By Vice Adm. Dean Peters, commander, Naval Air Systems Command, and Bill Taylor, assistant deputy commandant for aviation, U.S. Marine Corps
During the past year, Naval Aviation made meaningful strides toward improving readiness and sustainability across our strike fighter communities. Since October, in partnership with leadership from across the Naval Aviation Enterprise (NAE) including Navy Air Boss Vice Adm. DeWolfe Miller, Deputy Commandant for Aviation (DCA) Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder and other military and governmental partners, we have had the opportunity to visit Fleet Readiness Centers (FRCs) and additional units at four locations vital to our Super Hornet platforms: Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point and Naval Air Stations (NASs) Jacksonville, Lemoore and North Island.
These events, known as Boots on the Ground (BoGs), are a common NAE activity. Two things set these visits apart: the close scheduling of the events—three visits were conducted in December—and the specific purpose of touching as many major FRCs as possible to understand if Naval Sustainment System-Aviation (NSS-A) reforms are sustainable. In addition to the Depot-level maintenance we observed at the FRCs, we visited several organizational-level (our basic level of maintenance, referred to as O-level) activities, including the Naval Aviation Maintenance Center of Excellence (NAMCE) at NAS Lemoore.
Across the board, we saw substantial improvements in workspace layouts, turnaround times for maintenance, backorders of high-priority requisitions that are missing from the supply shelf and planning for the future.
During these visits, we observed firsthand the effect the NSS has had on maintenance, production and supply. We spoke directly to members of these and other teams who work on our aircraft every day to hear what improved their operations and where we can provide assistance.
Across the board, we saw substantial improvements in workspace layouts, turnaround times for maintenance, backorders of high-priority requisitions missing from the supply shelf and planning for the future. Daily meetings in various Production Control Centers are identifying and elevating issues for resolution more quickly. Improved floor organization makes finding parts and pinpointing support required by the supply chain more efficient.
More importantly, we witnessed an improved culture on those lines and in those shops where NSS reforms had been accomplished. An important part of this culture is the intent to treat artisans as surgeons, providing all the parts and tools they need for their jobs at the site rather than having them take time from fixing aircraft to search for supplies.
We found that the aircraft production line at Fleet Readiness Center West (FRCW) at NAS Lemoore is sustaining reforms; Fleet Readiness Center Southwest (FRCSW) at NAS North Island is sustaining reforms in its component shops; and Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) at MCAS Cherry Point has continued to sustain reforms for critical component shops and expanded reforms to aircraft planned maintenance interval (PMI) lines.
Here are a few examples of the many improvements we encountered:
- The T-6 repair line at FRCSE has reduced cycle time from 187 days to approximately 100 days, on the way to a standard 77-day event.
- The H-53 program at FRCE reduced cycle time by 10% on CH production and 30% on MH production.
- The V-22 program at FRCSW has no outstanding supply issues—a goal for which every shop must strive.
- The Super Hornet PMI line at FRCW consistently delivers aircraft in 60 days or less.
With the assistance of FRCW, reforms have been implemented at NAMCE, an activity not originally planned but subsequently prioritized by the Air Boss. NAMCE saw a 137% increase in productivity following NSS-A transformation. NAMCE was able to take on all long-term down aircraft for maintenance and allow the operational squadrons to manage and maintain their normal allowable number of aircraft.
We now must expand the improvements we’ve achieved to all shops, repair lines and squadrons across Naval Aviation.
This is phenomenal work, and it’s all contributing to the NAE’s sustainment of Mission Capable (MC) Super Hornet numbers above 325 (which historically hover around 250-260). In addition, Legacy Hornets are returning to service in days versus weeks after PMI and maintaining percentages in the high 70s for MC aircraft.
MC aircraft make up the critical baseline of our future readiness for the high-end fight. Without “up” aircraft, we cannot prepare to meet mission requirements; with them, we can build for whatever operations come our way. MC aircraft mitigate problems across the NAE, including projected pilot shortages. More MC aircraft mean more aircraft available for the training commands and Fleet Readiness Squadrons. They also mean more flying hours for our trained pilots, so they can hone their skills.
Together, we’re seeing remarkable change, but we still have much work to do.
We now must expand the improvements we’ve achieved to all shops, repair lines and squadrons across Naval Aviation. In addition, we still have vital components that must be available in greater numbers and repaired in less time to increase lethality and survivability, per Air Boss and DCA priorities.
We will continue to attack readiness degraders through the Reliability Control Boards (RCBs), making better use of data to refine our maintenance programs and supply forecasting. Across all these efforts, we must integrate improved cost management.
It is powerful to see the close alignment between the Navy and Marine Corps as we advance these priorities. This is a true partnership—one team with one fight. And it is encouraging to receive the positive feedback from our artisans, maintainers and production support personnel who are super motivated to provide quality products, and who are taking ownership of these reforms.
As always, your NAE flag officers, general officers and senior executive service leaders are committed to providing the resources needed to accomplish our mission. Don’t hesitate to let us know what is needed. Fly, fight, lead and win!
The Naval Aviation Enterprise (NAE) 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.