DECEMBER 9, 2016, ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (NNS) – Readiness is the number one priority in naval aviation today, but aging aircraft, lack of resources, and other challenges are inhibiting effective air operations across the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.
Supply, maintenance, and logistics leaders outlined some of the problems and discussed the mitigating actions and potential solutions Dec. 7 at the 2016 DoD Maintenance Symposium.
As part of a panel of service component leadership entitled Senior Logisticians Roundtable, Rear Adm. Mike Zarkowski, commander, Fleet Readiness Centers (COMFRC), pulled no punches in outlining the severity of the issues facing naval aviators and the support personnel striving to keep them airborne.
“We have a readiness gap across the TMSs [type/model/series],” Zarkowski said. “Every TMS has its own challenges and its own story. I will tell you, the challenges that we deal with every day at COMFRC are to try to close those gaps, to get those ready basic aircraft out of the depot and get them on the flightline.”
Depot personnel are looking for ways to reduce the time aircraft spend undergoing in-service repairs (ISRs), trying to find quicker and more agile solutions. In keeping with total enterprise deployment, COMFRC leadership wants to ensure inclusion of the appropriate Level II Shore Maintenance Facilities.
On the journey toward those goals, several issues must be addressed. Zarkowski laid them out: chronic underfunding of enabler accounts; integrated resource management and training for artisans at the depot level and for Sailors and Marines on the flightline; increasing ISRs on aging aircraft; lack of technical data and structural repair manuals to affect repair at different levels; facilities degradation and lack of resourcing; inaccurate bills for material which cause delay to turnaround times at the depot; degraded material condition of aircraft; and supply issues.
COMFRC also has identified several concerning trends. One is the demand to push the aging F/A-18 A-D series aircraft to 6,000, 8,000, and even 10,000 flying hours. It takes extensive engineering analysis and workload planning to extend that life. In the meantime, because of the current gap in availability of those platforms as they transit through the depot pipeline, a more growing concern is the increase in utilization of F/A-18 E-F aircraft, resulting in logisticians and engineers looking at service life extension plans for that platform much earlier in its life cycle then previously planned.
The same challenges exist on the Marine Corps side of naval aviation with the H-53. Because not enough inventory is available for missions, the B-22 is pushed into additional service.
“The hours and material condition of those aircraft as they come into the depot are causing us concern, and we’re experiencing increased turnaround time in our depot events because of usage and condition,” Zarkowski said.
To get after the issues, COMFRC has introduced two methodologies. One, a Jonah methodology, takes teams from COMFRC and Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) 6.0 and deploys them to Navy and Marine Corps flightlines to better understand undesirable effects. That approach has allowed for increased agility and a decrease in turnaround time, while addressing immediate issues and improving readiness.
On the depot side, COMFRC personnel are returning to Critical Change Program Management. In the two years since roll out of this production management system, they have seen signs of success with increasing throughput and ready for training aircraft.
While the two methodologies address the tactical-level needs, COMFRC has strategic vision. With a bigger picture in mind, the sustainment system in naval aviation maintenance is behind the best business practices of today. The 30- to 40-year-old system has seen only marginal improvements. Zarkowski explained while much has been done with Lean Six Sigma (LSS) and Theory of Constraints to improve efficiency, the field needs an overhaul.
“We need visibility,” he said, adding some initiatives underway involve supply optimization in which requirements come from a pull not a push.
Other needs involve condition-based maintenance and big data.
“We have 19 data sets right now, just at NAVAIR, that don’t talk to each other … Lastly, we see this working very successfully at TRANSCOM (U.S. Transportation Command); [we need] an operations center where the right folks are empowered to make decisions with the right information” Zarkowski said.
Naval aviation overall has already made strides in applying the use of some innovative tools and processes, such as additive manufacturing, to advance and sustain readiness and maintain its technological edge. Naval aviation marked its first successful flight with a 3-D printed, safety-critical part in July, when a MV-22B Osprey completed a test flight with a 3-D printed link and fitting assembly.
Now and in the future, the success of Naval aviation demands an enterprise-wide participation from around the Navy, Marine Corps, wider government, and the private sector.
Rear Adm. Vincent Griffith, director of Defense Logistic Agency’s (DLA’s) Operations (J3), also spoke on the panel and explained how his organization is seeking improvements in support to the military services. One of the major efforts is the improvement of cost recovery. Every dollar DLA doesn’t spend on overhead, service branches can spend on buying what they need from the agency such as tools, services, and fuel.
Griffith said the way to get better is through collaboration, so DLA has a number of programs in place with its service partners as they look to become more efficient. To speed up processes, DLA is pushing the “Time to Award” initiative which uses LSS to reduce the time it takes to get a requirement onto contract.
All the efforts planned by other service components and naval aviation to improve readiness rely on finding the right people to fill the right jobs. Naval aviation has made it a priority to attract, retain, and develop members of its workforce — civilian and military — as well as to partner with industry. The private sector has a big role to play in continued 3-D efforts, as aviation leader’s work toward putting greater 3-D printing capability into the hands of warfighters — giving them the ability to print required parts where they need them, when they need them.
Regardless of methodology or metric, the measure of success for all efforts across the Naval Aviation Enterprise will be readiness on the deckplates and on the flightlines.
The Naval Aviation Enterprise is a cooperative partnership of naval aviation stakeholders focused on sustaining required current readiness and advancing future warfighting capabilities at best possible cost. It is comprised of Sailors, Marines, civilians, and contractors from across service branches and organizations, working together to identify and resolve readiness barriers and warfighting degraders.