In the 1980s, the U.S. Forest Service, in cooperation with the California Department of Forestry (CDF) conducted the Operational Retardant Effectiveness Study (ORE).
Since then, various external reviews of the U.S. Forest Service aviation program, and large airtankers in particular, have highlighted a lack of use and performance information to justify the size, scope and cost of both the existing and planned fleet. In response, the agency formed the Aerial Firefighting Use and Effectiveness (AFUE) Steering Committee in 2012. The Committee implemented a pilot program to explore data collection methods that could be used to address the findings of the external reviews, as well as additional questions that were specifically identified by the U.S. Forest Service Fire and Aviation Management Program.
The pilot program identified that an intensive, nationwide, multi-agency, multi-year field data collection program was required to enable a complete, unbiased analysis of firefighting aviation use and effectiveness in the context of all wildland firefighting missions, objectives, and environmental conditions.
Analyses of AFUE data are necessary to inform responses to a recent United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) report and include identifying ways to improve the current fleet and providing a more robust foundation for future aviation strategic planning and operations. The GAO report was the latest review to highlight the need for empirical data on the effectiveness of aerial firefighting as a component of greater fire management strategies. Since the effectiveness of any tactical approach to wildland fire management is highly dependent on the environmental conditions at the time and place of tactical action, and the tactical action may or may not occur exactly as planned, simply measuring outcomes is insufficient for determining effectiveness under all circumstances.