, and the launcher can release the weapons.

“The equipment is staged at each base and, to simply put it, the equipment is basically plugged into the aircraft to do all of the diagnostics and preflight checklist of items,” said Lewis.

In 2007, the Automatic Test Division led the hardware/software design and construction of the Versatile Depot Automatic Test Station, commonly referred to as VDATS. This effort was completed at Robins through a partnership between the 402nd Electronics Maintenance Group and the 402nd Software Maintenance Group.

It marked the first time the Air Force had a tester named to the Department of Defense family of testers.

“Because our testers are used across every aircraft platform, we also provide engineering support,” said Chad Lowe, ATSD technical advisor. “If anything goes wrong with the testing equipment, engineers are called in to solve it.

“We are very busy because we are trouble shooting around the globe,” continued Lowe. “On a daily basis our team answers calls and emails to help solve problems. If we have to jump in a car or get on a plane, we will go wherever needed to solve the problem.”

Nathan Hinks, left, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Automatic Test Systems Division engineer, Dan Segno, back, AFLCMC ATS Division program manager, watch as Senior Airman Douglas Roberts, Air Combat Command 55th Fighter Generation Squadron armament maintainer, runs a diagnostic test on a F-16 aircraft at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina on March 1, 2023. Members of the AFLCMC ATS Division travelled from Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, to Shaw to provide hands-on troubleshooting efforts to check weapon system functions on the aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kisha Johnson, 78th Air Base Wing Public Affairs)
Nathan Hinks, left, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Automatic Test Systems Division engineer, Dan Segno, back, AFLCMC ATS Division program manager, watch as Senior Airman Douglas Roberts, Air Combat Command 55th Fighter Generation Squadron armament maintainer, runs a diagnostic test on a F-16 aircraft at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina on March 1, 2023. Members of the AFLCMC ATS Division travelled from Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, to Shaw to provide hands-on troubleshooting efforts to check weapon system functions on the aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kisha Johnson, 78th Air Base Wing Public Affairs)

The ATS Division manages more than 45,000 items valued at $3.5 billion. It procures, modifies, and is responsible for all types of repair for more than 200 test systems/sub systems supporting all major weapon systems in the USAF inventory.
The division, which is under the Agile Combat Support Directorate within the AFLCMC, is responsible for the development, modernization, production, sustainment and retirement of ATS capabilities. It also provides the warfighter with ATS solutions to check weapon system functions, detect and isolate faults, verify repair actions, and load software and mission data.

“No mission can launch without us,” said Lowe. “From the very beginning, an aircraft can’t take off if it doesn’t have the Operational Flight Program loaded into it, and that comes from our systems. It’s literally at the beginning of every single air flying mission in the Air Force.”

Col. Lewis called the ATS team “unsung heroes.”

“Not many people talk about us until they can’t launch or something is broken,” he said. “The men and women of the Automatic Test Systems Division are here for every mission, every day, and every aircraft in the Air Force. That’s what it boils down to. We may be behind the scenes, but we are there.”

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