Though the most visible challenge to aviation readiness is a backlog of legacy F/A-18 Hornets at depots awaiting service life extension work, Commander of Naval Air Forces said some pilots could be flying more if smaller “enabler accounts” – such as those that allow squadrons to buy spare parts ahead of need and pay for contract logistics support – were sufficiently funded.
“We pay attention to the flight hours accounts because that directly translates to readiness.
“But what we’ve seen since we’ve come through the heavy-use period and recovering from sequestration, we’ve seen that we’re not able to fully execute those accounts because we don’t have sufficient up airplanes on the flight lines to fly.”
One enabler account in particular, the air systems support account, that “gets at the emergent readiness issues on the flight line, so the people and processes that allow us to nip things in the bud quickly” and keep squadrons’ planes ready to fly so pilots can actually make the most of the flight hours Congress has funded.
“These accounts have not been resourced” properly since sequestration hit and whereas adding to flight hours accounts would not increase readiness, adding to this type of account would. The Navy is now trying to figure out how to dig out of the funding deficit they see in these “absolutely critical” accounts.
The units that most often face this flight line readiness challenge are the squadrons that have just come back from deployment and are in their maintenance phase – when the aircraft carrier is at the shipyard to get ready for the next deployment cycle, though not all type/model/series planes have been affected equally.
The Marine Corps has the same challenge of keeping enough aircraft ready for pilots to train with, but unlike the Navy, the Marine Corps does not have tiered readiness – Navy squadrons’ readiness dips down during the maintenance phase whereas non-deployed Marine Corps squadrons are supposed to stay ready in case they are called on to respond to world events.
Pilots in some squadrons are only flying four to six hours a month, partly due to depot maintenance backlogs but also stemming from the same spares and logistics challenges that create flight line readiness challenges for the Navy.
Despite these challenges, leaders don’t see a tie between readiness and recent plane crashes. Overall the Navy is trending downwards on mishaps.
“As we look back at those and in the last couple of years, trying to make a tie to readiness or proficiency, in every case that’s not there. There’s some other lower-level mishaps, ground-related mishaps where experience levels of folks may play into it. … In the review of those Class A mishaps you can’t make that connection. There are other procedural things, crew resource management things, but not a direct tie to readiness.”
“Marine Aviation Logistics Plan To Boost Readiness With Focus on Supplies and Training”.
The Marine Corps is focused on aviation logistics as a means of regaining readiness, and an extensive “Marine Aviation Logistics Plan” outlines ideas to boost professional development opportunities and modernize sustainment to keep up with how the fleet employs its aviation squadrons.
The aviation logistics plan seeks to “modernize existing and time-tested safety, training, and support strategies, as well as capitalize on emerging capabilities and technologies offered by today’s commercial and military industrial base. Collectively, these efforts will enhance the air combat element by improving the readiness e.g. safety, effectiveness, reliability and availability of Marine Corps aircraft.”’
The plan’s first line of effort focuses on the maintainers themselves. The aviation logistics community will look for opportunities for Marines to step outside the corps and learn new skills and new approaches to aircraft maintenance.
For example, the plan recommends industry exchanges to let Marines see how other businesses conduct aviation maintenance and bring back best practices, and it calls for non-traditional training opportunities such as a 3D scanning and printing training events.
Courses will be created to address issues such as “Aircraft Survivability Equipment, Electronic Countermeasures Equipment, Electronic Keying Material, Laser System Safety, Digital Interoperability, and 5th Generation Avionics systems.
We have to develop long-term maintenance, manpower, and materiel planning to improve aviation readiness,” with a focus on maintenance management, manpower management, training management, and advanced skills management.
New advanced wire repair training, plus increased participation in joint wiring training and working group events, will seek to directly affect flight line readiness rates. “Declining material condition across every [type/model/series] is impacting all wiring types and severely affecting current readiness.
“There is inadequate training and familiarity within the maintenance community. Lack of familiarity regarding the importance of wiring systems and apparent lack of focus on funding priorities for wiring at the system level are all contributing factors needing resolution to affect current readiness.”
After conducting independent readiness reviews for each type/model/series aircraft in the Marine Corps, the Marines found they did not have “the right density of maintainers with the right qualifications” in all of their squadrons.
“We had it right in F-35, and a lot of the other type/model/series we didn’t have enough of the qualifications, we weren’t measuring the military occupational specialties of those Marines.
“We are doing that now, and that’s going to have an outsized impact on our ability to retain the right folks with qualifications”
The second line of effort in the aviation logistics plan deals with “increasing the depth, capacity and reach of our operations sustainment capability” to keep up with the demands and keeping up with the changing nature of how the Marines fight.
