A major support group for U.S. warfighters is gathering in Salt Lake City this week, looking for ways to ensure that the military's aircraft and equipment are in top-flight shape.

More than 1,000 people are attending Autotestcon, a systems-readiness technology conference for leaders in the design, development, procurement, application and operations of automatic test systems and related technologies used by the military and in other government and aerospace applications.

Mark D. Johnson, executive director of the Ogden Air Logistics Center at Hill Air Force Base, said during the event's opening keynote on Tuesday that ways must be found to make testing more efficient and cost-effective. He noted that the Defense Department has 464 types of automatic testing systems, with the Air Force owning more than 367.

Still, the military has undertaken several steps to improve testing since a 2003 Government Accountability Office report on systems readiness found that the military was using obsolete equipment, faced a high cost to modernize and needed to maximize interoperability in developing an open-system architecture for testing.

"Obviously, contracting for open standards is kind of a nebulous thing. It rolls off the tongue easily, but it's not easy to do. We need to get smart about how we write our requirements and how we move into this arena," Johnson told the crowd of several hundred at the Salt Palace.

Each military service has selected or will select a prime contractor that will support its testing operations, but that has inherent challenges, he said.

"Point solutions can lag industry advances. We see that time and time again. Point solutions don't always meet everybody's requirements. When you think about the vast array of test requirements we have in our business, it's a wonder that we only have 460-some separate systems because it's a huge challenge," Johnson said. "We have to continue to make sure we deliver cost-effective and competitive solutions for the warfighters."

The Ogden Air Logistics Center provides worldwide logistics management, engineering, supply, contracting and depot maintenance for aircraft and munitions-related platforms.

The conference, which runs through today, features 150 technical papers and presentations, eight seminars and two panel sessions. Sponsored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the conference is in its 43rd year. It was last in Salt Lake in 1998. Organizers estimate the economic impact on Salt Lake City at nearly $1 million.


E-mail: bwallace@desnews.com