“Milestones along the Critical Path”

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- At 8:15 a.m. local time on Aug. 6, 1945, “Little Boy” fell away from the Enola Gay, and 43 seconds later it detonated over the city of Hiroshima, Japan with the force of nearly 20,000 tons of TNT. This moment was the culmination of 3 years of work by the Manhattan Project, a group of 130,000 leading scientists and engineers from 30 sites across the United States who built the world’s first atomic bombs. In lesser known yet significant work, Manhattan Project engineers created the Critical Path Methodology (CPM). The CPM was a management tool project leadership employed to understand timelines and sub-tasks associated with creating these weapons. The CPM subsequently became a staple of the defense and aerospace industries. Today the CPM is a primary problem solving tactic for B-2 Weapons Officers (WOs) at the 325th Weapons Squadron (WPS), and it offers a unique way to think about how the various units of the 509th Bomb Wing (BW) work together to accomplish their mission.

The CPM is a model for simplifying and managing a complex project. It starts with listing all of the tasks required to complete the project, along with an estimate of the time required for each activity. Next, the tasks are put in order on a diagram according to their relationship to one another. Some events are pre-requisites for others and must happen sequentially, while other tasks may be completed separately. After the diagram is developed, the project is broken into phases with interim goals that build to completion. As the title would imply, the CPM helps managers determine those critical steps which drive the timeline to the final objective.

During their graduate level course of study at the 325th WPS, B-2 WOs are expected to become complex problem solvers, and the CPM is a primary tool for this task. Toward the end of the course, WOs must figure out how to use upwards of 70 different aircraft and the full spectrum of cyber and space-based capabilities to tackle problems like dismantling an adversary’s Integrated Air Defense System. The CPM helps WOs determine the fastest and most efficient solution to this puzzle, discover breaking points in the plan, and develop objective-based phases for judging progress toward accomplishing the mission.
Today the 509th BW mission is every bit as complicated as the engineering projects of long ago, and the CPM presents a novel viewpoint of the paths which must converge for the BW to get the job done.

The wing’s recent combat mission is a useful case study to illustrate this point. Weeks prior to the execution window, a Combatant Command customer contacted mission planners in the 509th Operations Support Squadron (OSS) over secure networks maintained by the 509th Communications Squadron. As planners solidified the B-2 routes, members of the 509th Munitions Squadron built the weapons for the mission. Simultaneously, members of the 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and 509th Maintenance Squadron worked diligently to prepare the jets that would fly the sortie. In parallel, flight surgeons and physiologists from the 509th Medical Operations Squadron prescribed medicine to help the aviators rest for the mission and developed an in-flight alertness game-plan. Following the aviators’ brief on the day of the mission, members of the 509th Logistics Readiness Squadron transported the crews and their equipment to the aircraft. Along the way, the crews traversed flight line infrastructure that is continuously maintained by the 509th Civil Engineer Squadron. They passed through an Entry Control Point, which is vigilantly guarded by the 509th Security Forces Squadron. Upon arrival at dock, the aircrew accomplished pre-flight checks and departed the airfield under the watchful eye of 509th OSS air traffic controllers. After approximately 16 hours enroute, 13th Bomb Squadron, 394th Combat Training Squadron, and 110th Bomb Squadron aviators employed over 100 weapons against terrorist camps in North Africa. The preceding events, from the first planning action to weapons release, were meticulously choreographed to meet a precise time-on-target dictated by the customer. This recap is a cursory glance at a singular 509th BW event, and it does not do justice to countless contributions to the mission which took place months in advance. Nevertheless, the CPM offers a unique lens to view the individual actions which must converge in the right order at the right time to result in success.

Whether you are a student attempting to survive the B-2 Weapons Instructor Course or the youngest Airman in the 509th BW, the CPM suggests several points to ponder. Every participant in a mission owns a milestone on the path. To be effective we must understand where we fit into the larger puzzle and how our task relates to others. In addition, there is no correlation between the significance of a task and its place in sequence; the first event is as important as the last. Finally, our ability to influence success is not related to the size or duration of our task. The military philosopher Carl Von Clausewitz reminds us, “In war, as in life generally, all parts of a whole are interconnected and thus the effects produced, however small their cause, must influence all subsequent military operations and modify their final outcome to some degree, however slight.”

In short, every mission is the result of a web of individual actions, and every person matters. We all have a critical role to play with a guarantee that we will impact progress along the path to a win!