“Today’s dynamic global environment demands flexible and scalable capabilities. Increased operational tempo, split and disaggregated operations and constrained resources mandate the modernization of written doctrine and its associated enablers.”
We are attacking our current unacceptable Not Mission Capable- Supply rate, and the root causes for it. The supply chain that supports Marine aviation is fragmented, antiquated, and not optimized to enable the required state of readiness in our current fleet.”
“This fact is clearly evidenced by the low rate of Ready Basic Aircraft RBA and unsatisfactory high Non Mission Capable Supply NMCS rates across nearly every T/M/S the Marine Corps currently operates.
Each of the Independent Readiness Reviews conducted to date for AV-8B, CH-53E, and V-22. identified systematic shortfalls in the sustainment organizations, processes, and resources of the supply chain that supports Marine Aviation.
Accordingly, our focus will be on continuing to aggressively attack these daunting challenges. The strategy to reduce the non-mission capable supply challenge will be focused on the areas of consumables, repairable, and manpower.”
Going forward the Marines will work with the Defense Logistics Agency to improve the accuracy of bills of material and to “monitor fleet demand for consumables on long-term contracts and ensure vendors receive accurate demand forecasts,” and work with the Naval Supply Systems Command to improve depot component repair performance.
“Consumable forecasting is an issue that was identified in by all the reviews. Lack of consumable material accounts for greater than 80% of non-mission capable supply demands.”
“To address this issue HQ will assist in developing local Marine Aviation Logistics Squadrons stocking procedures to include an enterprise-wide approach to managing consumable demand data. We are evaluation tools and allowancing parameters to ensure the correct items and quantities are stocked ‘plane side’ and included in pack-ups to support detachments and deployments.”
Additionally, on avionics, the plan suggests keeping the two Aviation Logistics Support Ships for a decade beyond their 2020 decommissioning dates, or until a replacement is in place, to maintain a “dedicated sea based capability for rapid movement and employment of Marine aviation Intermediate-Level maintenance facilities, supply support and personnel to sustain fixed and rotary wing aircraft operations.”
The plan advocates a distributed laydown of avionics support to support the rebalance and notes the need for mobile facilities across the region to put avionics repair support wherever the expeditionary forces are operating.
“ Navy, Marine Aviation See Funding Boost for Spares, Depots, Logistics Contracts”
After more than a year of talk from Navy and Marine Corps aviation leaders about needing to fund “aviation enablers” to boost readiness, the budget request shows exactly the investments that are needed to get more planes ready to fly.
A number of conditions have led to naval aviators having a shortfall of ready-to-fly aircraft – everything from a backlog at maintenance depots, to not enough contractor support, to a lack of spare parts – and no amount of investment in flying hours accounts will help the aviation readiness issue unless these enabler accounts are properly funded as well.
Marines couldn’t reduce its “not mission capable- supply” rates – when aircraft cannot be fixed due to lack of spare parts, which at times has reached a quarter of the fleet for older airplanes like the AV-8B Harrier – if it didn’t increase spending on spares. The lack of spares was “the number-one readiness degrader” aside from the sheer age of some of the aircraft.
“Increased funding for spare parts will not impact readiness right away, but without this investment the readiness trajectory would never change.
Outside of the day-in, day-out maintenance that takes place at the squadrons, some types of aircraft make use of performance-based logistics contracts with industry and others’ readiness is the responsibility of the military. Both strategies are addressed through increased funding in the budget request.
Other types of aircraft are kept ready through Navy- and Marine Corps-led maintenance efforts at Fleet Readiness Centers, with the services responsible for their own engineering, logistics and supplies associated with repairs and overhauls. For those aircraft, more money is on the way too.
“Capacity is limited for different reasons at our fleet readiness centers. Some are limited by the hiring of personnel, others by physical space and aging tools and materials. In all cases, we are investing to correct these limitations.
“This account also funds critical chain initiatives to improve depot throughput and increase hiring of planning, engineering and maintenance support manpower to align the workforce to the projected workload.”
As a result of the additional aviation enabler spending, the services should be able to fly more.
Maintaining very high readiness during a carrier strike group’s post-deployment sustainment phase actually saves the Navy money later on, despite concerns that budget constraints might hinder the Navy from making the most of that time in a ship’s deployment cycle.
Under the Navy’s Optimized Fleet Response Plan, a ship undergoes routine maintenance and modernization, conducts pre-deployment workups, deploys overseas, and then comes home for a “sustainment phase” of as long as a year before heading back to the shipyard for more maintenance.
Carrier strike groups in the sustainment phase could be sent back overseas for a full-length deployment in a major contingency, used locally for training, sent to do whatever it is tasked with.
When OFRP was rolled out and first implemented, Navy officials and observers alike were concerned that the sustainment phase wouldn’t be properly funded and noted that the Navy had a poor track record of funding ships post-deployment. Under the Budget Control Act, the operations and maintenance budget has been a major bill-payer for other needs, and ships just back from deployment could be especially vulnerable to budget cuts.
With OFRP now in full swing, Commanders received the funding needed to keep carrier highly maintained and its crew highly trained during its sustainment phase earlier this year, and that those investments are now paying off as the carrier heads into maintenance.
“The carrier was kept at a very high readiness level. Ready to deploy, should we need that ship to do this. And so she was ready to go; when it comes back we’ll enter maintenance phase after months of very high support.”
“There was no a casualty report or system on there that we did not go after and fix – usually with the help the shipyard, if it was a big job. So again, readiness is as good or better than any deployed carrier out there. And the air wing was too. So that actually, when you keep the ship at a high state of readiness, when you come in for the planned incremental availability, you haven’t thrown all these extra jobs into the work package there.”
“In the long run, spending a little bit of money like this actually saves you money. A lot of times we can’t do that with the way our budget is, but this funding was prioritised even during a continuing resolution to make sure the carrier remained at peak readiness.
Because the carrier could have been called to deploy during its sustainment phase, we ensured it was being manned and maintained with that potentiality in mind. We treated them as if they were out on deployment. So whenever anything broke, we were right on it fixing it. “And then we also manned them, kept the manning all the way though the sustainment phase, so that if they were called, they were at that highest readiness level.”
On the training side, the carrier strike group commander oversaw training leading up to and after a Sustainment Exercise to ensure the ship’s and air wing’s crews were sharp. The Carrier Strike Group returned from its deployment,and had an easy schedule for crew rest. .
“The strike group commander says they know the strike group best. During deployment and this was a lot of air-to-ground, but we didn’t do a lot of air-to-air, not a lot of war at sea, and didn’t defend against missiles.”
“So we worked with the commander of Strike Group to develop a scenario sustainment excercise that will get him the training that commander needs. … They did a live missile ex, shooting at supersonic targets with jamming and all high-end types of things here, to do that, the missile shot. And there was a lot of air-to-air fighting, both live, but we also inserted virtual.
So now whoever is on the scope sees five aircraft coming in, but there’s only one real one coming in for our guys to fight against. … And now they will see missiles coming in, constructive missiles. So we are pushing our live, virtual, constructive LCV – that’s how we are accelerating along the capability curve.”
“We put that investment into LVC opportunities and that got their training up, and their readiness ratings were all green in the sustainment phase.
Of course this high level of readiness had an upfront cost and we did the “maneuvers” it took to keep the carrier funded during the sustainment phase, never wanted for money required to keep them at that high level.
Still, the aircraft carrier’s readiness is only one piece of the puzzle. The carrier was fully funded, and the air wing’s Flight Hour Program account was fully funded, but that shortfalls in areas like supplies and logistics led to airplanes that were not properly maintained and therefore could not fly. We need attention to fully funding these enabler accounts as the brass have shown to ship maintenance and flying hours.
1. Force Structure Transit
Ability to see and act upon supply/troop circumstances access real-time information of units and items entering theater of operations
2. Force Structure Sustainment
Requirements to keep weapons systems operating at an acceptable operational tempo until adjustment made to redeploy
3. Supply/Equipment Stocks
Cross-functional approach to procuring, producing and delivering products/services for military applications
4. Global Network Requirements
Used by military units with emphasis on real-time info rate, fast routing during mobility and integration with existing systems.
5. Resource Capability/Risk
Effective process for preserving resources to address challenging circumstances of conflict risk for military operations
6. Field Maintenance Activities
Involves on-equipment or organisational maintenance performed by operating unit on day-to-day basis to support assigned weapon systems operations
7. Depot Maintenance Activities
Entails materiel maintenance requiring major repair, overhaul, or complete rebuilding of weapon systems, end items, parts, assemblies
8. Base/Installation Support
Site directly operated by or for military to shield military equipment/personnel, and promote training/operations
9. Contract Support Integration
Task executed under expedited agreement authority to provide supplies/services from commercial sources in operational areas
10. General/Combat Engineering
Forward positioned unit performs construction tasks under combat conditions with goals to involve facilitating mobile/support of Troops